One thing was clear to anyone who knew Ron Rodgers – Willma was the light of his life.
Willma, his wife of 33 years, passed away more than a decade ago but he never forgot his commitment to honour her with a lasting legacy. A $2.2 million bequest left to Medicine Hat College in Willma’s name will benefit the Division of Health Studies for years to come.
The agreement states the money will be used as an endowment. The interest earned will go toward assisting students with bursaries and programming costs within the division. The donation came as a surprise to MHC’s foundation as Rodgers had left no prior indication to the college of a planned bequest.
“I kept reading the documents thinking ‘WOW!’ What a generous gift from an amazing man,” said Deanna Haysom, development officer at MHC.
But for Rodgers’ niece Jennifer Ericson, the legacy donation couldn’t be more fitting for a “quiet, gentle man whose wife was the light of his life.”
“He was very proud of Willma’s career in nursing. She worked hard and was successful in an era when many women left the workplace once they married,” said Ericson.
The couple had a fairy-tale love story. Both Willma and Rodgers were born in Scotland but didn’t meet until emigrating to Canada separately. Rodgers joined the navy after school and travelled the world as an engineer before settling in Canada in the late 1950s.
Willma’s passion was always caring for others. She completed her nursing training at Dundee RoyalInfirmary, specializing in maternity care and winning the Dr. Marion Kirkland Prize for nursing ability. The award described her as having “kindness of disposition toward patients.”
Willma’s adventurous spirit led her to South Africa, where she worked in Johannesburg for two years.
“She particularly enjoyed working with her young assistants who were from the Zulu tribe, although the language barrier sometimes resulted in humorous exchanges,” said Ericson. “It was quite an adventure for her and left a lasting impression.”
A few years later she capitalized on a vital need for nurses in booming Saskatchewan and in the mid-60s, met Rodgers on a blind date.
“For Ron it was love at first sight and they were married in 1966,” said Ericson.
They settled in Manitoba and lived a happily married life for more than 30 years. In the early 1990s they retired to Medicine Hat until Willma’s passing from ovarian cancer in 1999 at the young age of 65. Ericson said Ron never got over the loss of Willma. He passed away in 2011 at the age of 89.
“He did not feel the need to have lots of people around but enjoyed conversation and had some wonderful stories,” Ericson recalled of her uncle. “He worked hard throughout his life and was not extravagant – he always lived within his means and saved for the future.”
This financially responsible way of living allowed him to leave a lasting legacy for the benefit of countless future students.
“The fact that his legacy is in Willma’s name is a testament to his lifelong devotion to his wife and his own humility,” said Ericson. “He and Willma both appreciated the greater good to be accomplished from saving and donating money rather than spending it on themselves.
“I know Ron will have had a great deal of comfort before he died knowing about his gift in Willma’s name – for him that would have been priceless.”
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