Thursday, May 15, 2014

The PUKSTA family, Polish immigrants to Claremont, New Hampshire

Stephen Puksta works with my husband, Vincent.  He told him the story of the Puksta family wall in Claremont, New Hampshire, as well as the ususual gravestone to his parents in the St. Mary Cemetery.  Stephen's grandparents immigrated to Claremont from Poland, worked hard to build businesses in New Hampshire, and supported the local St. Joseph Catholic church.

Stephen's father was Charles Peter Puksta, born in Windsor, Vermont.  He was the son of Charles Michael Puksta, of Polish ancestry, and Benedicta Siemesz Puksta Gdan, of Lithuanian ancestry. He graduated Kimball Union Academy in 1942, Middlebury College in 1949, and MIT in 1950. He served in the US Air Force in World War II, and retired from the Air Force reserves in 1983 with the rank of Lt. Colonel.  He was on the Claremont city council for 26 years, and mayor for 16 years, as well as serving in many other civic and charitable organizations.  In 1984 the Claremont City Council named the Broad Street Bridge after Charles Puksta.

This photo is taken from the 
Kearsarge Magazine, "What's in a Name? Memorial bridges celebrate local heroes"
by Laura Jean Whitcomb, photos by Gary Summerton,  Fall issue 2012, page 16

Charles's wife was Lorraine Leocha Puksta, the daughter of  Alexander and Jadwiga Leocha, owners of Leocha's Market on Elm Street in Claremont.  She was born in Claremont, and graduated from Stevens High School.  Lorraine and Charles were married for 58 years, and both died in 2005. Her parents were founding members of St. Joseph Catholic church, built in 1922 by the Polish community.  They donated the stained glass window in the church, which is replicated in ceramic on the gravestone bench seen below.

Claremont is situated at the confluence of of the Sugar River with the larger Connecticut River.  There were many waterpowered mills and businesses here over the years.  On the banks of the Sugar River there is a stone wall built by generations of the Leocha and Puksta families, right behind the Leocha Market.   Alexander Leocha started the wall to prevent the river from eroding the banking.  His son-in-law, Charlie Puksta continued the project with his sons using river rocks, rocks from the Joy quarrry, and other building projects around Claremont. It was completed in 1983.  The story of this project was featured in the Summer 2011 issue of SooNipi Magazine (pages 34 and 35), a local free publications distributed in South Western New Hampshire.

Steve emailed me a great story about the wall and his father's funeral:

"Since the wall was constructed by hand, with many members of our extended family participating over the years.   To this day, we still talk about the way at family reunions between the cousins, aunts and uncles.    My parents were the “soul” of a large extended Polish family, and leaders of a community.    In my father’s later years, he was forced to amputate one of his legs due to illness.    On the day of his funeral, Fred visited the wall, reached into the “heart” of the wall, and pulled out a stone.   We 7 children all signed the stone, and placed it in the coffin where Dad’s leg was missing.    It was a small tribute to the man who was the leader and soul of a large Polish family, as well as a community.

Claremont has paid tribute to my father by naming the town bridge after him.   Because of his volunteer work for the Community College system in NH, the state named the library after him at the community college in Claremont.   I tell my sons that it is rare to have a public bridge and library named after someone who didn’t donate millions of dollars.   He only donated his love for the community." 

This photo of Puksta's Wall was taken soon after the wall was finished in 1983.
The tenements on Spring Street that you see in this photo have since been demolished.

Steve's brother, Fred, designed the gravestone bench at St. Mary's Cemetery in Claremont. He is the owner of Puksta Design Studio, and he has photos of his projects at his website, including the memorial bench to his parents.

According to Steve Puksta, his father wanted a tall gravestone and a bench at the family plot in Claremont.  His mother wanted a ceramic insert on the front.  The town would not approve a tall gravestone and a separate bench, so Fred Puksta combined the bench into the design.  He sent the plans to China, where the black granite is quarried and they cut the pieces.  The ceramic tile that matches the stained glass window of the church was painted in Florida.  The ceramic insert of the Virgin Mary was painted in Massachusetts.  The entire bench was assembled in Claremont.

Lorraine Leocha Puksta                       Charles Peter Puksta
Frebruary 6, 1924 - November 30, 2005              July 24, 1923 - August 28, 2005
Loving Wife - Mother - Grandmother           Loving Husband- Father - Grandfather

Leocha Window - St. Joseph Church - 1925

Married August 28, 1948
"Ja cie kocham" 
["I love you" in Polish]

Charles Puksta
Windsor High School 1941
KUA [Kimball Union Academy] 1942 - Middlebury 1949 - MIT 1950
Mayor of Claremont - 16 years
Claremont City Councilman - 26 years
NH Technical College Governor
Connecticut River Commission - 15 years
Presidential Advisor
WWII Vet - Lt. Col. USAF (R) - A. M. Legion
Knights of Columbus- 50 years

Lorraine Puksta
Stevens High School, 1941
Northampton Comm. College 1943 - UNH  - 1992
"Mayor of Lower Village"
Businesswoman - Leocha's Market
Mother of 7 - All College Graduates
Election Worker
US Army Civil Service - WWII
Ladies Adoration Society
Catholic Daughters

SooNipi Magazine

Kearsarge Magazine

Puksta Design Studio

The URL for this post is

Copyright 2014, Stephen Puksta and Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. That is the coolest gravemarker/bench I have ever seen! I also love the story about the children signing the rock. Thanks for sharing your family with us.

  2. Dziekuje bardzo (thank you very much!) for writing this story about our friends the Pukstas and our Polish traditions in Claremont! Charlie was one of the founders of our yearly Polish American Heritage Month celebrations in October, beginning in 1986. There are photos of Charlie & Lorraine, Alex & Christine in the photo album on the Polish American Heritage Claremont NH Facebook page. Whether making kapusta & helping to serve it at our Dozynki, demonstrating how to make the famous Puksta fresh kielbasa at our cooking class, or serving as radio co-host on our Polish radio shows, Charlie was there, and Lorraine, perhaps seeming to stay in the background, was helping to hold everything together!