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No slowing down for husband and wife volunteer team

Rheal Dupuis says volunteering is 'making things happen with your friends'

For 49 years of marriage, Rheal and Suzanne Dupuis have complemented each other’s strengths and supported each other’s passion for volunteering.

Their passion for volunteering is like one of their favourite pastimes, solving puzzles, where Rheal puts the 11 puzzle pieces together, and lets Suzanne complete the puzzle by placing down the 12th and last piece.

Rheal said he gets to help other people and the community because his wife, Suzanne, fully supports his initiative.

“I want to help out…I got my partner to volunteer. We both help out,” Dupuis said while looking over at Suzanne.

“Partners in crime,” Suzanne added and they both giggled.

The couple’s love for each other is still alive. They exchange glances when they respond, and often finish each other’s sentences.

On slow days, they enjoy coffee together outside, look at the birds and enjoy the nature around them. Indoors, they love doing puzzles and listening to country songs on YouTube.

During busy days they are volunteering with different organizations in Connaught, Iroquois Falls and Timmins.

They both volunteer with the Connaught & District Historical Society as “museum keepers”, where Dupuis is the current president, and Suzanne is the treasurer. They were previously involved with the Porquis Blues Festival and a French choir called L’Echo Du Nord, in Timmins for four years.

They also have separate organizations that they are involved with.

For Suzanne, she is with the Connaught Community Centre as a director, she also led the dart league there, her favourite sport for years, and previously served lunch to senior citizens in Spruce Hill Lodge in South Porcupine.

Dupuis, on the other hand, plays with a band called The Two Andy’s and the Other Guy.

“He is the other guy," Suzanne joked.

The band volunteered to play during the annual Pioneer Day event at the Connaught & District Pioneer Museum. He also serenades seniors with his mandolin in the Manor in Iroquois Falls and in Chateau Georgian Retirement Residence in Timmins.

He said that he hopes to resume playing with the band this Christmas, after the pandemic prevented them from playing.

Rheal also used to dress as Santa Claus during Christmas holidays at the Salvation Army for five years, at the Chateau Georgian Retirement Residence for about eight years, and in the Connaught Community Centre.

There was one instance when his grandson, who lives in Timmins, saw him dressed as Santa Claus.

Rheal’s grandson approached him and said: “I know who you are sir, I recognized your nose”.

He was also a volunteer fireman for 12 years and has volunteered for the Porcupine Miners Memorial Committee as a fundraising chair for 10 years.

“I did volunteer to different places in town, different volunteer work, but with different groups,” he said.

Born and raised in Connaught, his passion for helping others started when he was young when he helped his mother while his father was out in the bush cutting wood.

When he was a kid, he also helped picked up the mail and got groceries for the elderly for about four years — his work made him love the town more when he heard stories from the seniors about Connaught.

“I loved the town…When I was growing up, they used to tell me about the mail, and all those stories (in the history), I guess I got attached to Connaught. There’s no reason to move,” he added.

He said that Connaught, even a small town, has a rich history — that is why the board members of the historical society decided to build the Connaught Museum in 2005.

“We decided to build a museum to preserve our history, not only for the present population but for the future generation — this includes Connaught, Barber’s Bay, McIntosh Springs, Finn Road, Night Hawk, Drinkwater Pit (now Dugwall) and Hoyle,” he said.

Rheal said that volunteering is  “making things happen with your friends”. True enough, it took the help of many volunteers working together to build the Connaught museum.

In 1993, he was in touch with some people in the area to form the Connaught & District Historical Society with the goal of building a museum. After years of fundraising and donations, the organization was able to begin construction in 2005 and launched the museum in 2010.

“This building was made possible by the volunteers. All I did was ask for help and the volunteers came out. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into or knew anything about construction, but the right people came along and volunteered to guide us through,” he said.

Some items that can be seen in the Museum are the barber chair from the Connaught Hotel, artifacts and pictures of T.S. Woolings, lumber and farming equipment from the area.

Suzanne pointed at the original signage of Bayside Beach and said that was where she and Dupuis used to date.

Suzanne said her husband will never stop volunteering even though they are soon turning 70 years old.

Rheal admits that it is hard to slow down. Five years from now, he still sees himself and his wife volunteering and doing things they love in their community.

“We can never say no to future volunteer work,” Dupuis said.

Suzanne added that if he is not volunteering, he goes around the community and helps their neighbours.

“He never stops. You can’t stop him,” Suzanne said.

However, even when Dupuis decides to retire, he is assured that there are young individuals who are willing to take the torch from him and other volunteers of Connaught. In fact, he said, the new members of the Connaught & District Historical Society consist of individuals in their late 20s to early 50s.