> Donor List
90% of goal achieved!
The success of the Build Our Tomorrow Campaign depends on the generosity of our donors. We are grateful to the families, alumni and friends who have already participated. Our sincere thanks!
See our full list of Campaign donors here.
> Donor Profiles
Throughout the Build Our Tomorrow Campaign, we will highlight several of the donors who have helped make this campaign a success. Check back regularly for new donor articles!
Tom Strike and Tanya Benoit
Lead Donors & Campaign Cabinet Member
When Tom Strike and Tanya Benoit first started to think about which school would be the right one for their two children (Ben ’13 and Zack ’14), they weren’t sure whether to send them to an independent school or not. “We weren’t convinced either way about where they should go,” Tom admits. However, both Tom and Tanya had colleagues with children at SJR, and it was seeing them flourish that began to sway their opinion. “We were very impressed with their children,” Tom says. “It was this that made us look at SJR as a possibility for our boys.” After subsequently touring the SJR facilities and meeting with the students and staff, Tom and Tanya’s minds were made up. “As we left the School after that first visit, I turned to Tom and I said, ‘If we have the means to give our children this kind of an education, why wouldn’t we?’” Tanya explains. And so they did: Ben graduated with the class of 2013 and Zack graduated this past year with the class of 2014. Both boys were Lifers at the School.
Ben and Zack’s experiences as SJR students have certainly lived up to expectations – for the boys and for Tom and Tanya – from the very beginning. “When the boys were younger, one of our most effective bargaining tools when they misbehaved was to threaten them with not being allowed to go back to SJR,” Tom says. “It was a tactic that worked every single time.” As they grew up and moved through the three schools, Tom and Tanya saw how their sons’ confidence and independence developed. “What we saw in SJR was a place that had time for each student as an individual,” Tanya says. “This is a School that will help every student to excel at whatever they’re good at – whether it’s academics, sports, music and the arts or debating. Ben and Zack’s time at SJR really contributed to them developing into people of substance.” Tom agrees: “Whatever a child’s strengths, the teachers will find a place for them to excel. SJR really builds a breadth of experience for the students with its programming, from academics to extra-curricular activities such as the winter camping or canoe trip.”
Tom’s own involvement with the School has gone beyond his role as a parent, having spent ten years serving on the Board of Governors, including two years as the Chair. It was this involvement which really opened his eyes to the needs of the School in terms of capital funding and which brought him and Tanya to the decision to give back to the School’s Build Our Tomorrow Campaign. “Tanya and I have established our own family fund at the SJR Foundation as part of our contribution to the School,” Tom explains. “But we wanted to do more – we wanted to be part of creating a new facility for the School.” Arriving at the School as parents right after the completion of the previous capital campaign, which saw the construction of, among other things, the Max Bell Primary Centre and Robinson Wolinsky Hall, Tom and Tanya realised how much their own boys were benefiting from the buildings that other families’ generosity had helped to build. “It’s now our turn to do something for the future generations,” Tom says. For Tanya, the ‘pay it forward’ element of the School is very important: “It is our responsibility to maintain the traditions of the School – those of excellent teaching and excellent student development,” she says. “I hope that new parents will say the same thing that we did and feel the same responsibility to help contribute to the School for future families. A family’s gift to the School doesn’t have to be a huge contribution, just something that is reasonable for each family, which reflects the magnitude of the impact the School has had, and will have, on your children.” Tom agrees: “SJR is an important institution in the city. People who believed in education created this School, and it is up to us to help to perpetuate it.”
Tom and Barb Kleysen
“You can always spot an SJR student,” says Tom Kleysen. “It’s the way they carry themselves, the way they look you in the eye when they shake your hand. You can see that they have confidence.”
Barb and Tom wanted their two children, Shannon and Stephen, to have the best education possible. But they also wanted that extra something that makes SJR students stand out—the strong personal character of children that have been taught to respect themselves and others. “Our twins came here in Grade 3,” says Barb. “We’re so glad they did. They really flourished.”
