"A lot of university students are struggling financially," says Lakehead alumnus and donor Gary Koreen of London, Ontario. "My wife Mary Margaret and I wanted to do something meaningful to help them."
The community-spirited couple has made a $100,000 gift to establish the Gary Koreen Engineering Award, open to domestic and international students transferring to Lakehead from an engineering technology program.
This annual award will lend a hand to students who have completed Lakehead's college transfer program and are entering into the third year of the University's post-diploma engineering degree program.
Gary believes Lakehead is one of the reasons he became a successful engineer and influential Canadian businessman. In 1958, he took Lakehead's then one-year engineering program when it was still the Lakehead College of Arts, Science and Technology. "I think my tuition was $200 or $300 - today, you wouldn't get a week at any university for that amount."
Gary grew up in Thunder Bay and spent a lot of his childhood at the Port Arthur Shipyard where his father was a draftsman and eventually chief engineer. Watching colossal Great Lakes freighters being built and working at the Shipyard for two summers, "got engineering into my blood," Gary says.
After he finished high school, he went to Lakehead's fledgling Oliver Road campus. "There was only one building and a cafeteria," Gary recalls. "When I visited last yer, I couldn't find the original building - it's such a vast and beautiful complex now." It was a challenging curriculum, but Gary excelled. Once he completed the program he transferred to the University of Manitoba where he graduated in Electrical Engineering in 1962.
His university education completely opened up Gary's future. When he finished his degree, he accepted a position in the Design Department of Northern Electric in London, Ontario.
In 1969, his father-in-law Frank Leahy, president and owner of O-Pee-Chee Company, asked Gary to join this well-known confectionary and sports card manufacturer as plant manager. On Frank's death in 1980, Gary purchased the company. Then, after several years of growth, he consolidated several small O-Pee-Chee plants into one large modern facility. Following numerous joint ventures manufacturing and marketing Nestle products, Nestle Canada purchased O-Pee-Chee in 1996, allowing Gary to retire.
The sale enabled Gary and Mary Margaret to become even more active in their community. Through their philanthropic and volunteer work, they've helped many people and organizations in Southwestern Ontario. Now they are hoping to transform live in Northwestern Ontario. When Gary and Mary Margaret visited Thunder Bay during the 2016 Labour Day weekend, Gary was keen to check out his old alma mater. "Lakehead has meant as much to me as any other school I've attended, so I decided to establish a meaningful engineering scholarship."
The Gary Koreen Engineering Award fills an important gap. College transfer students aren't eligible for entrance awards because they don't come to Lakehead directly from high school, but this award is open to all college engineering students who meet the academic requirements and demonstrate financial need.
Gary and Mary Margaret Koreen's generosity is already having an impact - the first award recipient will be chose in the 2017/2018 academic year.
"We've been fortunate in our lives," Gary says, "and we'd like to share this good fortune with generations to come."