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'Magic palpable' as Leacock endowment fund unveiled

Community Foundation champion celebrates agency's 20th anniversary with $20,000 fund; Leacock Associates 'beyond grateful' for assistance, official says

When TD Bank Financial Group decided not to renew its contract as title sponsor of the Leacock Medal for Humour, it was no laughing matter for officials at the Stephen Leacock Associates, which administers Canada’s top humour award.

For several years, the bank had stepped up to provide the Leacock Associates with funding that allowed them to award $15,000 to the winner of the coveted award and $3,000 to a pair of runners-up.

Leacock Associates president Nathan Taylor said when the bank opted not to return as the title sponsor, “we weren’t sure what was going to happen next. We were all concerned about the future.”

Local businessman Jim Dykes also grew concerned when he heard about the predicament. And he decided to do something about it.

The longtime community booster, who birthed the idea of the Community Foundation of Orillia and Area (CFOA) a little over two decades ago, thought that model could help the Leacock lovers.

Ironically, it was at the annual Leacock Medal for Humour Gala 21 years ago, that Dykes and then Packet & Times publisher Ken Koyama and others decided to start the CFOA.

“I put $20 in a bread basket and passed around the basket, asking for donations,” recalled Dykes this week.

Fast forward 20 years, and the foundation now has a $6-million portfolio.

“CFOA chair Michael Gordon said to me, ‘You know what? It’s our 20th anniversary. We should celebrate our anniversary by trying to raise some money for the Leacock Associates.’”

The idea resonated with Dykes. He thought it would be fitting to raise $20,000 for the group to mark the Foundation's 20th anniversary.

“One of the reasons the Community Foundation got off to such a good start was we were able to get significant contributions from the City of Orillia and Casino Rama,” said Dykes. “Then, we pitched that as matching money. Every dollar someone donated was, essentially, matched and doubled.”

Reflecting on that, Dykes decided to seed the fund with $10,000 of his own money, vowing to double that amount through donations. He then pitched the idea far and wide and, within a few weeks, managed to reach his goal.

And at Saturday’s annual Leacock Award Gala, he and Gordon announced a new $20,000 endowment fund for the Leacock Associates.

“I would say next to announcing the winner, that got the most applause of the night,” said Taylor. “People were very excited.”

Dykes agreed. “The magic in the room was palpable,” he said.

He just hopes that excitement prompts people to give.

“The next TD Bank isn’t necessarily around the corner,” said Dykes of sponsorship opportunities in today's climate. “Now, the group will get a portion of the endowed funds each year and the endowed funds never deplete. The larger that fund grows, the more money they get.”

Dykes implored Taylor and the board to take advantage of the opportunity.

“The CFOA started with $20 in a bread basket and grew that to $6 million,” said Dykes.

“Your team has a $20,000 bread basket,” Dykes told Taylor. “We are counting on your leadership and your team to make the BIG dream happen.”

Taylor said the group is committed to doing just that.

“We will be putting a lot of focus on that as a board, now that we have this in place,” Taylor said of the endowment fund, noting they will be working hard to promote the fund and explain how it works.

“The Leacock Associates are beyond grateful for the CFOA's help in establishing the endowment fund,” said Taylor.

“This fund, which is starting at $20,000 with the intention of growing it over the years, will help ensure the longevity of the Canada's only national award for literary humour."

He also said the group is thrilled the support is grass-roots in nature - and local.

"The fact that it is a local organization that is such a success story just makes it more special,” said Taylor. “We … hope residents of Orillia and beyond will help us out."

For more information about the endowment fund, call the CFOA at 705-325-4903 or visit their website.

For more information about the Leacock Associates, visit their website.


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Dave Dawson

About the Author: Dave Dawson

Dave Dawson is community editor of
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