Jul 30, 2019
WAUSAU, WI - Family, friends and former students are mourning one of the founders of Habitat for Humanity of Wausau and a longtime Wausau West High School teacher, Louis "Lou" Santangelo.
Santangelo, 74, died July 18 at Azura Memory Care in Rib Mountain, 17 months after suffering a debilitating stroke that took away his ability to communicate or understand others, said his wife of 51 years, Lynne Santangelo.
Friends and family remember Santangelo as someone who exemplified faith through work and who used compassion, empathy and kindness as compass points to guide his life. He joined the Peace Corps as a young man and he lived out the giving and understanding spirit of the organization for the rest of his life.
"I always thought that the character in the Bible Lou was most like was the little boy who offered up his lunch of loaves and fishes," Lynne Santangelo said, referring to the Gospel account of how Jesus used a boy's simple lunch to miraculously feed multitudes. "He would always share. If you baked bread, you shared it. If a neighbor was visiting, they would go away with a loaf. You do woodworking, you share it. He just liked sharing."
It always was that way. Santangelo was a teenager in his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, when he saw a newspaper advertisement recruiting young people for the newly-formed Peace Corps. He knew that serving in undeveloped countries, helping people contend with poverty, was for him. He served after graduating from Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. He met Lynne while they were at Peace Corps training, and they served together in Peru.
(below) Louis "Lou" Santangelo died July 18, 2019, age 74.
They were married on Jan. 6, 1968, in Lima, Peru. They worked together teaching in elementary schools that served the poorest children who lived in the shantytowns the grew outside of Lima. It was an influential time for them both.
And Santangelo kept the old newspaper ad in his wallet "for the rest of his life," Lynne said.
After the Peace Corps, the Santangelos moved to Wausau, where Lou would begin a 32-year career of teaching Spanish at Wausau West High School. Teaching was a natural step for Lou Santangelo.
His colleague of decades, Jim Kraft, a history teacher at West, said that in school, Lou wasn't a leader in a traditional sense of becoming a department chair or working to become a principal.
"But he was a leader a sense that when he spoke, everyone knew he was speaking from the heart and for the good of the kids," Kraft said.
Students knew that he cared, said Jen Holtebeck, 44, a 1993 graduate of West High who took several classes from Santangelo. Holtebeck is now a Spanish teacher with the De Pere School District, a choice that was partly influenced by Santangelo's way of connecting with students.
"He paid attention to us," Holtebeck said. "He went out of his way to make class engaging. And you don't do that if you don't like the kids you teach."
Santangelo's desire to help led him, in partnership with his friend Dick Gumness, to start the Habitat for Humanity of Wausau chapter in 1990. Lynne Santangelo said the Habitat for Humanity concept was brought up at an ecumenical Christian group, which at the time was discussing the needs of the community and searching for ways to meet those needs.
"Both Dick and Lou were really excited about it," Lynne Santangelo said. "And Dick would become the chapter's first board president."
Since 1990, the Wausau chapter has built 66 homes in the area.
A member of the First English Lutheran Church, Santangelo was a leader of the congregation's Church and Society Committee, a community outreach group. In that role, Santangelo supported social activist causes such as free community suppers for people in need, headed up a highway cleanup crew and organized annual CROP Walks, which raised money for local food shelves.
"He was a force," said the Rev. Erik Olson, the pastor of First English. "It was a kind of force where Lou is so excited about something that you can't help be excited with him. He had such a positive attitude. ... He had the spirit of Christ in his heart."
Contact Keith Uhlig at 715-845-0651 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at @UhligK on Twitter and Instagram or on Facebook.
Passed away July 18, 2019
Louis “Lou” Anthony Santangelo passed away July 18, 2019 at Azura Memory Care in Wausau, Wisconsin, 17 months after a devastating stroke.
Born January 10, 1945, in Youngstown, Ohio, Lou was the fourth of five children born to Louis and Grace (Ceremeli) Santangelo.
Lou graduated from Rayen High in Youngstown, earned a B.A. from Kent State, and an M.A. from the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He met his one and only girlfriend, Lynne Puttmann, during their Peace Corps training. They married January 6, 1968, in Lima, Peru.
After serving two years in the Peace Corps, Lou began his teaching career at Wausau Senior High, transferring to Wausau West when it opened a year later. He cared deeply for his students and never stopped thinking of ways to help them learn to welcome diversity of thought and customs. He retired after 32 years of teaching Spanish.
Lou loved his family, his church, his community, and his work. He enjoyed telling stories, baking, working with wood, and taking photographs. He delighted in sharing his interests and skills with anyone.
Lou was proud of his Italian heritage.
A founder of Wausau’s Habitat for Humanity chapter, Lou also participated in the CROP Hunger walk from its inception and became one of its leaders. He chaired First English Lutheran’s Church in Society Committee for many years and advocated for ecumenical and interfaith collaboration through organizations including Faith in Action and N.A.O.M.I.
Lou was preceded in death by his parents and siblings Flora Cepin, Rita (Stanley) Bundza, and Vincent Santangelo. He is survived by his wife and children Maria (Robert) Barrett, Dina (Charles) Mitchell, David (Tracy) Santangelo, and Robert Santangelo. Lou also is survived by grandchildren Deja Mitchell; Natalie, Louis, and Vanessa Barrett; and Grace and Joseph Santangelo. He is further survived by his sister Valerie (Paul) Golubic; sisters-in-law Sharon Puttmann (Lee Schmidt) and Lucille Santangelo; brothers-in-law Paul (Deb) Puttmann, and George Cepin; and many nieces, nephews, and godchildren.
A service of thanksgiving for Lou’s life will be held at First English Lutheran Church, Wausau, on Sunday, July 28, 2019. Visitation begins at 3:00 PM with the service starting at 5:00 PM. Rev. Erik Olson will officiate. Helke Funeral Home is assisting the family with the arrangements; you may sign our family guestbook at helke.com.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a contribution to International Rescue Committee’s Border Crisis Watch (International Rescue Committee P.O. Box 6068, Albert Lea, MN 56007-9847 or https://help.rescue.org/donate), Habitat for Humanity of Wausau (https://habitatwausau.org/), Heifer International (https://www.heifer.org/campaign/end-hunger-poverty-donation.html), or a local food pantry of your choice.