Tom and Barb soon found themselves part of a caring community of supportive teachers and welcoming families. For their family, there is no question that an independent school education has made all the difference. “I believe that it’s extremely important that people have choices,” says Tom. While he recognizes that others feel strongly that their children are just as well-served by the public system, he maintains that being able to opt for an institution with a different mandate or style of education should always be possible. “Having that choice is in everyone’s best interests—even the families that want to see their kids attend public school. The better our independent schools are, the harder public schools will work to offer a high-quality education to their students. The competition benefits all of us.”
However, Barb and Tom also recognize that ensuring families always have a choice means helping ensure the independent school system stays strong. “When it comes time for a capital campaign, that’s when you have to step up,” says Tom. “Even though the new buildings that are coming may not benefit us directly, it’s important to us to make sure this kind of education is always there for the families that want it.”
“Getting children started well establishes the foundation for the rest of their lives,” adds Barb. “As a family, we feel enriched by the relationship we have had with the School. Now it’s just time to give back.”
David '76 and Ruth Asper
Since his time as a student at SJR in the ’70s, David Asper ’76 has continued to maintain close ties with the School and the friends he made there. When it came to the decision of where he and his wife Ruth should send their own children (Daniel ’08, Rebecca ’09 and Max ’12), SJR was the natural choice. "My strongest friendships to date were made during my time at SJR," David says. "After my own experience at the School, Ruth and I both felt that SJR was the best option for our children as well."
Reflecting on the fact that education is an evolutionary process, David says that the biggest testament to the education his children received at SJR came after they had graduated from the School. "For all of us, it was a very positive experience while they were actually at SJR. But at the end of their time there, we saw them graduate as well-equipped, well-rounded kids who had been fantastically prepared for the next stage in their life," he explains. Ruth agrees wholeheartedly, speaking highly of the nurturing culture at the School, and the commitment of teachers and staff to the students. She adds that the positive feedback which she and David have received from their children’s respective universities has further cemented their belief in the strength of an SJR education: "Being at SJR instilled in them a sense of academic independence, and the ability to present themselves extremely well, whether that be in writing, presenting or participating in formal debates". Both David and Ruth themselves were actively involved in the School throughout their family’s time there – Ruth as a member of the SJRPA and Grad, and David as a member of the Board of Governors.
When it came to the Build Our Tomorrow Campaign to build a new Senior School, Fitness Centre and Movement Studio on the SJR campus, David and Ruth – who had been on the steering committee for the previous renewal of the School’s Fitness Centre in 2007 – were both involved from the very beginning. "Having been a part of the process behind the Campaign and having seen the plans take shape, we really understood the need for the bricks and mortar that will make up the new buildings", David explains. "One of the core values in our family is the idea of giving something back, and this was a project that really made sense to us." Acknowledging that ‘giving back’ means different things to different people, David notes that for his family, making a contribution to SJR’s Capital Campaign was their way of doing something for the School. "For us, because of what we as a family have got out of the SJR, we felt that it was a natural place to give something back to. We want to play a role in supporting the next generations of SJR students and to see them benefit from their time at the School in the same way that our children – and we as a family – have done."
Mitch and Wanda Zajac
When Mitch Zajac talks about his connection to SJR, it is immediately clear how much the School means to him and his family. "We know that the success that our son has enjoyed is a result of the foundations provided to him by his time at SJR," Mitch notes. "The School not only provides academic excellence and leadership to its students, it also prepares them to leave high school with the character and skills required to progress to the next stage – to post-secondary education and beyond. You only have to talk to the students here to see the positive impact that an SJR education can have on a child."
Having already sent their two daughters to independent school, Mitch and Wanda had noticed the positive impact that the transition from the public to the independent sphere had had on them. It was this which helped fuel their decision to also send their son, Nick, to an independent school, and SJR was at the top of their list from the very beginning. "We were aware of SJR’s reputation and its position at the very top of the market. We knew that it was nationally acclaimed as an academic institution," Mitch explains. "Nick’s experience there – and our own experience as SJR parents – proved those expectations to be well-founded."
