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Leo and Margaret Puppa in 2010 celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. Top photo features their four children. Bottom photo also includes their grandchildren.

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Leo and Margaret Puppa and children

Puppa Family


October 4, 1938 to
April 29, 2014

Born and Resided
Kirkland Lake, Ontario, Canada

Married Margaret Bartell
September 3, 1960

Brian Andrew

Lori Anne (Vermette)

Daren James

Derek Jason

My father, Gisleno Puppa, at the age of 18, immigrated from Italy to Canada on February 1, 1927. Several years later, he married his hometown sweetheart, Germana Galino, by proxy. This allowed her to come and join him in his new country. Once she was here, they needed a proper marriage in Canada. So, they got married again.

My parents met when my father and others from the next village were raiding my mom's family garden. She was helping chase them away and father slipped, falling into a pile of cow manure. Mom was standing over him with a broom and began to laugh at his plight. It was love at first sight. My father asked her if he could come back to see her again.

My parents had three sons. Agostino (Auggie) came first. I was born two years later. James (Jim) came along seven years later.

When I was young, my father was seriously injured working in a gold mine in Kirkland Lake, Ontario. He spent several years in and out of a hospital 400 miles away from our small northern town. The mine paid Mom two dollars a day in compensation to live. She supplemented that income by doing cleaning jobs in people's homes and took me along. I helped wherever I could, and my two brothers and I did odd jobs cutting grass and shoveling snow in the winter.

To save money, I was farmed out for three summers with distant relatives. That was a tough time for me as the relatives spoke little English and I spoke little Italian. I stayed one year in town, and the Italian lady died that summer while I was there. I spent one summer in Kearns, Ontario, at a grocery store. I lived in a bedroom with their old mother who didn't understand English. For the other year, Auggie and I stayed at home, but we ate our meals at a French couple's home next door.

We were poor when I was a boy. But I was able to join the Boy Scouts and had a lot of fun doing that. We had "soap box" races. The first year, my entry wasn't very good and I lost all the races. For the next year, I decided to build a racer, modeled after race cars I saw in magazines. I gathered metal signs from derelict stores and fastened them to a wooden frame from scrap wood. After several months of work, I was ready. I was sure that I would win with the best built cart. It looked very professional with the paint spray job, just like the photos. What a major disappointment that year when the event was canceled. Children were testing their racers on town roads, and officials were worried that some child would get hurt.

When my father was healthy and working again, in his spare time he renovated homes in the town to make extra money. I went along to help and learned carpentry, plumbing, electrical, and masonry skills. He taught his sons to "do your best in whatever you undertake and minimize mistakes by careful planning."

I met my wife, Margaret (nee Bartell), when she "twirped" me for a Sadie Hawkins dance at our local high school. Girls got to ask boys to the dance, and Margaret asked me. She was beautiful! My heart fluttered and I said yes. But I didn't even know her name; it took me two days to find out her name. Margaret's friend wanted to "twirp" my hockey buddy and had told Margaret to ask me, so that the four of us could go together. After I said yes, my buddy said no. Margaret was stuck with me – we married five years later on September 3, 1960.

Like most Canadian boys, I loved to play hockey and had dreams of making it to the NHL one day. When I was 16, I was invited to attend the Detroit Red Wings hockey camp to test my goaltending abilities. I couldn't see a career in hockey though because, at the time, there were only six NHL teams and they only carried one goalie (the trainer was the backup).

Instead of pursuing a hockey career, I attended McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. I got a small bursary with room and board. Because my new wife Margaret was working, she gave me money when I was short from my summer jobs.

Even in university, I didn't know what I wanted to do. I took the subjects that I was best in – physics, chemistry, mathematics. In my final year, I decided to go into teaching. That career would allow me to easily get a job in my home town. I took a science teacher's job and worked my way up to head of the high school science department.

My goals as a physics teacher were to design meaningful science curriculum, to inspire students to work towards science fairs and careers, and predominately to teach students how to learn and the methods to solve problems. Even now, so many years later, I have students stop and talk about some of my props, like a sign at the front of the classroom that read, "Think, don't Sponge." Students had the habit of copying homework (sponging) rather than trying to work out the problems themselves. There was one level of student below the sponge, which I called "Lumpie Shmoos." They were made out of plasticine and resembled a bowling pin, with no arms and no legs. They had a big smile on their faces, and just sat around doing nothing. I used these little props and others in experiments and problems for students to work out. Students could relate to the props, and they made the lessons and tests more personal and enjoyable.

Our challenge in marriage was to help our four children grow up to be good citizens and to help better the world. We were fortunate that all of our children were blessed with good work habits and became Ontario scholars when they graduated from high school.

Our first son Brian, nicknamed "The Brain," was exceptional in school. He graduated in systems design engineering from the University of Waterloo and now works with the Legacy Project.

Our second child, our only girl, Lori, became a nurse working in the emergency department of our local hospital. She has saved many lives over the years.

Daren was next. As a small boy, he had exceptional goal tending abilities. He went on to a stellar college hockey career at RPI, in New York. He then played goal for fifteen years in the NHL with the Buffalo Sabres, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Tampa Bay Lightning.

Our last boy, Derek, had a great goalie career at the University of Huntsville, Alabama. Derek won the championship in the Central Professional Hockey League. With a degree in chemical engineering, he's now part of an industrial chemical sales firm in Huntsville.

I was a good goalie, and think that's where Daren and Derek's hockey genes came from. However, Margaret says the genes came from her side; her cousin Ralph Backstrom was an All-Star with the Montreal Canadians.

Margaret and I designed and built two beautiful homes with the help of my father and our children. I'm proud of these homes as part of my legacy.

After 34 years as a science teacher, Margaret and I retired to a new phase in our life. My dream was simple: to retire on a golf course with a golf cart in the garage. My dream came true, as Margaret and I now spend our winters in Florida in a great retirement community on a golf course.

From a poor childhood, I was able to live the Canadian dream that brought my parents from Italy. I learned a lot of good work habits and skills from my parents. With this background, I was blessed with a great marriage, children who have become successful in their endeavors, and a chance to follow my dream in retirement. What else can anyone ask for?

Contributed February 5, 2011

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