BY JANA NIEMI-LAHNALAMPI
Townfolk describe her as talented, inspirational, helpful, wonderful, spirited, regal, and beautiful inside and out. She is a teacher, an angel and our princess! Few people invoke such warm thoughts from others. Indeed we in Onaping Falls are blessed to have such a generous individual in our midset for the past 65 years.
You may know Leona Dawe from one of her many athletic pursuits. In the summer, you will find her on the links of the Windy Lake Golf Course. In the winter, she swims at the local pool. Perhaps you were lucky enough to be taught by her how to use a serger, sew, crochet or knit. She has generously shared her gifted craftsmanship with the community for over 47 years.
I recently joined Leona’s sewing class. Over the sewing machine, she shared a number of her memories with me. Leona’s earliest years were in Sudbury. Her mom Saimi, father Len, and brother Bobby lived in a variety of neighbourhoods throughout the city. She remembers living on Frood Road while her father fought in the Second World War, and how her mother worked as a seamstress. Leona remembers how her mother “kept everything going” during this time period. While we often recognize the bravery and sacrifices of those who fought in wars, the sacrifices made by family members of those who served are usually overlooked.
Leona’s family moved to Onaping in 1953, one of the first nine pioneering families. While Leona stayed in Sudbury to finish her schooling, one weekend she decided to come out and visit. Without a phone or regular transportation, Leona was dropped off at the Hardy Mine site close to midnight and recalls carrying her suitcase up to the house on Campbell Street to the sounds of wolves howling. How surprised her mother was to answer the door to Leona in the middle of the night!
Leona was hired by Falconbridge Nickle Mines after finishing school. She worked in the townsite office which was located in the apartment building on Service Road until the building was finished beside the Mine Rescue station. Here, Leona proved to be an expert typer in short order.
She married Norm Dawe in 1958. Most people know Norm as a fixture in the Levack arena, cheering their son Robert as he led his teams to many victories throughout the years. Both Leona and Norm continue to cheer on local youngsters in hockey and figure skating.
While Leona was born with a natural talent, she took many courses to hone and develop them. She continues to quote and give credit to her teachers today with the wisdom they bestowed upon her. Mrs. Marttila, Mrs. Finder, and Mmme Dibelo from Montreal.
In 1970, Leona started sewing classes in her basement until Mr. Gibb encouraged her to offer night classes at the high school. Incredibly enough, two of her first students continue under her tutelage 47 years later! They have been with her through the years making everything from fur coats to lingerie, denim vests to duffle coats (Hudson Bay coats).
In the few short lessons I’ve had with Leona, I could add another long list of adjectives to describe her. Smart, fearless, patient – she tackled my new computerized machine without batting an eye encouraging me to “just try it, see what happens!” Many lessons that I will take with me to my own students.
What is the secret to Leona’s success? “I enjoy what I do. To me, it is not a job it’s a pleasure.” There is a Finnish word “sisu” which translates to determination, strength, perseverance and resilience. Leona inherited not only her mother’s creative skills but also her sisu! Just think, if all community members were a quarter as giving as Leona. What a difference it would make!