Lethbridge College is proud to celebrate the induction of Cor Van Raay into the Alberta Order of Excellence this year.
Van Raay was one of eight Albertans to receive the recognition, which is the province’s highest honour a citizen can receive as an official part of the Canadian Honours System and is given to those who have made outstanding provincial, national or international impact.
On behalf of Lethbridge College and the people of southern Alberta, President and CEO Dr. Paula Burns provided the official nomination of Van Raay, while Rick Paskal of Van Raay Paskal Farms seconded the nomination. More than a dozen other individuals and community organizations contributed letters of support.
Van Raay learned he was to receive the Alberta Order of Excellence in the summer of 2021, but passed away on July 29, 2021, before the investiture ceremony. He is known as one of southern Alberta’s most prominent entrepreneurs and philanthropists, praised for strengthening the agriculture industry, ensuring the future of agribusiness through 50 years of innovation and building community through his generosity.
In the nomination letter, Burns wrote how Alberta has benefitted from the hard work and dedication of many successful farmers, ranchers and innovators. What made his work so extraordinary, she wrote, is that he chose to use his financial success to continue investing in and supporting worthy Alberta organizations.
“Cor always kept his eyes on the horizon of the agriculture industry,” says Dr. Burns. “He was a lifelong experimenter. That likely was part of his ability to take risk – he understood his exposure, but he was always looking for what’s new to try. Through his philanthropy and a lifetime of work, Cor improved the lives, futures and potential of students and society.”
Paskal noted that Van Raay was an ideal fit for the honour, for “his leadership in business and his unwavering commitment to his community.”
Among the many causes Van Raay supported in his lifetime were the Chinook Regional Hospital Foundation, Picture Butte High School and community, the Dragon Boat festival, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Interfaith Food Bank, St. Catherine’s Parish and School in Picture Butte and so much more. In 2014, he donated $5 million gift to Lethbridge College and the University of Lethbridge to launch new, in-demand agribusiness programs at the two post-secondary institutions. In 2017, he donated $3.75 million to the Lethbridge YMCA, one of the largest gifts ever to a Canadian YMCA, one which allowed the organization to complete and open a state-of-the-art facility serving Albertans of all ages and abilities.
After making the generous leadership gift to southern Alberta’s two post-secondary institutions, Van Raay said to Wider Horizons, Lethbridge College’s magazine: “As you get older and you have built up some equity, you start thinking ‘Where do I get the biggest bang for my money?’ I understand others have jumped on board (Lethbridge College has since received other gifts to support agricultural education). That got me excited and thinking maybe I was on the right track.
“Being in agriculture or being a farmer is maybe not the sexiest thing to have around in college,” he added. “But with this gift, I am saying we need in the future very good farmers who know how to market their crops and who know how to work the futures market. They need to know about all the things that a businessman in town needs to know – plus they have to know about how to put the seeds in the ground.”
This year’s inductees bring the total number of Alberta Order of Excellence members to 197. Full biographies and official portraits of new members, and information about the program, are available at www.alberta.ca/AOE.
“Our honourees have abundant strengths that have served our province well,” says Lt.-Gov. Salma Lakhani. “These include great perseverance, a selfless commitment to giving back, and a steadfast focus on sharing their unique gifts and abilities in a way that enriches us all. I offer my heartfelt thanks to each of them for their remarkable contributions.”