One company launched a $500,000 charity trust fund last week while other businesses and agencies have cancelled, postponed or settled for smaller virtual fundraising events during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lisa Levasseur and brother Gerard, offspring of Stony Plain’s entrepreneur Gerry Levasseur, announced the kick-off of the Levasseur Community Trust.
“The fund is to honour our father and mother,” Gerard told 200 Zoom guests from a small family gathering hosted at Edmonton’s Production World last week.
Lisa added: “This way we can assure our father’s legacy continues with us and generations to come, by giving back to communities that dad has always supported. We are also working on initiatives to boost our economy.”
Unpretentious Gerry Levasseur has always reminded me of one of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer type of characters.
At school and a non-hockey player, Levasseur asked his mother for hockey equipment, which he shrewdly resold.
He also traded in second-hand bicycles and sometimes, aged 14 or 15, he would take his father’s truck for a ride, once having to reverse quickly when he spotted his father on the main street.
“I couldn’t leave school fast enough,” says Levasseur, who today has some 500 people working for him in his Sunrise International’s 10 hotels; in automotive-RV companies and in the construction businesses.
“I have a gift of some kind and can see potential in a business that others often don’t. I have never lost money.”
The legacy announcement also celebrated Levasseurs’ 50 years with INNhotels group; Gerry’s own 88th birthday on June 1 and his marriage to German-born Helga in 1966.
“This year marks dad building the Jasper Inn and Suites 50 years ago in 1971,” says Lisa, who now oversees all of the companies’ hotels for her father.
Gerard looks after the automotive-RV and construction side of operations.
Their dad’s advice: “Choose good people and treat them right. They will be gone if you try to take advantage of them.”
Shawnee Wilson has managed the Jasper Inn for 37 years and said when Levasseur hired her, she was working at Chateau Jasper.
“Gerry pulled up alongside me when I was out running, made an appointment to see me next day and hired me in 20 minutes. He told me I had complete autonomy and to tell him if I ever needed anything.
“Everyone has experienced hard times at some point. But Gerry is always there. Not a day goes by when I don’t think how lucky I am.”
The auction during the fundraising night raised $130,000 for the family fund, while ticket sales and donations swelled the sum to $250,000.
Gerard and Lisa then stepped up to announce a family donation would match that sum to realize $500,000.
A key player in the night was celebrated fundraising emcee-auctioneer Danny Cooper, who raised $60,000 in an item he personally donated four times at $15,000 a pop.
The dinner with wine he offered was for six people, prepared by chef Hooper — he now believes he is quite something in the kitchen — and his wife Barb.
A special Hooper dinner addition was a private concert with two-time CCMA Artist-of-the-Year, Brett Kissel.
A bonus during the fundraiser was a preview of an upcoming documentary about Gerry Levasseur, to be aired soon.
Interviewed for the program was Pat Crowley, who when aged 27, became manager of Levasseur’s Maligne Lake Cruises and chalet operations. The cruise operation increased to entertain 100,000 visitors a day.
“No one has said it,” she said, “but all of Gerry’s business endeavours are his idea of fun. Some people love to paint or play concert piano or even play football. But Gerry loves to work. He is at heart more of an artist than a businessman. That is why he has been at it 24/7 for the last 70 years. Work is his creative outlet.”
Levasseur, founder of Rotary Clubs in Spruce Grove and Jasper, has shared his success.
Among many donations, he has helped sponsor Compassion House, home for women seeking breast cancer treatment in Edmonton; supported the SOS Police Helicopter and the Stony Plain and Spruce Grove Victims Services.
Levasseur’s giving often goes unnoticed. Once, at a Sam Abouhassan and Kevin Lowe golf game at the Jasper Park Lodge, supporting the Stollery Children’s Hospital, he took non-playing spouses and friends by bus to Maligne Lake and treated them to a cruise around Spirit Island.
“Life hasn’t always been easy,” says the entrepreneur. “But I have never worried. I was always too busy living.”