The Case of the Russian Stamps
When I was a child, my father was head of PR for a national outboard marine corporation. Power boating and outboard motors were his passions. I learned how to walk on a houseboat, and grew up on the water.
When I was about 7 or 8, he received a letter from a man in Leningrad who wanted to correspond with him about outboard motors. Their correspondence continued for years. The man, Lenty Tregubenko, asked my father if he had kids; Dad told him he had two teenage sons and a pair of small fraternal, not identical twin daughters. Lenty received my father's permission to write to us girls.
He wrote to us for years. We were fascinated with his handwritten letters in excellent English, and the beautiful wooden toys and ornate Russian stamps he would send us. In return, he asked my mother to send him items he couldn't easily or cheaply find in the Soviet Union, like fine-tipped felt pens and pantyhose. He asked us to call him Uncle Lenty, and always signed his letters with that. We were also tickled by the knowledge that our letters were being opened and scrutinized by the governments of both countries, during the Cold War.
In 1972, our next-door neighbour Dr. John Martyn accompanied the Canadian hockey team to the Canada-Soviet hockey series as the team doctor, and while in Leningrad, met Lenty. I was thrilled to hear about it. I hoped that someday I'd get to the Soviet Union and meet "Uncle" Lenty myself.
In the early 1980s my mother told me that she'd heard that Uncle Lenty had been crossing the street in Leningrad and was hit by a car, and killed. I mourned the fact that now I'd never meet him.
When the Internet came along, I started looking for traces of him. Five years ago I found Uncle Lenty in, of all places, a Google book search, in "Corporate Creativity: The Winning Edge" by Dr. Pradip Khandwalla, a 2003 book about what makes certain corporate leaders great. Dr. Khandwalla compared several entrepreneurs from different countries. One of those was Uncle Lenty. It's just a paragraph, a thumbnail sketch, but it blew my mind:
"Lenty Tregubenko, innovator-intrapreneur and later entrepreneur. Born in a humble family in Russia. Robust constitution, energetic, warm, open lively mind, read widely. Soviet degree in electrical engineering. He got a job in an industrial plant upon graduation. Produced prototypes of motorcycles and small power-boat engines in a cellar. He kept in touch with foreign engineers, and read many technical publications. He was exiled to Siberia for his outspokenness, on charges of being a spy. There, he was given the job of supervising the electrical installation in a plant. His team successfully improvised in difficult conditions. On his release from Siberia, he resumed his interest in small powerboats and outboard motors, and became an expert. He accepted a job in a military equipment plant in Leningrad. He found the operating climate congenial. After Perestroika, he turned into a consultant and trade representative, advising clients on how to set up business in Russia."http://tinyurl.com/435n88c
Now the cool thing is, my twin sister, who has been estranged from my family for 9 years (I kept reaching out to her every year anyway, I never gave up hope) contacted me on our latest birthday, May 3, and we finally reconnected. She offered to send me the Russian stamps; she's had them for decades. There are a LOT, mostly in collector's edition type cards of commemorative sets, from around 1965-1970. I'm going to get them appraised. :D