One of Red Deer’s most well-known community leaders and philanthropists has been inducted into the Alberta Order of Excellence.
Joan Donald is one of eight Albertans this year to receive the honour that recognizes Albertans who have made an outstanding, provincial, national or international impact and is the highest honour a citizen can receive as an official part of the Canadian Honours System.
“(Donald) has enriched the social and economic health of her community by bringing governance and leadership to the boardrooms of organizations that range from business, health and education, to social justice, sport and culture,” says a statement announcing her induction.
Donald, 86, was born in Wetaskiwin and grew up as one of 11 children on a farm in the Millet area. Living on a farm meant there was always work to do, whether it was hauling water and wood to the house or taking lunch to the men working in the field, she recalls.
“We came home from school and went right to work on our chores. We learned about being good neighbours. At harvest time, if our family finished first, we were there to help our neighbours,” she says.
She went to a one-room country school until Grade 9, when she moved with her parents and younger sister to Edmonton. While in high school there, she met her husband Jack Donald, whom she married in 1955.
The couple opened a service station in Edmonton in 1957, before moving to Red Deer in 1964 and co-founded Parkland Oil Products Ltd. From a single gas station, they expanded the company to 38 stations across central Alberta before selling the company in 1971.
Five years later, they started Parkland Industries Ltd., where Joan was assistant corporate secretary from 1977 until her retirement in 2001.
By the time she retired, the company, now called Parkland Fuel Corp., had its own refinery and 454 retail service stations in Western and Northern Canada. She continues to serve as vice-president of Parkland Properties Ltd. – their personal investment and real estate company in Red Deer.
Donald began 50 years of volunteering in Red Deer and has led numerous fundraising campaigns, encouraging others to give their time and financial support.
In the early 1970s, she began organizing horse shows for Westerner Park, a role she enjoyed for the next two decades. Her interest in horses led to more volunteer work with the Quarter Horse Association of Alberta and the Waskasoo Handicapped Riding Association. Joan went on to serve four years on the board of directors – which governs Westerner Park, Red Deer’s events centre – and eight years on the executive team, including two as president.
In 2007, Joan and Jack donated $1.5 million towards a new Westerner administration building.
Joan was instrumental in starting the Festival of Trees in Red Deer in 1994. “Under her guidance, the festival grew from a relatively small fundraiser to become the premiere community charitable event in the city, raising funds for the Red Deer Regional Hospital Foundation.”
As long-time volunteers, Joan and Jack are both proud to support Red Deer College, now Red Deer Polytechnic. Joan has served on the Board of Governors and as honorary chair of the highly successful capital campaigns. Joan and Jack have also been major personal donors to Red Deer Polytechnic for many years, as have their companies.
In 2007, they donated $3 million to support the college’s expansion plan, a gesture that resulted in the college’s business faculty being named the Donald School of Business.
Another of their more sizeable gifts was a $3 million donation to the college for the Donald Health and Wellness Centre, which is dedicated to teaching and learning in the fields of health and wellness. They also contributed a significant gift for the new Library Information Common. Combined with previous leadership investments, they are the college’s largest philanthropic donors.
“We have continued to invest in Red Deer Polytechnic, because we believe in empowering local learners to give them the opportunities they need to be successful in their careers and lives,” says Joan. “Our communities are strengthened tremendously with the high-quality individuals who are bettering themselves in their time on campus, and beyond.”
Over the years, Joan and Jack have donated substantial gifts and time to a number of non-profit community groups, including Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre, Red Deer Hospice Society, United Way Central Alberta, and JA (Junior Achievement) Southern Alberta. She consistently “puts her money where her mouth is,” supporting the same organizations she has asked others to support.
She has volunteered on many other non-profit boards and fundraising campaigns, including the board of directors of STARS (Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service) and supported Red Deer Public Schools Minerva Club for Grade 9, where they examined careers in math, sciences and non-traditional areas.
She has received numerous awards over the years, including Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002, Red Deer Citizen of the Year in 2004, Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012, and the Senate Canada 150 Medal in 2017. She was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 2011.
The Donalds have two children, John and Kathy Lacey. All four family members have been named Red Deer Citizens of the Year. They have five married grandchildren and nine great grandchildren and enjoy spending their winters at their home in San Diego, California.