Mitch and Wanda soon realized the breadth of the SJR community. "It expands beyond the children to the parents," Mitch says. For the Zajacs, it was the continual support from the School and the SJR community which really stood out to them. When Nick reached Grade 11, he and his parents made the decision that he should leave SJR to pursue an opportunity to play in the WHL – a choice that was not only supported, but also greatly facilitated, by the School and, in particular, Co-Head Dr. Stephen Johnson. "He told Nick to take this opportunity and to make the most of it," Mitch explains. Nick was able to carry on with his courses by long-distance correspondence, and, thanks to the support he had received from SJR, was ultimately able to graduate with his class in 2013.
The support they received during this time is something for which Mitch and Wanda are extremely grateful and which ultimately drove their decision to donate to the Build Our Tomorrow Campaign. "When the Campaign was launched, our decision to make a gift was a very easy one," Mitch says. "We knew we had to step up and support SJR in return for the support they had shown us. This School is all about breaking down the glass ceiling and helping students to fulfill their potential, whatever it may be. Nick’s gift was hockey and SJR enabled him to maximize his decision to pursue it." For the Zajacs, the Capital Campaign gave them an opportunity to show their appreciation. "Our donation is our legacy for all the gifts that SJR has given our family," Mitch explains. "Without the support of SJR, our son would not be presently studying at the University of Saskatchewan while still playing hockey at the WHL level. This was our chance to give something back in return for all that we have been given by the School."
Harry and Inna Loewen
For Harry and Inna Loewen, the decision to send their son Domi to SJR was based on their desire to provide the best possible education for him. "It’s our belief that of all the things we can leave to our children, the most valuable legacy is a good education that embraces academics, life experience and the preparation to become a self-sufficient adult," Harry explains. "A good education doesn’t depreciate, and it can never be taken away from you." Recognizing the ever-increasing importance of education in today’s world, they saw SJR as the school which would offer the best resources for their son: "We chose SJR because we believe that, as a School, it represents the best choice to meet the goals of our family. It is a unique educational platform for the future leaders of society and the future forerunners of the business world."
Since Domi entered SJR in Grade 7 two years ago, Harry and Inna have never questioned this choice, and have been consistently impressed with the standards of teaching that he has received. "Our experience with the superb staff has exceeded our expectations," Harry notes. "Now we must recognize the need to build a superb facility to match the high standard of the faculty. The Capital Campaign is our opportunity to do this."
As relative newcomers to the School, Harry and Inna were very aware that other SJR families had not only been a part of the School for much longer than they had, but had also been supporting the School throughout their time there. "It was very clear that many families who had come before us had offered up their support to the School in an invaluable way," Harry explains. Recognizing that the contributions of past families and benefactors have helped make the School what it is today, they felt it was time for them to do their fair share. "It’s exciting to be involved in a project which will benefit not only our son and his class, but countless families for years to come," Harry says. "This Capital Campaign represents the next chapter for SJR. We want to do our part."
Saverio Castagna and Lori Wheeler
When Saverio Castagna and Lori Wheeler’s daughter Lauren entered SJR three years ago, they didn’t anticipate the extent to which they as parents would also become part of the SJR family. "We knew that SJR was a fantastic school with a strong academic record," Saverio says. "But what immediately struck us was how welcomed we felt into the School’s community. We were, and still are, very excited for the whole family to be a part of SJR."
Having made the decision to send their daughter to independent school, they have never looked back. "We are very, very happy that we took that leap," Saverio explains. "We’ve noticed since the very beginning how much Lauren has truly enjoyed going to school every day, and we know that’s something not all parents can say about their children."
For Saverio and Lori, Lauren’s contentment and continued progress at SJR got them thinking about the idea of ‘paying it forward’ for future generations. Acknowledging the importance of the contributions made by previous families to the School, they realised the difference that a gift to the Build Our Tomorrow Campaign would make. "The families that came before us helped make the School what it is today," Saverio says. "By doing our bit to help build the bricks and mortar of the School, we’re also helping Lauren and all the other SJR students like her to progress towards a successful graduation and the best chance at university. We know how many amazing opportunities the students will benefit from as a result of the Campaign – it’s our responsibility as part of the School community to participate and to build a successful future for SJR, as past families have done for us."
