By Jennifer Cronin
Free Press Staff
Mary Jane (MJ) Leppard, (née Chudik) was born the second of four children to father Willie Chudik, born in Morrissey Mines and mother Norma Bossio born in Fernie.
As children, the Chudik clan would go for Sunday outings huckleberry picking.
“Dad took us to Coal Creek for bush rides and then to Elko for ice cream. We did not have seat belts, and we would cruise all the dirt roads. He would show us where everyone lived,” MJ recalled. “Every second Sunday we would go to the cemetery. Dad would take the lawnmower and mow the [family] graves. We would put flowers on them. Everybody would be up at the cemetery. No one looked after it back then.”
MJ’s mother Norma, a devout Catholic, was a stay-at-home mom after the children were born, but returned to work at the Fernie Hospital once they got older.
“She was a coffee lady. Every day, Monday to Friday, the ladies would go to each other’s houses to catch up on all the gossip,” Mary Jane noted.
MJ’s father worked for the Department of Highways, “Back then the highways were in amazing shape as they worked 24/7.”
In 1985, only a few months after retirement, at age 65 Willie passed away.
MJ recalls her grandmother living with the family at one time.
“Mom’s dad passed away when the family was young. Her brother took care of the family. He owned the Hilltop Café in Elko.”
Norma passed away in 2003 at the age of 74.
School for MJ started in trailers at Isabella Dicken Elementary School until Grade 6, at which time her class moved into the basement of the old high school.
“We played hide and seek or tag at the former Coal Company, now the City Yards. We were not allowed to go near the river, so not a lot of locals know how to swim,” she laughed. “Sometimes the snow was so deep in winter we would slide off the garage roof on our toboggans.”
At the age of 16, MJ worked at the Shell gas station and bought a motorcycle. After finishing school she worked part-time for Social Services, then at the police station and on to Westar until the layoffs.
In 1983, Mary Jane married Hart Leppard and together they have three children, Erika, Jarrod and Courtney.
Mary Jane now resides in Sparwood and works for Moffatt Supply.
Of her relocation from Fernie, MJ shared that she feels she was forced out of her hometown, where she was born and raised, by high housing prices.
“Fernie used to be such a nice little community. That is what drew people here. I miss walking around and seeing people,” she remarked.
Not one to shy away from a challenge, MJ has spent years fighting for what she feels is right, including the snow plowing in front of the green mail boxes, the school health policy, and most recently for water at her home in the Spardell Trailer Park.
In the spirit of giving back, Mary Jane also spent 15 years as the coordinator for the Party Program, 12 years teaching Catechism, and four years as a marriage commissioner.
A girl’s trip to Maui in 2014 and the Bahamas this year has become a tradition for the Leppard women which they hope to continue.
These days, when she is not out in the bush cutting firewood with her chainsaw, fixing her carport, splitting wood, building something or baking up a storm, Mary Jane finds her greatest joy in spending time with her granddaughter, Ally.
With Chudik passion and pride, and the strength to fight for what she believes in, Mary Jane is a fearless “face of the valley.”