Prosperine: “You Never Know Until you Try”
her time as a volunteer with St. Anthony’s Ladies Aid, Jennie
Prosperine coined herself a motto: “You never know until you try.”
From start to finish, her story is one where trying has led to success,
not only for her but for everyone she helps.
With each fond memory that passes through her lips,
Jennie Prosperine speaks of helping others, fulfillment and change
in the Italian-Canadian community. At first glance it may be hard
to see because of her diminutive stature, but this woman has a large
heart. Her eyes glitter and her smile expands as she speaks of Preston
Street and all her wonderful memories. No one else could paint a
better picture of the spirit of “The Village” than her.
She’s a woman who has devoted her life to volunteering and
me volunteering means the contribution of one’s time and effort
to help out wherever assistance is needed,” says Ms. Prosperine.
“Whether you give of your time working with people, helping
to raise funds, working in a clerical capacity, or serving at a fundraising
dinner, volunteers as a group are indispensable and achieve incredible
attributes her urge to volunteer to her parents and the neighbourhood
she was raised in. Ms. Prosperine grew up in the 1920’s and
1930’s in Ottawa, a time when making a living was tough, especially
for new immigrants. She graduated from Immaculata High School and,
after being in the civil service for 12 years, married Louis Prosperine
in 1950. She also started her own business in 1950.
entrepreneurial spirit strong, Ms. Prosperine converted a property
owned by her parents on the corner of Norman and Preston into a
baby and ladies wear shop called the Jen-Lou Shoppe, named after
the two proprietors.
Prosperine now with friends (far right).
this day, some of my old customers still call me Jen-Lou when they
meet me,” Ms. Prosperine remembers fondly. She also notes that
today her shop is the home of La Roma Restaurant.
the five years that she ran the Jen-Lou Shoppe she recalls that
some of her Italian customers would come to the store and ask about
certain properties they had seen for sale.
were warm and friendly immigrants who, of course, did not know the
English language,” describes Ms. Prosperine. “Fortunately,
because I knew Italian, I was pleased to assist them and would telephone
the real estate office to inquire about the properties that were
happened so many times that Ms. Prosperine found her interest was
shifting to real estate and in 1955 she became an agent. Two years
later she got her brokers licence and opened her own office in what
was once her shop. Her years as a real estate broker were satisfying
and rewarding. Within three weeks of starting, she sold a house
and settled her first mortgage.
“I just took the bull by the horns and I arranged it,”
health reasons Ms. Prosperine decided to retire in 1970, but she
still remained close to the community. With some encouragement from
her sister Theresa, she joined St. Anthony’s Ladies Aid and
has not stopped volunteering since.
Ladies Aid holds fundraising events year-round, with the proceeds
going to help St. Anthony's
Church, the community, the food bank, Villa
Marconi, boy scouts and many others. Jennie Prosperine speaks
with pride about the women involved with the Ladies Aid and their
successes. In the 1950’s and 1960’s the women of the Ladies
Aid held bingo for ten years on Saturday nights to pay off the mortgage
on a new hall. Ms. Prosperine got 300 beautiful chairs donated to
Prosperine with her family.
have enjoyed all my years as a member of this dedicated and hard-working
organization and was honoured to have been voted president for about
seven years,” she says.
was also invited to join the Parish Council, which holds two very
important events: a fundraising dinner held on the first Saturday
in February and a procession on St.Anthony's
Feast day in June.
my time on the Parish Council, one of the greatest successes I am
proud of is the launching of the pasta lunch and suppers, which was
supported by the Ladies Aid during St.Anthony's
Feast,” she says. “This now has become a tradition.”
if that were not enough, Ms. Prosperine is also associated with the
Ladies Auxiliary of St. Patrick’s Home. This organization helps
and visits the residents, holds annual tea and coffee parties and
sells shamrocks in March for St. Patrick’s Feast.
is so heartwarming to have this kind of rapport, support and cooperation
for one another. The ties are deep between the two organizations,”
and contact with the community has not gone unnoticed; she was asked
to sit on a committee during the creation of Villa
Marconi, a home for the community’s aging population. Ms.
Prosperine’s view that an Italian home for the aged was long
overdue prompted her to accept positions on both the Social Committee
and the Seniors Committee. Here her motto was put to good use.
did not think I could help them but when you try,” she says
with a smile. “We got volunteers from the Ladies Aid to do anything
that was necessary.”
eight years ago Ms. Prosperine was approached by Professor Ian Mackay
of the University of Ottawa, who was doing an international study on
how Italians learn a second language. She was asked to find 275 people
who were born in Italy and were willing to be interviewed at the church.
Although it took many phone calls and follow-ups, Ms. Prosperine accepted
the challenge and it was financially rewarding for the church.
subsequent years community members have helped in this and it has
benefited the whole community, as well as helped scientists understand
the second language learning. I would like to take this opportunity
to personally thank all those wonderful people who participated and
made the study the success that it was.”
Ms. Prosperine had to take a break from all her work to receive triple-bypass
surgery. She is getting back to her old active self and recently has
gone back to these successful organizations to continue to help as
she has in the past.
a great satisfaction for me having made a difference in the community
and helping to improve the lives of others. Like when we were selling
the properties, you were helping the Italian people to find homes.
It seems to urge you on, you want to help people and do your best
to help the community,” she says glowingly.
contributions are many and her dedication is a lead worth following.
For youth, Ms. Prosperine sends this message: “Get a good
education to realize your dreams. Do not be afraid to volunteer
as it is a wonderful way of networking, of meeting interesting people,
of learning something new, and a means to personal growth and self-satisfaction.”
all, of course, do not be afraid because you never know until you
article was originally published in the July 2002 issue of Il
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