Recognizing that a gift to the Campaign will be a personal decision for each family, Saverio explains that he and Lori viewed it as an investment for their daughter and for the future generations of SJR students: "We hope that Lauren will be an SJR lifer," Saverio says. "By investing in the School itself, we’re investing in our daughter’s future and helping to provide a fantastic educational experience for her and for all the students who have yet to be a part of the SJR family."
James Cohen '84
When James Cohen started as a Grade Four student at SJR in 1975, he wasn’t the only newcomer in his class – his teacher was also new to SJR that year. That teacher was Dr. Stephen Johnson, now Co-Head of the School. "It’s interesting to look back at that now and to see how things have, in a way, come full circle," James notes. "I’m now an alumnus of close to thirty years, and Dr. Johnson is the Co-Head of the School. Over the last few years I’ve been able to reconnect with Dr. Johnson, and in our conversations about SJR and the plans that are in place for the campus, it’s really felt like a natural progression for me to help out the future generations of SJR students."
The ‘campus plans’ refer to SJR’s Build Our Tomorrow Campaign. For James, who is now the President and CEO of Gendis Inc., making a donation to the Campaign was a way for him to give something back to the School. "I still feel an enormous sense of loyalty to SJR," he says. "Being at the School taught me a lot, not just in terms of academics and the fantastic preparation it gave me for university and later life. I was in classes with a very diverse group of students, and it really opened my eyes to the world and to the importance of respecting other people and their cultures. That is something that still very much resonates with me today."
When he graduated from SJR in 1984, James came away from the School with life-long friends and invaluable experiences behind him. "I have very warm memories of my time at SJR," James says. "As a class, we were very close, and that’s something that’s helped keep me connected to the School over time." Describing SJR as a kind of ‘oasis’, he notes that he still visits the School frequently, and continues to be struck by how strong his feelings of being a part of the SJR community are. "I drive by the campus occasionally in the summer, and during the winter months, I’m back here every week to play hockey with staff and other alumni," he explains. "As soon as I step into the building I feel that connection, even after almost thirty years." It is this long-standing sense of loyalty to the SJR community which motivated James to make a gift to the Campaign. "I was keen to do something to help the School which has helped me so much in my life," he says. "If I can do something for future students, then that’s really what it’s all about. This Campaign is my chance to do that."
Edward '77 and Stella Kennedy
Lead Donor &
When Edward Kennedy ’77 is asked what he thinks of SJR, he doesn’t hesitate for a moment. “I consider it the leading university preparatory school in the province. It’s a very special asset to the city.” For Edward, it’s the combination of several key factors: students who are motivated and ready to learn, a committed parent body, and a School that places the highest value on education—both in and out of the classroom. As a member of the class of ’77, Edward knows first-hand the value of an SJR education, but he’s also reminded daily by his children Grace ’07, Theresa ’08, Simone ’11 and Daniel ’14. “We wanted to see them all reaching their full potential,” says Edward, on why he and his wife Stella chose SJR for their children. “The curriculum and the co-curricular activities have really enriched their lives and stretched them. That’s not always possible in every school environment.” He adds that each day, his children had the opportunity to be fully engaged. “Our kids thrived. They became more serious students, thought more about what they were learning and became more critical thinkers and learners through the classroom.”
Given his own experience at SJR and the ongoing credit he gives the School, it was only natural that he would be prepared to join the leadership team as Campaign Co-Chair and to make one of the lead gifts. “It’s part of demonstrating the value we place on SJR,” said Edward. “When you realize the School receives no public funding, you know that unless the community does step forward as it has in the past, these facilities don’t get replaced and the School doesn’t sustain itself. All the things that are so great, they won’t continue in the future.”
Edward already has a full schedule as President and CEO of The North West Company, but he says his commitment to SJR is an important one and it is time that couldn’t be better spent. Edward was born in The Pas and attended high school at St. John's Ravenscourt in Winnipeg. When Edward finished his studies at SJR, he completed an Honours Degree in Business from the Ivey School at the University of Western Ontario and a Bachelor of Laws Degree from Osgoode Hall Law School. Prior to joining North West, Edward practiced law briefly in Toronto and then worked in investment banking.
