HEART OF THE COMMUNITY: MAN THANKS KIWANIS FOR SAVING HIS LIFE

This is the year Ron Beaver celebrates his 75th birthday. It’s an impressive milestone for anyone, but particularly impressive for a person with a heart condition who was told by doctors that he wasn’t expected to live past the age of 20. Ron says he would not be here today if the Kiwanis Club of Dartmouth did not fund a trip to Toronto in 1961 that enabled him to have heart surgery.

Newspaper clipping from 1955 entitled AIDED BY KIWANIS showing Ron with his dog Fluffy.

“Starting at age nine, I had shortness of breath all the time. Doctors gave me lots of tests and found a hole between two chambers in my heart. If I wanted to live, I needed surgery in Toronto.”

Ron and his mother photographed for this article by The Toronto Star in 1955

Ron says there was no way his parents could afford to send him away for the procedure. His father was unable to work due to blindness caused by two separate tragic injuries.

“Back in 1937, my dad shot his eye out in an accident on the farm. Then about twenty years later, a 22-calibre gun blew up in the other eye. He never healed properly from that.”

Ron says his family didn’t have a car and his mother relied on friends and neighbours to drive them from Lower East Chezzetcook to his many medical appointments in the city. Fortunately, one of Ron’s doctors at the time was a member of the Dartmouth Kiwanis and recommended the club provide funding for the trip to Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto for the heart operation. In 1955, Kiwanis provided $600 for the voyage, a significant portion of their annual budget of $3000 that year.

Newspaper clipping from The Chronicle Herald in 1955 showing Ron with his parents and members of the Dartmouth Kiwanis

“We were so grateful for the trip in 1955, but I wasn’t able to have the surgery then. Doctors did a lot of tests on me and found that I only had a 25 per cent chance of survival,” says Ron.

Not willing to give up hope, the Dartmouth Kiwanians kept close tabs on Ron’s health. Finally, in 1961, doctors cleared the boy for surgery, so Dartmouth Kiwanis again bought train tickets for Ron and his mother. They called upon their Toronto counterparts to handle all the arrangements for their stay.

“The Kiwanis folks took such good care of us. I don’t recall the man’s name who drove us around in Toronto, but I remember when he pulled up in a 1955 or 56 Cadillac. It was yellow with a white roof and had power windows. I’d never seen a car like that back home,” says Ron.

Newspaper clipping from The Chronicle Herald in 1961 showing Ron and his mother receiving their train tickets from Kiwanis president Al Kellough 

The surgery was a success, but recovery took time. Ron celebrated his 15th birthday in Sick Kids Hospital. Within a few months, he could breathe much easier and eventually, he was able to run. By the time he was 16 years old, Ron felt strong enough to leave home and work in Dartmouth, while taking an apprenticeship course to become an electrician. He eventually opened his own electrical business and married the love of his life, Marie. Together, they welcomed two sons and four grandchildren – and took trips all over Canada and the world together. Ron says none of that would have been possible without the help of Kiwanis sixty years ago.

Ron Beaver receives Firefighter of the Year award from Waverley Fire Chief Don Day and Marilyn Hubbard

Ron gave back to his community by serving as a volunteer firefighter in Waverley for thirty years. Halfway through his tenure, he was honoured as Firefighter of the Year. Recently, Ron decided it was time to help people in his community in a different way, by directly supporting the organization that gave him a second chance at life when he was a boy.

“Marie and I talked about giving money to the Kiwanis. I thought I might have to wait until after I pass away.”

Ron says he had a serious talk with Marie and decided to find a way to give back sooner. He sold his shares in a fishing camp in Newfoundland so he could make a significant donation to the Kiwanis Club of Dartmouth this year – the 60th anniversary of his surgery. It was a gesture that was appreciated by all, but especially by Glen Bagnell, a past Kiwanis International President, who has been a member for so long, he’s followed Ron’s story from the beginning.

“I attended the meeting when we organized the details for Ron’s trip to Toronto. I never forgot his name. It means so much to know that we had an impact on his life,” says Glen.

Over the past six decades, as Ron's life has evolved, so has the Kiwanis Club of Dartmouth. The organization now welcomes both men and women to volunteer their time and energy to improve the lives of children. They no longer fund individuals, but now focus on larger projects that help youth flourish in the community. In recent years, they installed the large playground in Ferry Terminal Park and the fountain at Sullivan’s Pond. Their next major project is the creation of a new multi-use pavilion at Graham’s Grove Park with gender neutral washrooms, a community room and permanent ice cream hut/canteen.

“Ron’s donation is going to make a difference for many children, for years to come,” says Glen.

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