Alumni Spotlight | Fall 2020

Phil and Marlene Jarvis Always Put Young People First

Phil and Marlene Jarvis pictured with great grandson Lucas

“My wife Marlene and I got married in 1959 when she was 20 and I was 21,” says retired educator and Lakehead donor Phil Jarvis. “She was better known to me and our children as my Wild Irish Rose.”

He was from Rainy River and Marlene was from Sleeman – two small Northwestern Ontario towns about 10 kilometres apart. The couple grew up on family farms and became sweethearts while attending the same high school. Then, after working as teachers for a couple of years, they became partners in a 60-year marriage.

While Phil embarked on his teaching career in earnest, Marlene shifted her focus to raising their growing family. Their lives, whether at home or in a classroom, revolved around teaching and learning and they placed a high value on education. “Marlene was the first person in her family to graduate from high school and she was on the Rainy River High School honour roll,” Phil explains.

In 1964, Phil decided to build on the diploma he’d received at the North Bay Teacher’s College by beginning a part-time history degree at Lakehead University.

“It was challenging,” he says, “because I was working and had a family by then.”

Being at university was a transformative period in Phil’s life. “I had some of the most excellent professors anyone could ever have and it was at Lakehead that I really learned how to study.”

The Jarvis family moved to Thunder Bay in the summer of 1969 so that when their six children finished high school, they would have access to a university education. Phil quickly found a job as a teacher at Northwood High School – a special vocational school that offered an alternative to traditional learning approaches. He finished his degree the following spring and was able to fully concentrate on his teaching.

“I realized that if you had the students on your side, anything was possible,” he says. “My job was to discover what their abilities were and to encourage them to do their best.”

The Jarvis family’s connection with Lakehead continued to deepen over time. Their children – Guy, Marc, Jill, Marielle, Colleen, and Karen – would all go to Lakehead and earn degrees in fields ranging from engineering to commerce and nursing.

One evening during these university years, in their house on Amelia Street, the couple asked themselves, “How can we help our community?”

The answer, they decided, was to support Lakehead students who needed extra financial assistance. This led them to establish the Marlene Jarvis (Kearney) Science Bursary for Bachelor of Science students in 2000.

Twenty years later, the bursary has reached an important milestone. The donations Phil and Marlene regularly made to the bursary over the years have grown it to an incredible $100,000.

Marlene passed away in November 2019 and is not here to celebrate the occasion, but Phil believes that his Wild Irish Rose would be very proud of this achievement they built together. Because of their generosity, young people are creating better futures for themselves.

If you would like to make a gift to the Marlene Jarvis (Kearney) Science Bursary, please visit You can also contact Mark Tilbury, our Annual Fund and Alumni Engagement Director, for more information about how you can help put Lakehead students on the path to a university degree.
T: 807-343-8916


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