Two celebrations launch York to the Power of 50 campaign

With a dramatic backdrop formed in equal measure by the Toronto skyline and the stylish performances staged by celebrated York grads, several hundred York donors, volunteers, alumni, students, faculty, staff and friends gathered at the spectacular glass-walled BMW Toronto building to mark a milestone in York’s history. 

"We are here to celebrate nearly 50 years of exponential growth and dynamic achievement," said Lorna R. Marsden, York president and vice-chancellor, "and, more importantly, to look forward – beyond York’s 50th birthday in 2009 – to the next half century where, with your help, York will become a leading international centre for interdisciplinary research and teaching."  

Right: The York cheerleading squad helped launch the event

To achieve this vision, the York to the Power of 50 campaign is built around four priority areas for funding. Together, York, in partnership with its supporters, will have the power to:

  • Transform – increase student awards and recognize student achievement;
  • Empower – deepen the academic talent pool of research leaders and innovators;
  • Create – build infrastructure and environment where students and faculty can learn, research and excel;
  • Innovate – lead innovation in learning and research and develop pioneering programs.

Hosted at BMW Toronto’s flagship location off the Don Valley Parkway (the venue was arranged by York University Foundation board member Lindsay Duffield, president & CEO of BMW Group Canada), the Oct. 18 event served as the launch of York to the Power of 50, the largest fundraising campaign in York University’s history.

Timothy Price, chairman of Brookfield Asset Management and Chair of the York University Foundation board of directors, along with William Hatanaka (BA ’77), chairman and CEO of TD Waterhouse and a foundation director, took to the stage to announce a $200-million York to the Power of 50 campaign goal. "Thanks to the generosity of many of the people in this room, we are already more than halfway to our ambitious goal, with $110 million committed to date, which includes close to 30 gifts of $1 million or more," said Price.

Right: Timothy Price (left) with York University Foundation director Honey Sherman

Campaign leadership includes:

  • Ivan Fecan (BA ’01), president and CEO of Bell Globemedia Inc., CEO of CTV Inc. and a foundation director, is Chair of the 50 to the Power of 50 group;
  • Sean O’Sullivan, COO of HSBC Bank Canada and a foundation director, is chair of the Major Gift Team;
  • Aidan Flatley (BA ’78), president and CEO of Kenaidan Contracting Ltd. and a foundation director, and Terrie-Lynne Devonish (BA ’92, LLB ’95), general counsel for Primus Telecommunications Canada Inc. and a member of York’s Board of Governors, are co-chairs of the Annual Fund team.

Marshall Cohen (LLB ’60, LLM ’63), Chair of York University’s Board of Governors, spoke of a dream the University had four years ago for a newer and more innovative approach to raising funds, building leadership and raising the profile of the University. "The answer was simple," said Cohen. "We needed a foundation, and 24 dedicated people to serve as directors. Four years have gone by and we don’t have a dream anymore – we have a reality."

Left: William Hatanaka (left) with Jan Hatanaka, Robert McEwen and Cheryl McEwen

Cohen noted the extraordinary success of the York University Foundation in the past four years including the fact that revenues have doubled and York’s donor base has increased by 63 per cent. "But statistics don’t capture the story," Cohen said. "You’re hearing the story tonight."

Several speakers and guests referred to York as a place where anything is possible. This was personified in the work of two renowned York graduates, celebrated choreographer Debra Brown (BFA ’78) and Juno-nominated crooner Matt Dusk (BFA ’02), who both contributed to the evening’s entertainment.

Brown, a Bruce Bryden Alumni award winner, has used her York education to choreograph the innovative Cirque du Soleil dance troupe, and has redefined dance around the world in genres of opera, film and popular music. She accepted the invitation to showcase "Line 1", her newest configuration of dancers, singers and musicians, at the launch event.


