Nick Lees: Edmonton philanthropist's globe-trotting plans grounded by pandemic


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He wears sandals to black-tie galas and is seldom seen without an infectious smile on his face, but laid-back Donald J Oborowsky was saddened last year.

“The pandemic ended the travels I had planned to celebrate 50 years of marriage to my wife Judy,” says the founder and owner of the Waiward group of companies and numerous other businesses.

“The whole family was to go with us to Africa for a month to celebrate our golden wedding anniversary, which was on June 6, 2020. And then Judy and I were going to visit parts of Europe we had never been to before.

“This was to have been followed by a trip to Brazil to fish for Peacock Bass with my son Shonn and my grandson.”

But the couple did make three other trips, to Palm Springs, Hawaii and Hilton Head, S.C.

Oborowsky, from Cactus Lake, Sask., came to Edmonton aged 17 and studied carpentry at NAIT before working as a steel fitter. At age 22, he co-founded Waiward Steel Fabricators.

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The company went on to employ 800 people and was recognized at least seven times as a platinum member of the Deloitte-sponsored Canada’s Best Managed Companies list.

The entrepreneur, acclaimed for his philanthropy, is a founder and significant supporter of the Alberta Diabetes Foundation. He also contributed $500,000 to the Diabetes Research Council and gave $1 million to establish the Waiward Centre of Steel Technologies at NAIT.

Donald and Judy Oborowsky at their wedding 50 years ago last June 6.Donald and Judy Oborowsky at their wedding 50 years ago last June 6. Photo by Supplied

Oborowsky, say friends, has quietly made large donations to various community-based service organizations, such as STARS, the Art Gallery of Alberta and the Capital Care Foundation for Seniors Assisted Living.

“If not travelling, I have been dropping by work almost every day and we enjoy going to our cottage with the family almost every weekend,” says the 70-year-old.

“The good thing is all family members are healthy and all of the places we didn’t go to are still there waiting for us to reschedule as soon as the pandemic is behind us. More importantly, the fish would now be bigger and better to catch.

“We’ve had a downturned economy for five years, longer than any other period in my life. I expect it to be much better soon as we leave COVID behind. Meanwhile, the power of positive thinking is the key to happiness around oneself.”

Wedding bells imagined

A wedding will hopefully be the post-pandemic highlight of CBC Morning Radio host Mark Connolly and his wife, public-speaking coach Alyson Connolly.

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“COVID-19 postponed the wedding of our son Patrick and his fiancee Ainslie Fowler last July and we really hope it will go ahead this year,” says Connolly, adding there is another event he also hopes will also materialize.

“Every year for the past 35 years, I have gotten together for a golf trip with seven friends from our Austin O’Brien High School days,” he says.

“It was postponed last May, but we managed to sneak in a golf game last October before restrictions ramped up again. We hope we will all be vaccinated by September and can tee-off together once more.”

Dates might need some juggling. In July, the broadcaster will commentate on cycling events from the Tokyo Olympics, not from the stands but from a CBC radio booth in Toronto.

“It will be my 11th Olympic Games and very different from Atlanta, my first Games 25 years ago in 1996,” says Connolly. “Advancements in fibre optics now makes video transmission practically seamless.

“Tokyo is 16 hours ahead of Edmonton, and I will broadcast late evening and into the small hours of the following day.”

Not everyone is covering the games remotely, says Connolly. There will be a small cohort of media in Tokyo, but far fewer people than normal.

Palm Desert calling

Like a great many Albertans, Dave Majeski, a retired RBC executive now sitting on many company boards, says he and his wife Laura have been cooped up in their house for months.

“It has been challenging, and regular walks regardless of the weather, along with watching live sports on TV, has helped with coping,” says Majeski, inducted into Edmonton’s Hall of Fame in 2015 for his outstanding community service.

“As soon as travel restrictions ease, we will head south to our away home in Palm Desert, where we golf, hike and probably enjoy too many happy hours.

“We have great friends there, mostly Americans, miss them dearly and Zoom with them nearly every week. They ask when we are coming back down, but with advice not to travel, and the mandatory hotel stay on return, we remain in Edmonton.”