Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Grandmother loves taking care of people, at home and school

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Angela Di Pietro came to Winnipeg in 1961.

The young Italian immigrant spoke no English, knew nothing about the city and had no idea how she'd make a living.

The 19-year-old knew one thing: This was the city chosen by her beloved Mario, the boy she'd fallen in love with on the streets of her home town.

She was 15 when the sparks flew. Mario was 20.

He had decided to chase his dreams in North America. She left family and friends to be with her childhood love.

They married shortly after her arrival in Canada. That was almost 50 years ago.

They're comfortable in their Fort Garry home and happy to have the children and grandchildren God has blessed them with.

She's 67 now, a solidly built woman with a still-heavy accent. Di Pietro worked hard to learn English, helped by her neighbours.

"They would come over with a cup and say 'cup'. They'd point to my hair and say 'hair'."

She laughs when she remembers one of her mistakes.

"I was going to a wedding and I asked about the broom. They said, 'it's groom.' Then they showed me the broom."

She's a devout Catholic, wearing a watch with the face of Padre Pio, an Italian saint.

Like so many immigrants before and after, Angela Di Pietro figured out how to survive. Mario had a construction job. She was determined to help the family finances.

"I came in October. May, I started work."

She started sewing jackets at Monarch Wear. She was paid 66 cents an hour. It was piece work but jackets took too much time to finish. She never made more than 66 cents an hour.

She moved on to Rice Sportswear. It was straight time, she earned more and she liked the work.

Life threw her a curve. She became pregnant with Lia, her daughter. She was so sick she had to quit work.

After Lia, they were gifted with Angelo.

She stayed home, as women did. But once the children got a little older, Di Pietro took a dishwashing job at a seniors' home. She worked in the afternoon when the kids were in school.

She moved on to cooking but eventually quit.

Next up was Golden Links seniors' home. She stayed there about 12 years washing dishes. She was itching to cook and finally got her chance. She had to stick to the menu plans.

"I am a good cook but that old folks' home, they say what you cook. They used to give me the lasagne, the spaghetti. I'd cook it Italian style."

She smiles at the memory of pleasing the seniors with her special meals.

Di Pietro retired 15 years ago. There were grandchildren to look after, meals to cook and a house to keep up. She thought she was done working for money.

Work wasn't done with her. Seven years ago, she enrolled her granddaughter in the preschool at Fort Garry's Ralph Maybank school. She was asked if she'd consider working at the school lunch program.

"I was Grandma babysitter. I was retired. I said 'what am I supposed to do with my granddaughter?'"

The school said she could bring her granddaughter with her. Angela Di Pietro became the school's lunch lady.

She doesn't stand over a steam table and ladle out slop. Her job is to heat the food the kids bring from home.

When she starts her shift at 11:30, she cleans the tables. They've already been wiped down but she wants to make sure all the germs are gone. Then she puts out ice cream pails for any uneaten food.

When the students arrive she heats their pizza pops, soup or whatever they have in their lunch kits. She says she doesn't believe the students are eating unhealthy food. It's not her home cooking but it's not bad.

She makes sure they all have something to eat.

After lunch she picks up the garbage, tidies up and then heads outside to watch the kids play.

Because she's been at the school so long she has watched many of the children grow up.

"I want to make sure they're well looked after," she says. "Some of them, they come up and hug me. I say please don't call me Mrs. Di Pietro. Call me Angela."

She earns $15 an hour but it's not really about the money.

"You see how interesting the children get. The ones in Grade 6, they're getting ready for high school. They change but they still want their hugs."

There's no glamour in Angela Di Pietro's job but there's no stress either. She's taking care of people, something she's done since her own children were born, working only a part of the day and coming home to take care of her beloved Mario.

"I'm happy," she says.

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 9, 2009 B1

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About Lindor Reynolds

National Newspaper Award winner Lindor Reynolds began work at the Free Press as a 17-year-old proofreader. It was a rough introduction to the news business.

Many years later, armed with a university education and a portfolio of published work, she was hired as a Free Press columnist. During her 20-plus years on the job she has written for every section in the paper, with the exception of Business. She’ll get around to them some day.

Lindor has received considerable recognition for her writing. Her awards include the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ general interest award and the North American Travel Journalists Association top prize.
Her work on Internet luring led to an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada and her coverage of the child welfare system prompted a change to Manitoba Child and Family Services Act to make the safety of children paramount.

She has earned three citations of merit for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism and has been awarded a Distinguished Alumni commendation from the University of Winnipeg. Lindor was also named a YMCA/YWCA  Woman of Distinction.

She is married with four daughters. If her house was on fire and the kids and dog were safe, she’d grab her passport.
 
lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

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