Edward is a board member of The North West Company, Transport Nanuk Inc., St. John’s-Ravenscourt School, United Grocers Inc., Retail Council of Canada, the Advisory Board of the Richard Ivey School of Business (University of Western Ontario) and the Advisory Board of the University of Alberta School of Retailing. He is a member of the Young Presidents’ Organization, the Associates of the Asper School of Business (Faculty of Management, University of Manitoba), the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, as well as a member and past officer of the Business Council of Manitoba. Edward is the Chair of the 2011 Winnipeg United Way Campaign and is Co-chair of the current St. John’s-Ravenscourt School Capital Campaign. He is a past Director of Red River College, Destination Winnipeg Inc., The Conference Board of Canada, Balmoral Hall School, Buhler Industries, and the Alaska Growth Fund.
Steve Kroft '85 and Lisa Kroft '88
Lead Donors & Campaign Cabinet Member
In all the years Steve Kroft ’85 has spent in school—from Kindergarten all the way through law school—he says the four he spent at SJR were the most memorable.
“I had a wonderful experience at the School,” says Steve, who attended SJR from Grade 9 through to graduation. Not only was he challenged by the rigorous academic standards, but he also built lifelong friendships through the many sports and co-curricular activities offered. “I really thrived in that environment,” he added.
Steve’s wife, Lisa ’88, also attended SJR for part of her education. His siblings did as well. “I always felt it was one of the best schools in the country and that if I ever had the opportunity to send my kids there, that’s where I would want them to be,” said Steve. He got his wish. His two boys, Nathan (Grade 11) and Alex (Grade 9) are now attending SJR, following what has become a family tradition.
Steve is a graduate of the University of Manitoba where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts (Politics and Economics). Steve then attended the University of British Columbia Law School where he graduated with his LL.B. (J.D.). Upon graduating, Steve returned to Winnipeg and articled with the law firm Fillmore Riley. He was called to the Bar in 1993 and continued to practice at the firm until 1997 when he made a career change from law to business.
In 1997, Steve joined Conviron, a company owned by the Kroft family. Conviron is the world leader in the supply and manufacture of controlled environment equipment used primarily in agricultural research and industrial applications. Steve became the company’s President & CEO in 1998. Falcon Capital Corporation, a company controlled by Steve, acquired majority ownership of Conviron in 2006.
Despite the demands of a thriving business and a busy young family, Steve is a strong believer in giving back to his community. There’s no question that seeing St. John’s-Ravenscourt School thrive and grow is a personal priority. That’s why he and his family decided to give one of the lead gifts to the “Build Our Tomorrow” campaign and Steve joined the Campaign Cabinet. “It’s a way of giving back to the School that I feel has given me and my family so much,” said Steve. “I also feel it’s important to recognize that the School has been supported by very generous people that came along, long before I did. I benefited from that and now I believe it’s time for me to do my share and take on the responsibility of helping support the School.”
As a former student himself and a parent of current students, Steve says it’s clear to him that the way kids learn and interact is very different today than it was when he attended SJR. “The tools and the equipment that the teachers use is very different as well,” he added, pointing out how this underscores the need for spaces designed for a contemporary approach. To Steve, SJR should always be known as a School that is leading the charge into the future, rather than following the pack. “This project will certainly catapult the School right into the very front in terms of an innovative learning environment.”
He also adds that it’s important for people to realize that tuition goes essentially to operate the School and not for improvements. “We as parents have not been asked to contribute to any capital project of any kind for many years,” said Steve. “There should be an expectation that we need to support these capital projects, just as other families have done for decades and decades before us.”
Blain King ’81 and Barbara King
Lead Donors & Campaign Cabinet Member
When Blain King ’81 attended his 30th reunion at SJR, it brought back a rush of memories. He and his former classmates talked about old times like it was only yesterday. The teachers. The classes. All the little things that bonded them so closely. “It was amazing how comfortable everybody felt after all that time,” said Blain. “We still have that strong sense of community.”
