Awards with Heart

Lyle Leboldus (1960 - 2012)

When the image of Lyle Leboldus popped up on the floor-to-ceiling screen at the Suncor Centre for the Performing Arts during the 2012 Heart of Wood Buffalo Leadership Awards, a lump made its presence known in my throat.  I knew this was the moment of truth for me, and likely for his daughter Jeanette Leboldus, who had joined us from Calgary to accept the Newcomer Engagement Award in his memory.  If I was going to devolve into a blubbering fool, this was when it was likely going to happen.

I had done everything I could think of, to mitigate the emotional triggers that would take me back to that first lunch I had with Lyle at the Pantry.  We hit it off right away, as he talked about his passion for community and giving back.  Not only did he talk the talk, we walked the talk, and dived into the nonprofit sector in a way that made him an instant member of the Fort McMurray fraternity of people who truly care.

John Wilson and Kathy Flett were eloquent and heartfelt in their remarks, as they invited Jeanette to the stage to receive the beautiful award sculpture, embedded with colour and profound meaning.  Then we invited Jeanette, poised and composed, to join us (keynote speaker Ian Hill, volunteer CEO of Let The Be Kids, graciously agreed to help me out) in the awards 'living room'.  She was an absolute champion as she revealed a little of what made Lyle tick, and what enabled him to connect to this community in such an incredibly short period of time.

Jeanette Leboldus being interviewed by Sunshine Chen

We made it through without having to reach behind my chair for the box of Kleenex that was at the ready - a minor miracle in my mind, considering what was going through our collective hearts.  It was a lovely segment in an evening that was peppered with memorable moments.

The Heart of Wood Buffalo Leadership Awards are one of the pillars of the Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo project - 5-year initiative funded by the Suncor Energy Foundation and stewarded by the University of Waterloo to build capacity in the nonprofit sector in our region.  The awards represent the "Encourage the Heart" practice as espoused by Kouzes and Posner in The Leadership Challenge, the tome of the Leadership Wood Buffalo program with which, over 100 of us have become intimately familiar.

Dan Fouts was the recipient of the Board Leadership Award and shared the very touching story of his mother and her courageous journey with cancer.  Humble, heartfelt and amazingly articulate, Dan - supported by his posse from the Northern Lights Health Foundation - set a perfect tone to the evening.

The Executive Leadership Award went to Jill Sporidis, Executive Director of the Wood Buffalo Primary Care Network.  When asked what the most important attribute of a successful nonprofit leader is, she replied immediately with "transparent." You could tell that she embraces a team approach to leadership, throwing the credit back to the amazing people that she gets to change the work with every day.

Alex Bosch Sanchez being interviewed after the awards ceremony

Alejandro "Alex" Bosch Sanchez, the winner of the Volunteer Recognition Award in honour of Bill Bloomfield, was a bundle of nerves as he sat down to chat with us.  Originally from Mexico, where he began contributing to his community at an early age, Alex volunteers with 22 organizations in Fort McMurray.  When we asked him which one of the organizations he works with would get the $5,000 offered on his behalf as part of the Heart of Wood Buffalo Leadership Awards program, it provided a moment of lightness, as the audience of over 300 watched his brain try to work out a solution.  When he said "the United Way" - as they serve multiple organizations throughout the region - it was another moment of perfection.

The Fort McMurray Food Bank Association was recognized with the Community Impact Award.  Represented by Board Chair Kathy Flett, we were given a glimpse into this dynamic nonprofit that has successfully transitioned into a new downtown facility and weathered incredible adversity.

"How have you done it all?" asked Ian Hill.  "What keeps you moving forward during what has obviously been a very challenging time?"

"Having a strong board and an amazing staff," said Kathy.  "It's all about the people."

The final award of the night was presented to Christine Burton - the Social Prosperity Leadership Award.  A lawyer by trade, this omnipresent community leader has made an impression on a lot of people with her monthly free notary clinics she holds at the YMCA.  A coordinator there estimates that the price tag for their clients, if they had to pay for the legal help, would be north of $90,000.

"I have to thank my husband Julio," said Christine.  "He allows me the freedom to do the things I do.  Family support is so important."

On a personal note, I have to thank Kim Nordbye for inviting me to host this incredible recognition event.  It was an absolute honour to do it, and chat with these leaders who do such wonderful work in our region.  I also have to thank my good friend Ian Hill for his inspiring keynote and for joining me in the Heart of Wood Buffalo Leadership Awards living room.

In the middle of his presentation, a little girl from Janvier - maybe three years old - descended the stairs and on to the stage, on the way to the bathroom escorted by an elder.  One of the cool things about this performance space is the connectivity between the audience and the stage - there is no separation.  When you hit the bottom of the stairs, you are on the stage.

Ian stopped, acknowledged the moment, and tried to engage the threesome as they made their way out of the room.

"This is a moment of divine intervention," he said as the the doors closed behind them.  "Let's do something special for that little girl, right now.  I'm going to cut a cheque for $500 so we can start an RESP for her.  Are you in?  Let's set her up, right now."

At the end of the night, the $5's, $10's and $20's were placed on top of the podium as everyone was leaving, and as personal matching cheques started being offered.  Over $3,000 was raised to give this lovely little girl from one of our small rural communities an amazing start to her post-secondary education, way off in the future.

"I learned a little about her back-story in talking to her family," said Ian the next day.  "Let me just say, without giving away anything private, that your generosity is going to make a difference in the life of that little girl."

What is the value in devoting an evening to encouraging the heart?  In my view, it's impossible to measure, and time well spent.


  1. Thank you Russel for this beautiful summary of a wonderful evening! It was an honor & pleasure to work with you :)

  2. Great write-up Russell of an equally great evening!

  3. My niece Jeanette Leboldus shared your blog with me this morning (after sharing a hand-held video of the award presentation)! As Lyle's sister, I can't thank you enough for your kind words and the wonderful memories of Lyle that you shared. It has been extremely heart-warming and comforting for our family to hear stories such as yours. Thank you also for posting the great photo of Lyle!


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