OTTAWA, Ohio - Frank Sispera, who emigrated from Czechoslovakia to Canada at age 15 without family or knowledge of English and who became the owner of two small grocery stores, died Monday in St. Rita's Medical Center, Lima.
He was 89 and died during surgery to remove a gall stone, his wife, Joyce, said.
He was born in the part of Austria-Hungary that became Czechoslovakia, the son of a tuba player in a military band. The family of seven lived in a two-room house with a dirt floor. His grandmother slept on the stove, he slept on a bench at the table, and a goose had her nest under his parent's bed, his wife said.
Mr. Sispera was so impressed by a teacher's raves about the United States that at age 11 he signed up for immigration. He knew that if he did not leave before turning 16 - considered the age of adulthood at the time - he would be drafted into the military for years.
An aunt helped arrange for a Canadian sugar beet company to pay for his trip to Ontario. He worked off his debt in a year in the beet fields and then worked on the railroad and tobacco farms.
Mr. Sispera regularly helped an elderly man mow his yard without payment. After he learned enough English to communicate, the man told Mr. Sispera he owned Chatham (Ontario) Business College and promised to send him there.
He later married an Ohio woman in 1937 and volunteered for the U.S. Army in 1943, serving in India and Burma. With funds from his military service, he bought the Leipsic IGA in northeast Putnam County in 1948 and the Continental IGA in northwest Putnam County in 1950.
Mr. Sispera sold the stores in 1955, bothered by a war injury to his back, and became a real estate appraiser. He was employed by government entities in 10 states before retiring in the late 1970s.
He wrote his life story, Immigrants Dream, on 258 pages and published 500 copies himself in 1997, selling perhaps 100 copies priced at $20 in Ottawa stores, his wife said. He often referred to the United States as “God's country” and said he never had seen poverty among ambitious people here.
He enjoyed gardening and had 1,000 feet of flower beds in Kentucky in the 1980s. During the 1970s when he lived in Indiana, he landscaped an apartment complex. He and his wife returned to Putnam County in 1993.
They were married in 1986, but had first met about 50 years ago when he owned the stores and she was his secretary. It was the third marriage for both of them. Mr. Sispera's second wife, the former Margie Lee Williams, died in 1985.
Surviving are his wife, Joyce; daughter, Tracy Herrin; step-daughters, Marsha Leslie, Debra McDonald, Donna Laubenthal, Wanda Cutlip, and Lisa Hoffman; brother, Jeroslav Sispera; sister, Ruzena Horka; two grandchildren; and seven step-grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 7 to 9 p.m. tomorrow with a Rosary service at 8 p.m. and 2 to 9 p.m. Friday with an Eagles service at 7 p.m. The funeral will be at 10 a.m. Saturday in St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Glandorf, Ohio.
The family suggests tributes to the Rev. Casimir Adjoe of Ho Polytechnic, Ghana.