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THE PASSING OF THREE OKANAGAN COMMUNITY BUILDERS

B.C.’s Okanagan Valley saw the passing of several significant business leaders and community builders last week. If things tend to happen in threes, this was a very big three, indeed.

Tom Foord was born in 1922 in tiny Instow, Saskatchewan. After a stint in the Canadian Air Force, he and his new wife settled in Vernon, B.C. in 1944.

He bought a local gas station in 1951 and, a couple of years later, decided to focus on selling tires. That decision led to the creation of Kal Tire (named after our local Kalamalka Lake).

A little over 60 years later, Kal Tire is a national and international success story. It has steadily expanded and now has over 240 service locations, 10 retread facilities, 4 OTR plants and 4 warehouses across Canada. Kal Tire’s Canadian network of service locations spans from Vancouver Island to the border of Quebec, and Kal Tire Mining Tire Group operates in 19 countries across 5 continents.

Throughout the decades of business success, Tom Foord and his family have cared deeply for their home town of Vernon and have been involved in too many community causes to list here. Their devotion to their home town is demonstrated by the fact that, despite their company’s stunning success, their head offices remain in Vernon.

Des Schumann was born in 1917 in Adelaide, Australia. He was stationed with the Royal Australia Air Force during World War Two in New Guinea and the Catalinas, and in Japan after the war.

He has been described as having had the Midas touch when it came to ski resorts. Schumann started off with minor player Mount Hotham in Victoria, Australia, turning it into a successful resort.

His impact in the Okanagan came with his purchase of the (then) underachieving Big White Ski Resort in 1985. Schmann invested heavily in the resort (located about an hour from Kelowna) spending many times the original purchase price to upgrade facilities. The Schumann family’s efforts to increase the facilities and profile of Big White were hugely successful.

They added Silver Star Mountain Resort, outside Vernon, to their portfolio in 2001. Again, the Schumanns invested heavily, installing high speed chairlifts, guest services infrastructure, and a variety of snow-related activities. Big White and Silverstar are now as fundamental a part of the community as is Okanagan Lake and are well-known to discerning skiers world-wide.

Irving “Ike” Barber was born in Edmonton, Alberta in 1923. He graduated from the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Forestry in 1950, having previously served during World War II for five years with the Royal Canadian Air Force.

In 1978, Barber founded Slocan Forest Products Limited, building it into one of North America’s leading lumber producers. He retired as chairman in 2002.

He was instrumental in establishing programs to promote education and research throughout B.C. He has been described as having had a life-long belief in the value of education and the importance of access to education, regardless of income, especially in remote communities of the province.

Dr. Barber was closely involved with UBC both in Vancouver and in the Okanagan Valley. The Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, to which he donated $20 million in 2006, remains a world-leading facility and a hub of the Vancouver campus.

In, 2004 he donated another $10 million to establish the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences and Learning Centre Interface Program at UBC’s new campus in the Okanagan. He will be remembered as one of B.C.’s most prominent entrepreneurs and education philanthropists.

This column is obviously too brief to fully recognize the range of accomplishments and contributions of these three fine men. But their investments in our Okanagan Valley – in dollars, ingenuity, and sweat – will be seen, felt, and appreciated by local residents, employees, and students for decades to come.

Robert Smithson is a labour and employment lawyer, and operates Smithson Employment Law in Kelowna. For more information about his practice, or to subscribe to You Work Here, visit www.smithsonlaw.ca. This subject matter is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.