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Posted by: Jon

I was asked by the Saskatoon Community Foundation to write a piece on how the Gordie Howe Endowment Fund for Alzheimer’s Research came to be.  I suppose it’s both an honour and a blessing to be able to tell you how I had a small part in making it happen.
My involvement in philanthropy started with being inspired by other local heroes who were willing to put their name up as an example of Saskatoon philanthropy.  Les and Irene Dube had their photos in the Star Phoenix honouring them for one of the many donations they have made around the city.  I remember cutting their picture out of the newspaper that day and putting it on my fridge.  It was a reminder to me that success was something to be proud of because it empowered people like the Dubes to give back to their community.  They are heroes of mine in business and philanthropy.
As a young lawyer, I joined the Kinsmen Club of Saskatoon and soon found myself helping with the Kinsmen Sports Celebrity Dinner, an annual event profiling great sports celebrities.  We like to say it’s a dinner that feeds the entire community because of the money we raise for the community’s greatest needs. 
The 2015 Dinner was chaired was by my very good (and late) friend Scott Clarkson. We paid tribute to our local hero Gordie Howe and invited Wayne Gretzky. My role on the Dinner had evolved over the years to the pro bono legal advisor, lawyer, agent, and recruiter. Negotiating Wayne Gretzky’s appearance was fairly straight forward except that we had a small problem; Wayne wanted to make a sizeable contribution to a local fund in Gordie’s honour, but as far as I knew, one didn’t exist.
After having kids and wanting them to value giving back to the community and philanthropy, my wife Andrea and I had started a named fund with the Saskatoon Community Foundation.  It was our big idea that we would build the fund until one day it could be big enough so that it would be donor advised, and our kids would help us decide where to send the proceeds. What we liked about the fund was that we could grow it over the years at our own pace and that a portion of the income it earned would also go to capital appreciation.  We liked the idea that the fund would live in perpetuity and become a gesture of goodwill that will outlast our time on this earth. 
While negotiating Wayne Gretzky’s appearance, I was corresponding with the Howe family on their appearance for the dinner along with Gordie’s. His health was failing and we weren’t really sure if he was actually going to make it to Saskatoon.  It was in speaking with Marty Howe that I learned of the Howe family's desire to create a legacy fund in their father’s honour in support of Alzheimer’s research.
I explained the benefits of the SCF to the Howe family, and they were onboard.  Wayne Gretzky liked the idea of surprising the Howe family with a large contribution to the fund during the Kinsmen dinner and so the ball was rolling. Setting up the fund with the foundation was very straightforward.
Wayne Gretzky names Gordie Howe as his personal hockey hero, and to this day, refers to Gordie as “the greatest hockey player who ever lived.”  Because Alzheimer’s was important to the Howe family, the Gordie Howe Endowment Fund for Alzheimer’s Research is now a permanent fixture on the Saskatchewan philanthropic landscape towards combatting Alzheimer’s.  The fund embodies what the SCF is all about: find a person to commemorate or a cause you believe in and use the SCF’s perpetual giving to be the virtual plaque that will last past your lifetime; to commemorate your hero; to be inspirational.
As for my law heroes there are three, my recent mentor Silas Halyk QC who has come out of retirement to handle one last case with me; The Great Peter Abrametz, my dad; and Gerry Spence, who started The Trial Lawyer's College, where I have received most of my formal continuing legal education training these last few years.

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