From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:
Perhaps people might not know that one of Sault Ste. Marie’s best-known entrepreneurs and philanthropists, Dr. Lou Lukenda came from very humble beginnings.
Lou Lukenda was born in a straw thatched home on Jan. 3, 1929 in the small village of Tihaljina, Croatia to parents Ante and Eva Lukenda. Dr. Lukenda also had four siblings — Michael, Winnifred, John and Joseph. The family emigrated to Sault Ste. Marie when Lou was seven years old, although his father emigrated in 1928 to work on the harvests out west.
When the family moved to Canada in 1936 they stayed in Toronto with family before moving to Thessalon where his father worked on road construction. His father would finally take a job at Algoma Steel in the Open Hearth in addition to farming.
Even though he came from humble beginnings, Lou worked hard and attended Sault Collegiate where he met his future wife Mae Devlin. Lou was not only a gifted student but an athlete as well. He attended what is now known as Lake Superior State University for his undergrad and then attended the University of Toronto Dental School. While there, he was the captain of the basketball team. In order to pay for his education he worked at Algoma Steel, on Great Lakes freighters and several other odd jobs. Interestingly enough when Dr. Lukenda began working at Algoma he told them he was 16 years old when in fact he was 13.
He set up his first dental practice on Albert Street and then moved to the Professional Place on Queen Street where he worked until he retired in 1990.
Dr. Lukenda had a passion for learning and was a huge supporter of education, so much so that he sat on the Board of Education from 1969-1974. In addition he helped support numerous other individuals with their education through scholarships.
Dr. Lukenda also tried his hand in politics, running as a candidate for Member of Parliament for the Progressive Conservative Party in 1972. However, he would lose to Cyril Symes of the NDP in that election.
Sports were an important aspect of Dr. Lukenda’s life and this would lead to his becoming a majority owner of the Soo Greyhounds. He did this to ensure that the Greyhounds remained in Sault Ste. Marie. He was eventually inducted into the local basketball and hockey Hall of Fame in 2013. After his retirement from dentistry in 1990 he became founder and chairman of Extendicare nursing homes throughout Canada and Michigan, a position he held until 2007.
Dr. Lukenda contributed to the community in a myriad of other ways. He was a major benefactor for Algoma University, Soo College, Lake Superior State University and Sault Area Hospital, sat on the Board of Directors for the General Hospital from 1977-1990 and at times served as Chairman. He was also a member and a former Grand Knight of the Knights of Columbus and helped to ensure that the Essar Centre was built. Throughout his life, he received other awards including the Golden Jubilee Medal of Canada, the Sault Ste. Marie Medal of Merit and the Diocesan Medal of Honour. The most recently announced honour is the induction of both Dr. Lukenda and his wife Mae into the Sault Ste. Marie Walk of Fame for 2018.
Dr. Lou Lukenda passed away on May 4, 2017 at the age of 88 leaving behind a life full of accomplishments. He also contributed to the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library’s Oral History collection, which can be viewed on the Public Library’s catalogue. Lou Lukenda’s life motto was “Faith, family and friends” something he truly lived by.
Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provides SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.