The cheque left Donny White stunned.
It came with a message, “I trust the enclosed will alleviate anxieties about the Jasper Centre building. I look forward to visiting again someday, maybe even this year”.
With disbelief, the Jasper board chair re-checked the amount: $250,000. Were his eyes deceiving him?
The money would go a long, long way, he thought, to helping the centre pay for repairs and operating costs.
The name of the
sender? Richard Rooney, a Toronto businessman who had already donated $25,000 so that the centre could buy two metal horse sculptures by Eastend artist Grieta Krisjanson.
White revealed the windfall at midday last Friday during a break in discussions on the Jasper Cultural & Historical Centre’s new strategic plan. Accompanied by board members, he held the giant cheque for a group photograph in front of the building.
In a media statement, White said that Rooney had made clear there no strings attached to his donation and he did not expect any special attention.
“We disagree, Mr. Rooney most certainly deserves special acknowledgment and we are considering a number of options to show our appreciation,” said White.
“Mr. Rooney has long supported the arts in Ontario and his acknowledgment of the Jasper Centre and its attempt to interpret the arts and heritage of this community is humbling and gratifying to say the least.”
White outlined major challenges facing the Jasper Centre.
He said the centre had entered 2021 with trepidation owing to COVID-19 and the knowledge that $40,000 was needed to replace the front/rear entrances.
“However, we were hopeful the pandemic would pass and normal operations would soon resume, allowing us to raise the necessary capital to fix the roof. In addition to the capital expenditure, the Centre raises approximately $100,000 annually in grants, fund-raising and donations to cover normal operating expenses. This is a huge challenge in a normal year, without factoring in COVID and capital expenditures while at the same time competing with other worthy fund-raising community initiatives. However, we were optimistic and started to play ways in which to raise the funds.”
White said the Jasper Centre was preparing for a spring fund-raiser when it was dealt a second blow after a wind storm blew off part of the roof; this resulted in some interior leakage and, upon inspection, the discovery the entire membrane of the roof needed replacing. Total costs of the work required came to about $60,000.
“With unwavering optimism, we thought ‘what the hell, if we can raise $40,000, we can raise another $60,000’. However, within weeks, more bad news arrived when the professional stonemason informed us that the entire front facade of the Centre was in serious need of mortar work as was evidenced in the cracks and slumping – an estimated $100,000. Be it the absurdity of the situation, where we went from raising $40,000 to $100,000 to $200,000 plus the annual operating budget, we simply moved forward, perhaps in a bit of a daze.
“Due to COVID, it was difficult to raise funds from special events and programmes, so we went the standard route of letters appealing to an already donor-fatigued community to start a ‘capital fund’, as well as the idea of a Legacy Fund for former residents, school alumnae and friends of the Centre who live 100 kilometres or more from Maple Creek.”
White said this fund was made possible in the fall of 2020 by Rooney’s $25,000 donation. After the purchase of the sculptures, $6,500 remained, which became the basis of the fund.
“The Capital Fund got a quick start of $5,000 from an anonymous donor and continued to grow. The only difference between the two letters of appeal is we specifically asked the Legacy donors for a minimum donation of $1,000 and suggested families might wish to go together in memory of a loved one. Thanks to Walter Steinke of Medicine Hat for a $5,000 donation early into the campaign and combined with Mr. Rooney’s, the legacy fund also began to take shape.
“As the summer passed and we patiently waited for contractors, materials and supplies, donations continued to arrive for both the capital and legacy accounts. The public must have sensed the urgency for the size of each donation was higher than the norm with many $1,000 contributions.”
White said that with 2021 almost at an end, the Jasper board was pleased to announce that it had operational obligations, with enough to see it into 2022.
“In respect to the $200,000 in capital costs, I am very pleased to report: we have raised approximately $350,000 in donations between the two fund-raising efforts with donations continuing to arrive. We sit somewhat in awe as people from across this country donate to their old school, their parents, grandparents and even great-grandparent’s school.”
As well as Rooney’s $250,000 cheque – sent in July – the Jasper Centre had received a donation of $10,000 from Lawrence and Linda Gordon of Medicine Hat in memory of Linda’s grandparents, Raymond & Gladys Glascock; this was an example of many kind donations.
“Although Mr Rooney’s very generous donation alleviates the immediate problem, the Centre continues to require constant maintenance/repair, as well as rising operational costs. This is an iconic building in the heart of Maple Creek and we trust our supporters will continue to give generously each year as we face the challenges ahead. It seems appropriate at this time of year to echo tiny Tim’s famous lines in respect to the people of this community and former residents and friends from across the country and to the south, ‘God bless us everyone’.”
Donny White, board chair, December 3, 2021