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Giving the Gift of Life: Leaving a legacy in Wood Buffalo 

I have always felt that if you are going to live in the community, you have to give back,” says Beverly Ewashko.

Bev is a volunteer with the Northern Lights Health Foundation. She regularly participates in the Health Foundation’s annual holiday fundraiser, the Festival of Trees (FOT), as a tree decorator. As a previous owner of Northland Forest Products Ltd., local sports coach, and community advocate, Bev has been doing business, raising a family, and giving back to Fort McMurray for over 30 years. 

“I have always loved volunteering. I have met lovely people through volunteering with the Foundation,” she says. 

Bev won’t leave for her winter residence in Hawaii until the hard work for FOT is done. “It’s a lot of fun decorating the trees for everyone in the community to enjoy. It is such a festive way to give back. I always make sure I am home for this event. It’s my small way to spread some holiday cheer locally,” she says. For her long-standing commitment to this region and her continued efforts to make a difference locally, she deserves to escape our harsh winters for some fun in the sun in her retirement.

Bev admits she has seen a lot of changes in the region over the years. “It really was the Wild West when we first came here in 1966,” she says. 

Bev’s husband Roy owned a sawmill here and in the early days of building their lumber company she jokes that they were a like a bunch of roughneck workers. “We could only come to Fort McMurray on the winter road, and back then, I did everything for the company: bookkeeper, camp manager, cook,” she fondly recalls. 

The couple grew up in Keephills, Alberta and were married for 41 years. They eventually made Fort McMurray their permanent home as entrepreneurs and parents. Bev has three adult children - Howie, Kim, and Craig - and six grandchildren ranging in age from eight to 16 years old, who all currently reside in Wood Buffalo.

“The community has come a long way in terms of developing infrastructure and attracting a population to the area to work the resources here. It has been great to watch it become more than a few structures on Franklin Avenue. It’s my home. I have watched it grow and my only hope is the town does better to manage the congestion that continues to come with development,” says Bev. 

She jokes that she is typical to note traffic woes, while admitting that she is not sure of what that solution is.

“We came to Fort McMurray because of the availability of the timber, and although our timber was shipped all over the world and we didn’t do a lot of business in this area, we always felt compelled to support the community, both personally and through our business,” she says. Bev’s company has made a mark locally for corporate philanthropy and she has personally spent many years dedicating her time to creating a swim club and remained committed to sports through volunteering and coaching for many years.

In 1999, Bev and Roy’s life changed forever. Roy developed a fatal brain tumor. Over the next five years, Bev added caregiver to her growing list of credentials.

“We were part of that generation that learned to make it work. We had our share of ups and downs like everyone else: being married, parenting, and being in business together... But being Roy’s caregiver when he was sick was a tough one. But we never let any challenges stop us before and we said to ourselves, ‘we can get through this’. We just needed some support,” she shares. 

Bev attributes the assistance of home care for helping her to get through some of the challenges of losing a loved one at home. Bev and her family have showed their overwhelming desire to improve the health of residents in our community after Roy passed in 2004 by making a substantial personal contribution to the Health Foundation in his memory. The gift was in support of a campaign to purchase a new MRI machine.

“We just did what we could at the time,” says Bev. “Roy and I had the discussion about the gift. We made a choice. We asked ourselves ‘how could we improve the lives of people who would be going through the same life events that we were going through?’ and felt the gift was appropriate because we had experienced the inconvenience of having to drive to Edmonton for testing so often. We wished we could have stayed home closer to our family and our support systems. The gift was our way of improving the local health care services for those who would come after us,” she says.

Bev looks back at this time in her life, today as a cancer survivor herself. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and was successfully treated. Bev feels that being sick herself was just something she had to face, but empathetically shares, “It was difficult, as a mother, you know, to watch my children being afraid for their mother after losing their father.” 

Bev’s family has never publicly released the amount of the gift.

From the  Health Foundation's Board of Directors and staff, we send a warm and sincere thank you to Bev for actively and quietly championing for health causes in the community. Your longstanding commitment is appreciated more than words can express.

Originally printed in YMM Magazine. Read the article, here.

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