For Blain, his school days may be long behind him, but the connection to SJR for both Blain and his wife, Barbara, has never been stronger. All four of their children, Marc ’00, Kiera ’03, Leanne ’12 and Rhys, Grade 11, have attended SJR. With a sister and brother-in-law as fellow alumni, Lisa Paterson ’79 and Andrew Paterson ’80, and their children Justin ’02, Shane ’04 and Kaleigh ’06 all in SJR green, Blain’s family has played an active role in the SJR community at every turn.
“It’s always been about more than just getting a great education,” Blain and Barbara agree. “It’s a different experience going to a school like SJR.” So, when Campaign Chair Gerry Price called and asked if Blain would be willing to join him as a member of the Campaign Cabinet, it was a natural fit. “My family has always given to the School and we were involved in the first two campaigns,” reminisced Blain. “It’s a part of our family heritage.”
The King family believes it’s important to remember that everything students enjoy today was provided by the families that came before. “The School gave me something and it gave my family something,” said Blain. “Now it’s our turn. We have an obligation to give back something to the School for the generations that come after us.”
Gerry Price and Barb Price
Lead Donors and Campaign Co-Chair
Gerry Price wasn’t always a believer in private education.
“I was always a firm believer in the public school system because I went through it,” recalls Price. “I thought it was a really good product.”
So, when it was time for his daughter Ainsley ’91 to start school, he and his wife Barb chose the local elementary school. “We thought it would be the same as what we had experienced.” He soon found that it wasn’t.
The character-based education he and his wife dreamt of for their daughter was no longer a core element of public education, set aside for other priorities and methodologies. His happy, cheerful child—always ready and eager to learn—was quickly becoming withdrawn and losing her spark. One too many times she came home in tears and the Price family knew it was time for a change.
First Ainsley began at a private Winnipeg all-girls school, soon followed by their second daughter, Shandis ’93. The girls thrived. They entered St. John’s-Ravenscourt School for Middle School and there was no looking back.
“SJR had standards,” said Price. “I liked the discipline, the safe environment and the requirement for respect between people,” said Price. He also believed in the practice of teaching the whole child, from academics in the classroom to cooperation on the sports field and leadership in the community. “They were really reinforcing the values we tried to teach them at home. That was all important to us,” he added. Both daughters had graduated by the time their son Travis ’05 was ready to enter school, but the choice was clear and SJR gained another student.
The Prices now rank among SJR’s alumni, but their connection remains as strong as ever. The time their family spent with the School—as parents, as well as students—made such an indelible impact on all of their lives that they decided to give back, making one of the lead gifts to the Building Our Future Campaign. As an even greater sign of commitment, Gerry took on the role of campaign co-chair, taking time away from his busy schedule to help ensure the success of this vital initiative.
What is behind this significant choice? “I think it is essential that a school with such a long history doesn’t fall by the wayside,” said Price. “Past capital campaigns managed to upgrade Junior and Middle School. SJR will not have a successful future if the Senior School is not significantly upgraded into an environment that lends itself to teaching in the next century.”
Price points to his days in school as very different from today’s best practices. “When I went to school I listened to a teacher give a monologue to the class and write on the blackboard,” he said. “I took copious notes, but there was very little dialogue. It was one-way communication.” While he says he received a solid education that way, there were other lessons—like how to work cooperatively with others and how to communicate effectively—that he had to learn elsewhere.
Today, Price is the chairman and CEO of the Price Group of companies, a Winnipeg-based manufacturer of heating, ventilation and air-conditioning products. With 12 manufacturing sites and more than 2,200 employees, he has a keen sense of what is needed in the next generation of students who may one day walk through his doors, looking for employment.
To Price, it is imperative that students learn to interact with one another and to engage with the materials—skills they will need to be ready for university and then the workforce. “I believe in an environment for high school now that permits the class to work in various sized groups where students participate in different roles. They need that exposure to collaboration and interaction to get a perspective on life. You don’t get that unless you’re exposed to a team environment,” he added. “If you can thrive in all those environments, then you’re ready for university and ready for the world.”
Price says St. John’s-Ravenscourt gave his children the best preparation he could have asked for. Now, he wants that for the next generation of students. “It is essential that SJR has the best possible physical facilities for a first-class, modern senior school,” said Price. “SJR is a tremendous institution. It’s time for all of us to rally around.”