Where is Tillsonburg? An unexpected adventure to a small town becomes a lasting legacy

It was 1979 and John remembers turning to his wife Liz and asking her “Where is Tillsonburg?” John was born and raised in Toronto and hadn’t been West of Simcoe, Ontario. That conversation would be the start of a rewarding and successful journey as a franchisee owner of a McDonald’s Restaurant. And, it all began in Tillsonburg, Ontario, a small town in Oxford County.

John would eventually move on to purchase the Woodstock McDonald’s Restaurant in 1987, the Ingersoll restaurant in 1995, and opened up the two McDonald’s Restaurants in the Tillsonburg and Woodstock mall locations. John and Liz became quite familiar with Oxford County during these times. And, while the businesses did very well and John said, “I had a great career with McDonald’s,” they felt very lucky to be where they were in life and had the opportunity to give back to their community.

John says that, “Over the years, I’ve always been a believer of giving back. Because of that philosophy I’ve always been involved in the community.” Both John and Liz’s list of volunteer commitments is a long one, and one to be recognized and celebrated. And, just maybe it will inspire others to get involved too.

John and Liz both sat on the Children’s Aid Society Board of Directors, John playing an instrumental role in the new building they built in Woodstock. John has been co-chair of the United Way of Oxford, was the citizen of the year in Tillsonburg in 1985, received a Queen’s Jubilee Medal in 2002, was the President of the Chamber of Commerce in Tillsonburg, and was the Mayor of Tillsonburg between 2010-2014.

John was also recognized as the top franchisee in all of Canada in 2000, and has been very pro-active with the McDonald’s head office. John currently sits on the Lands Division Committee in Oxford County and sits on the Advisory Committee for the Annandale Museum.

Liz’s commitment to the community was just as strong. She was closely involved with the Kinsmen and Kinette Clubs and she continues to be a life-long member of the local hospital auxiliary.  She also became involved with the Ontario Trillium Foundation and sat on the Oxford Community Foundation Board for 12 years.

Liz says that, “you get more back from helping others and meeting new people and understanding your community. All of these organizations teach you to appreciate what you have in the community. And, you understand that not everyone has the privilege you do. So, you want to give back to those who don’t have the means or opportunities.”

John says that, “a person needs to experience volunteering; there isn’t a book that describes the satisfaction of volunteering. It really gets down to because you believe in that organization and you have a certain skill to share. I said at 55 years old I would be done. But, the one thing I get is that I grow intellectually and emotionally. It is important to keep your brain going. If you don’t use it, you lose it.”

As the years have passed, John and Liz built a wonderful life in Oxford County, raising their two sons and passing along their family’s values of a strong work ethic, leadership skills and a community-minded approach. John says, “we live in a great part of Canada and the world. Our community is only as good as what we put back into it. What people do to make it that way. And, a lot of it is volunteering.”

As John reflects on his past and the influences in his life, he said that “I came from a very poor family. We didn’t have very much growing up. And Liz too. She had a tough go of it. My attitude towards giving comes from my Mother, she sure had a lot of personality to give. As a young child, I also remember playing baseball, being the captain on the team and being the president of the youth club at the Church. I guess I’ve always enjoyed taking a leadership role. I coached minor hockey for 15 years too.”

John and Liz’s commitment to their community hasn’t stopped. Today, they are thinking about the future. A future when they are no longer here and what their legacy could be in Oxford County. They have chosen to think of their community when they die, through gifts in their Wills to their favourite local charities. And, one of those charities is VON Sakura House.

John said, “it started with updating our estate planning. We identified the estate tax liability and our goal was to minimize the tax liability on our estate. We researched a few charities in Oxford County. We looked at Sakura House – the association with VON – and the importance of a place to die with dignity. As a Board member, I see first-hand the quality of care by staff and volunteers. We hope by telling our story, it will inspire others to consider doing the same. And, another positive about selecting VON and Sakura House was that I could specify how our donation was spent in a formalized way. We see the value of Sakura House. Unfortunately, we’ve had people close to us who have passed away. And understand what families deal with. I’ve always thought Sakura was a great thing for the community. It was also important to us to take pressure off our executor, and more importantly, we wanted to direct our money to causes that we believe. This is a way to do that.”

Thank you to John and Liz for your leadership in Oxford County. You continue to make Oxford County a better place to live. And, your final gift to Sakura House will ensure hospice care continues in Oxford County, providing many patients with the comfort, dignity and respect that they deserve at the end of life.

Are you interested in leaving your own gift to VON Sakura House in your Will? You can learn more about it on our website or contact Trish Gergich, Manager of Fund Development at 519-476-8848 or trish.gergich@von.ca

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