Welikoklads donate to Red Deer college expansion, scholarships

A lot of people have had a hand in building Red Deer College over the years.

Bill and Irma Welikoklad (centre) with Red Deer College president Joel Ward (right) and Michael Donlevy

Bill and Irma Welikoklad (centre) with Red Deer College president Joel Ward (right) and Michael Donlevy

A lot of people have had a hand in building Red Deer College over the years.

Bill Welikoklad was among the first.

The founder of Home Building Centre in Red Deer was general foreman when work on the campus began in 1966.

“It was a wheat field when we got there,” he said, recalling how the $3-million project with 160 workers was then the biggest ever for the city.

“All I know is it was 13,000 yards of concrete.”

Earlier this month, Welikoklad returned to the campus — this time to join with his wife Irma in making a personal donation of $250,000 to Red Deer College’s Building Communities Through Learning Campaign.

That money, which will attract a matching grant through the province’s Access to the Future Fund, will help finance expansion at the college and create three annual scholarships.

“I think that’s fantastic,” said Welikoklad of the fact students will benefit for years to come.

He didn’t have such opportunities.

The son of a Czech immigrant, he arrived in the Red Deer area as a three-year-old in 1938, and grew up a short distance south of the college lands.

Welikoklad remembers helping his disabled father on the farm before he was old enough for school, and earning $6 a month doing janitorial at his school when he was about 10.

By the time he was a young teen, he was putting in 12-hour days stooking grain.

“Eighty-five cents an hour — I was getting big money then.”

In 1954, Welikoklad went to work for a residential building company.

He later switched to commercial construction, with the RCMP building on 55th Street and several Red Deer schools among the projects he oversaw.

His skills were largely self-taught.

“I should have gone for an apprenticeship in carpentry,” he said, adding that travel to Calgary for the related coursework simply wasn’t practical.

“I had a crippled father and had to stay home to slop the hogs and feed the cows, and stuff like that.”

Welikoklad was operating his own construction business when the Red Deer College project was announced, but agreed to work for the contractor.

“Because the job was close to my back yard, I couldn’t resist it.”

In 1967, Welikoklad started Executive Homes, which focused on larger houses. Frustrated with the price and quality of lumber being sold to local contractors, he made the spontaneous decision in 1974 to start his own lumber yard: Executive Home Building Supplies.

“I came up here to the north end and bought an acre of land for $24,000,” recalled Welikoklad.

Wholesalers were initially reluctant to deliver to the upstart supplier, but eventually he found one that would and placed a $135,000 order.

“Which was a hell of a lot of lumber at the time. My yard was full — the whole acre was covered in lumber.”

Welikoklad supplied the material for his own houses but also sold to other contractors. By 1978, he was devoting his full energy to sales.

Now operating as Home Building Centre — a Home Hardware Stores affiliate — the business continues to supply contractors, which account for more than 95 per cent of its sales.

Welikoklad’s son Jason now owns and operates the business, although its founder still spends about 30 hours a week on site.

Jason studied business at Red Deer College, and remembers his father reminiscing about the origins of the campus. Welikoklad was able to get a much closer look at the post-secondary institution when he and Irma made their donation.

“I was very impressed with the number of people, and who all is working there,” he said. “I think it’s a fantastic facility.”

He credits Michael Donlevy, associate vice-president, community relations at Red Deer College — and Welikoklad’s former bank manager — with raising his awareness of the college and its campaign.

In addition to their support for the college, the Welikoklads recently donated $150,000 to the Ronald McDonald House capital campaign.