By Lethbridge Herald on July 30, 2021.
Well-known southern Alberta philanthropist and cattleman Cor Van Raay has died at Chinook Regional Hospital.
Jennifer Petracek-Kolb, chief executive officer of the YMCA of Lethbridge, said Friday “his donation to the Y and his support of the Y has been foundational in our ability to serve the community in the way that we had hoped to for decades.
“Because of his donation to the Cor Van Raay YMCA and also his support of our annual Strong Kids Campaign, we were able to serve many, many families, thousands of people who are low-income to come to the Y and participate. And his donation to the Y of $3.75 million in 2018 was then our lead gift donation to the community campaign that the Y established at that time,” she said.
“As a result, we were able to make our contributions of equipment to the Cor Van Raay YMCA but also to establish community programming by means of child care in Lethbridge.”
Charleen Davidson, executive director of the Community Foundation of Lethbridge and Southwesterrn Alberta said Friday “his commitment to the community and giving back is his legacy. That meant a lot to him.”
“He was important to this community and not just from the philanthropic side but from the business side. He revolutionized the cattle industry with the feedlots.
“He was so important from the philanthropic angle and all he’s done for this community,” Davidson said.
Some of his donations were done quietly, Davidson noted.
“Through us, he supported the poppy campaign last year. . . He’s Dutch, he grew up in Holland so he understood the liberation and Canada’s role in that so he didn’t want any media. For him that was about the veterans.
“He supported the Angel Tree campaign to make sure kids were getting presents for Christmas last year,” she said, adding that he also supported the Ready Set Go program which helps kids get school supplies.
“We had only begun working with Cor last year but he was fantastic because here we are looking at billionaires launching into space and here’s a man who was self -made and amassed all this wealth, but understood the impact and the difference it could make in his community and he gave that freely.
“I think that’s an important piece. Where would we be without that, without all people who give back to community? Someone like Cor who had so much wealth giving back was so important to him.”
Long-time friend Henry Doeve, chair of the Cor Van Raay LINK Pathway Committee, said Friday “it’s a sad day. I know it comes to that but the end is always a shock.”
The pathway was among the many endeavours Van Raay supported in southern Alberta. When completed, it will be a 15-kilometre long recreational corridor linking Lethbridge with Coaldale, enabling people to walk, bicycle, rollerblade and even snowshoe between the two communities following along an irrigation canal. Construction on the first 2.5 kilometres is scheduled to start in September.
“He saw the vision and saw it as a good project,” Doeve said of his long-time friend.
“We got along well, it’s hard to wrap your head around,” said Doeve.
Raay’s generosity has been felt by many in southern Alberta over the years.
Along with wife Christine, he was the founder of Cor Van Raay Farms. Together they raised six children.
In 1964, the couple bought 320 acres of land in Iron Springs from the Molnar family, according to the VRP Farms website.
They grew grain there and also rented out land to grow sugar beats. In 1965, after the farm began to struggle financially, Cor started working winters in saw mills and oil fields.
As crops improved, so did the family’s financial situation and in 1972, he built corrals for cattle. In the 1970s, the family’s cattle feeding operations at what became known as the Home Lot expanded while Cor and Christine continued to grow beets, potatoes, barley and wheat.
Eventually at one point, they would run five feedlots with a capacity of over 100,000 head.
In the 1980s, they diversified by joining forces with the Pascal family and got involved with a trucking and cattle feeding operation called Butte Grain Merchants as part owners.
In 2009 four years after breast cancer claimed Christine’s life, a majority interest in the Van Raay farm was sold to four of the couple’s children — Sandra Leith, Colleen Mackey, Michelle Van Raay and Darren Van Raay. They managed Cor Van Raay Farms Ltd. until it amalgamated with Pascal Cattle Company in 2015.
His financial support of southern Alberta includes a $3.75 million dollar donation to support maintenance of the West Lethbridge Cor Van Raay YMCA.
He also donated $5 million to the Lethbridge College/University of Lethbridge Cor Van Raay Southern Alberta Agribusiness program and created a U of L Faculty of Management scholarship in Christine’s name.
Other recipients of his generosity include the Lethbridge Food Bank, Chinook Regional Hospital, St. Michael’s Health Centre, Helen Schuler Nature Centre and pools in Picture Butte and Outlook, Sask. where he started a grain farm.
In October 2020, the Community Foundation of Lethbridge and Southwestern Alberta established the Cor Van Raay Endowment Fund. In 2017, he was given a National Philanthropy Day Inspiring Philanthropy Award in recognition of his generosity. He was nominated for the award by Lethbridge College.
Last year, he was also named Picture Butte’s Citizen of the Year and was feted at a Chamber of Commerce awards dinner.
“It’s nothing but an honour,” Van Raay told the Sunny South News at the time. “I supported the community for a long time, and had farmed there for 50, 60 years.”