John Pupkes describes his parents, Annette and Leonard Pupkes, as “a pair of sheepdogs who spent their lives herding sheep.” The couple, who had 10 children, died within a day of each other in early August.
Leonard, who died at Regions Hospital in St. Paul on Aug. 3, was 86. Annette, 84, died Aug. 4 at Johanna Shores senior living facility in Arden Hills, where the couple had lived.
“Their kids were the most important thing to them. We were their center and focus,” said daughter Kathy Riggins, who like her brother John lives in Minneapolis.
Although the couple lived nearly all of their married life in Omaha, adult child after adult child made a home in Minnesota, until eight of their children were there, forming a critical mass. They had long urged their parents to move to Minnesota, but the couple had declined until earlier this year, when their health worsened and they could no longer remain in their home.
In Omaha, Leonard was a diesel mechanic for Kenworth Sales & Service. Annette was a cafeteria lunch lady at her kids’ school, Holy Name Catholic School, as well as a housewife and mother who had her 10 children within a 14-year time span. Pupkes described his parents as Popeye and Olive Oyl: “Using heavy tools eight to 10 hours a day, my dad had muscular arms and my beautiful mother had a slim figure. They made the perfect couple,” he said.
It was rare for the couple to be seen without kids around, said Omaha neighbor Peg Worthing. “They had 10 kids, but a lot of families in the neighborhood had 15 or 18 kids,” she said. “It was a very close-knit Catholic neighborhood.”
The couple watched the pennies closely. Annette wore shoes that should have been thrown out long ago and took bar soap slivers and mixed them in the laundry detergent box to stretch a buck, said John Pupkes. “But when I was in college, she’d write me three times a week and occasionally put three or five bucks in the envelope to buy beer with. She was totally self-sacrificing.”
In a contest with his buddies over whose parent was the most frugal, he won easily after sharing that his dad used the same Easter egg dye year after year, stored in pint canning jars in the basement.
The couple splurged occasionally. McDonalds had 10-cent burgers on Mother’s Day when the kids were young. “Dad would take as many of us as he could out to eat, but then he and Mom would go alone to a nice restaurant for a sit-down dinner,” said Riggins.
Leonard’s passions were puzzles (usually purchased for a quarter at garage sales), canning fruits and vegetables, and Nebraska football. Annette was an avid reader and a political junkie who thought the best thing on TV was C-SPAN. Both were devoted parishioners at Holy Name.
A week before her death, Leonard knew that his wife would die soon and told John that he did not expect to live much longer, either. “As Mom faded, Dad saw his own role fading, too,” said Pupkes. The two lived in separate wings of Johanna Shores. On the day her husband died, Annette’s last request was to hold the picture of their only great-grandchild, Charlie.
The couple were married 63 years. They are survived by 10 children, 21 grandchildren and a great-grandson. In addition to John Pupkes and Kathy Riggins, their children are Linda McManus of Sauk Rapids, Patricia Schafer and Susie Johnson of Omaha, Larry Pupkes of Bloomington, Joseph Pupkes of Plymouth, Kenneth Pupkes of St. Louis Park, Mary (Jeffery) Sutton of Champlin and Nancy Pehl of New Brighton.
Services were held at Holy Name Catholic Church in Omaha on Aug. 10, a block from where the couple raised their 10 children.