They weren’t necessarily leaders when they started out but they certainly led this city in the right direction.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  April 14, 2012  Leadership and the ability to see the big picture and the long term goal is the heart and soul of every organization – be it a multi-national corporation, a large metropolis or a social organization.  There have to be people with an idea and the energy and willingness to go forward with it.

Thursday evening many of Burlington finest business people gathered at the Convention Centre to recognize the best in each of six categories – all well deserved.

There were other awards given out as well for different kinds of leadership.   Two joint awards in particular were given out that deserve additional recognition  beyond the 450 people in the Convention Centre.

Keith Strong took the big cheques that came in and used his unique way of getting people to do things to get the Performing Arts Centre built on time and under budget.

Keith Strong and Gary DeGroote were awarded the Tourism Ambassador Award for their tireless efforts to get the Burlington Performing Arts Centre off the paper plans and to the point where there were shovels in the ground and construction cranes putting steel beams into place.  DeGroote wrote big cheques and Strong made sure the money got added to and was then used in such a way that they could say the building was on time and under budget.  Not something seen all that often in the municipal world and certainly not something Burlington sees that much of – the city still suffers the pain and looks at the scars of a waterfront pier project not yet completed and millions over budget but now under control and on track.

The people who are part of the crowd that is in the know and at the centre of much that happens in Burlington know what DeGroote and Strong managed to pull off but the larger community, the citizens that will benefit from the building, haven’t a clue as to who these two men are or what they did.

Walter Mulkewich with his best smile, was awarded the Tourism Ambassador Award for his early and untiring efforts in getting the Performing Arts Centre to the point where it was a building and not just an idea.

Two other very public figures – former Mayor Walter Mulkewich and former city council member Mike Wallace shared the Tourism Builder Award.  These two men aren’t joined at the hip, certainly not politically, but they have run side by side and kept the embers at least glowing until the city was ready to commit to building a Performing Arts Centre.   Mulkewich, a lifelong socialist and Wallace who came to realize he is a conservative as blue as the waters of Lake Ontario.

Mulkewich and Wallace were part of the group that saw the need and did the low level community committee work to get the idea fixed in the minds of the community and kept fanning those embers that grew into flames that produced the heat and energy that got a community to get behind the project.

Wallace went on to higher office while Mulkewich went on to retirement but the two of them worked closely in the very early years, as far back as the 70’s, to grow the idea that Burlington was big enough to handle a centre for the performing arts.

You always know when Mike Wallace is in the room - you hear him. He brought his inherent energy and humour to getting the Performing Arts Centre off pieces of paper and feasibility reports and to the point where it could become a reality.

Wallace was then able to finagle things in Ottawa and got the Prime Minister’s office to include a trip to Burlington to inspect a high tech research operation on, Ecosynthetix Mainway and spend some time at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre where Wallace preceded him on taking to “the boards” and then forgetting his lines.

What many will not fully appreciate for some time was that while the Prime Minister was in Burlington (the first time a Prime Minister had ever visited the city) he also made a policy statement on the arts and the role they play in the health of a community and the economy of a country.  That sort of got lost with the crowd that was very busy having their picture taken with the Prime Minister.

That event would not have taken place has Mulkewich and Wallace not done the very early work and the building  would not have gone up the way it did without DeGroote’ s financial contribution and Keith Strong’s  unique way of convincing someone they really can do what he has asked of them.

We are fortunate to have all four men in this community.  Although I don’t think we always have to send one of them to Ottawa.


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