Charity may be the noblest of human activities, but it’s not always easy to stay motivated. Why would a man in his 50s incur blisters and frozen toes year after year in a marathon charity hockey game? Why would his wife dish out food for hundreds of people at that same game in freezing cold temperatures? And why would their teenage daughters willingly crop their hair to make wigs for chemotherapy patients?
The family in question is the Hennigs and, as acquaintances will attest, helping raise funds for cancer research is as natural to them as any family-oriented activity. “It’s never a question of staying motivated because the gratification we get from fundraising is the best reward,” says Colette Hennig, co-owner of the venerable Stawnichy’s Ukrainian food company in Mundare, Alberta.
Stawnichy’s and the Hennigs are long-time participants in the World’s Longest Outdoor Hockey Game, an Alberta Cancer Foundation fundraiser which this year eclipsed its $1-million fundraising goal. Funds raised through the game go towards the purchase of a PET-MR scanner at the Cross Cancer Institute, a machine that combines the detail of an MRI with the abilities of a PET scan in order to show exactly where cancer tumours are and how they’re affecting the body.
As usual, Les Hennig, 52, was among the 40 players who endured frozen and blistered digits to play 250 hours of straight hockey (a feat that, incidentally, broke the Guinness World Record for the longest ice hockey game.) Colette was stationed in her motorhome dispensing food and beverages to everyone. “Leslie keeps saying he’s too old to play in marathons, but we all know he’ll be back,” she says with a laugh. “He’s managed to raise over $74,000 during the three games he’s played to date.”
Colette’s activities generated $17,000 this year ($15,000 in 2011), and just as in years past, every penny goes to the Alberta Cancer Foundation. Colette and Leslie’s daughters, Jordyn, 12; Jayde, 16; and Taylor, 21; have gladly shorn their locks to help chemo patients. Most remarkably, Jordyn’s first “Cut for Cancer” event, staged in her school gymnasium when she was seven with local media attending, caused observers to donate $16,074. “My daughters are constantly checking to make sure I’m doing all I can for the cause,” says Colette. “They’re relentless to the point of distraction, but it’s wonderful to see them so committed.” The Hennig family fundraising tally over the years comes to a grand total of $127,674.
But how did the Hennigs come to be such ardent charity workers?
As the son and eventual inheritor of the meat company launched by Woyko and Anna Stawnichy in 1964, Edward always felt running a business was a great opportunity for community building. “Dad loved raising funds for all sorts of causes, including the Alberta Cancer Foundation,” says Colette. “He loved helping out the local hospital and fire department. If he heard about a cause on the radio, he lost no time figuring out a way to get behind it.”
Colette adds, “He had such enthusiasm for getting involved because to him it was being appreciative of what the community had done for him.” One of Edward’s philanthropic actions was in 2006, when he spent $11,000 at an auction for a pink guitar signed by musicians of the Big Valley Jamboree. “Needless to say, dad’s enthusiasm rubbed off on all of us,” says Colette.
Edward’s death from cancer at 65 on May 11, 2009, was a huge loss for the family and a blow to the Alberta food world. But just as he had built up Stawnichy’s to thrive beyond his lifetime, so too does his community spirit invigorate the Hennigs during subsequent World’s Longest Outdoor Hockey Game events and other fundraisers. “Dad would have loved this year’s game,” says Colette. “He would have been dishing out food or encouraging neighbours to donate.”
Optometrist Brent Saik started the fundraiser in 2003 to honour his father, who died from cancer. And while the Hennigs honour Edward with their ongoing participation, they take great satisfaction seeing communities get together for the greater good – never mind the blisters. “We know exactly how Dad felt: watching people pull together is incredibly rewarding. We can’t wait for the next event.”