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Jennie Prosperine





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Jennie Prosperine: “You Never Know Until you Try”
By Laura D’Amelio
During 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 the community.

“To 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 results.” 

She 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.

Her 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.

Jennie Prosperine now with friends (far right).

“To 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.

In 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.

“These 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 for sale.”

This 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,” she chuckles.

For 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.

St. Anthony's 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 the church.

Jennie Prosperine with her family.

“I 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.

Ms. Prosperine 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.

“During 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.”

As 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.

“It is so heartwarming to have this kind of rapport, support and cooperation for one another. The ties are deep between the two organizations,” she says.

Her involvement 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.

“I 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.”

About 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.
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“In 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.”

Unfortunately, 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.

“It's 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.

Her 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.”

Above all, of course, do not be afraid because you never know until you try.


This article was originally published in the July 2002 issue of Il Postino.
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