 Above: Choreographer Debra Brown’s "Line 1" featured an aerial guitarist performing
 with dancers and singers

When Brown attended York in the 70s, she was a gymnast, and not at all focused on the arts, but her path changed when she enrolled in York’s dance program. There she learned to combine dance with acrobatics in entirely new ways. "I remember every single thing I learned at York, it changed my life," she said. "To be able to return to York, and to bring this company to this event, is really exciting."

Left: Judith Cohen, Matt Dusk and Marshall Cohen

Dusk echoed Brown’s sentiments about York’s influence on his life, recalling his discouraging first year studying economics at York when he really wanted to sing. His mother Cora Dusk, a former longtime staff member, encouraged him to enter the music program instead of his father’s business. "If it wasn’t for York, I wouldn’t have the career I have," said Dusk, who performed two songs, Fly Me to the Moon, and – in homage to York’s next 50 years – The Best is Yet to Come.

Award-winning journalist Sandie Rinaldo (BA ’73), weekend anchor of CTV News, also credits her York fine arts education for her success. Serving as emcee for the evening, Rinaldo told guests: "Like Debra Brown, who has blended choreography with dance, gymnastics and music, I was able to blend my interests at York. That’s what York offers, a place for students to combine their interests and really go for it."

Right: Sandie Rinaldo (left), Matt Dusk and Debra Brown with a York Lions mascot

The 50 to the Power of 50 group, led by Ivan Fecan, join others in the York community to act as goodwill ambassadors for the campaign. Made up of generations of York graduates, Fecan says it includes everyone "from a business student who writes and produces for The Simpsons to a fine arts major who somehow ended up as a CEO, from an astronaut who walked in space, to a world renowned choreographer whose feet are very much on the ground, to defence lawyers and a police chief, to actors, singers and the journalists who cover them, community activists, bank presidents, philanthropists and entrepreneurs."

For more information about the 50 to the Power of 50 group, click here.

   Above: Some of the members of the York University Foundation board

Celebrations continued on Oct. 20 for members of the York community, including faculty, staff, students and others, who gathered on the second floor of the Scott Library to celebrate York to the Power of 50.

Steve Dranitsaris (BA ’73), senior executive officer, finance and administration at York, served as emcee for the short program. "Throughout my 37 years as a member of this community, York has always been a dynamic, innovative and exciting place," he said.

Right: Patrick Monahan (left), dean of Osgoode Hall Law School; Lorna R. Marsden, York president & vice-chancellor; York alumnus Chad Craig; and Steve Dranitsaris

Dranitsaris underlined York’s vibrant transformation over the years, its physical and curricular progression, and that of its people, its pursuits and its reputation.

Representing students, Chad Craig, a recent graduate of York’s Glendon College, spoke of how grateful he was to those donors who support so many York students from behind the scenes. "I am humbled and honoured to stand here and share my appreciation for what our donors do, for helping make university a reality for so many students," he said. "As York grows, more students will be able to grow themselves, attend university and discover who they can be."

Also in attendance were members of the campaign leadership team including Hatanaka, Flatley and Devonish. All three spoke fondly of their time at York, and the ways in which their education allowed them to redefine the possible in areas of finance, business and law.

Guests enjoyed refreshments compliments of Sodexho Canada, as well as a series of rallying cheers from members of York’s cheerleading team.

Included in the celebration on the Keele campus were a series of draws for prizes for all who attended. The internal celebration was a particularly happy event for Janis Boykach, a circulation assistant in the Scott Library. She was the winner of the grand prize – a $1,000 gift certificate for Fairmont Hotels and Resorts.

Left: Aidan Flatley, annual fund team co-chair (left) with Janis Boykach, grand prize winner, and Terrie-Lynne Devonish, annual fund team co-chair

She was joined in the winners’ circle by 50 others whose names were drawn as winners of York to the Power of 50 USB keys, loaded with the campaign video, narrated by York alumna Barbara Budd (BA ’74), co-host of CBC Radio’s As It Happens.

Winners are asked to come to York University Foundation in the West Office Building during office hours to claim their prizes.

For a complete list of winners, click here.