Alumnus’ $12.25M gift will help give new home to the Huskies and community hockey

History was made on Oct. 13, when University of Saskatchewan (U of S) commerce and law graduate Merlis Belsher (BComm’57, LLB’63) contributed $12.25 million to help fund a new ice facility to replace Rutherford Rink. Belsher’s gift is the largest donation from an alumnus and individual in the university’s history.

Community members, Huskie athletes, university representatives and hockey aficionados gathered in Rutherford Rink for the donation announcement. The special occasion also marked the public launch of the Home Ice Campaign, in which the university, minor league hockey and community volunteers, will ask the public to raise the remaining $7 million to fund the new facility. The fundraising campaign is led by alumnus and hockey legend Dave King.

Belsher explained his primary intention for his lead gift to the campaign. “I made this donation because of my gratitude for the University of Saskatchewan—it provided me with confidence and education in two professions. That was my doorway to a satisfying career in the manufacturing industry.”

Merlis Belsher is contributing $12.25 million to help fund a new twin-ice facility on campus (photo: Dave Stobbe).

Merlis Belsher is contributing $12.25 million to help fund a new twin-ice facility on campus (photo: Dave Stobbe).

The accomplished accountant, lawyer, entrepreneur and philanthropist said his success started when he first came to the University of Saskatchewan. He graduated with a bachelor of commerce in 1957, and was admitted to the Saskatchewan Institute of Chartered Accountants in 1960. He returned to the U of S to pursue a law degree, graduating in 1963, and was admitted to the Law Society of Saskatchewan the following year. A businessman by nature, he then purchased a concrete products manufacturing business in Saskatoon. Through acquisitions and expansion, he grew the business to be a leader in Western Canada, eventually selling it in 2008 to Oldcastle, an international firm.

Finding success in not one, but multiple professions took dedication and a strong work ethic. For Belsher, it also required a community of support. When he was just 15 years old both of his parents died tragically in a blizzard near their homestead. As a result, Belsher found himself alone at an early age.

It was thanks to a caring group of community members, and two older siblings, that he was guided to his new home at Luther College in Regina, where he finished his high school education and his interest in pursuing a university education deepened.

Belsher reminisced about the many mentors and teachers who encouraged his educational pursuits, but it was his mother, an elementary school teacher, to whom he gives the most credit. She instilled in him the importance of education and hard work from an early age; now he’s reaped the rewards of those values.

Merlis Belsher (back row, in white jersey), U of S President Peter Stoicheff (back row, left) and members of the men's and women's Huskie hockey team at today's announcement (photo: Dave Stobbe).

Merlis Belsher (back row, in white jersey), U of S President Peter Stoicheff (back row, left) and members of the men’s and women’s Huskie hockey team at today’s announcement (photo: Dave Stobbe).

“I’ve been very fortunate in my life,” he explained. “If I had one wish, it would be that my mother could see how much education has helped me.”

Education has since become a major focus in Belsher’s philanthropic and volunteer efforts. He’s served the University of Saskatchewan as a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council in both the College of Law and the College of Commerce (now Edwards School of Business), and he’s been donating to the university for decades. One notable donation was his establishment of the Merlis Belsher Access to Justice Fund in the College of Law in 2014, to support clinical learning opportunities for students through Community Legal Services for Saskatoon Inner City.

Although this donation is sports-specific—supporting all Huskies teams, campus recreation participants and minor league hockey players—he insisted it will have an equivalent impact on education.

“Sports are inextricably interwoven with education,” he said. “Sports keep young kids off the streets, and get them involved in community.”

An avid sports fan, and former athlete and hockey coach, Belsher can relate to the importance of athletics in youth life. That’s why $250,000 of his donation is a matching commitment, to involve children and community members in the new ice facility. He has called upon Saskatoon Minor Hockey Association to fundraise for the new facility as well, and they have taken up the challenge.

An architectural rendering of Merlis Belsher Place.

An architectural rendering of Merlis Belsher Place.

Belsher’s enthusiasm for giving back to support the university and the community is infectious. He’s most excited that his donation will help increase the amount of ice time available for both the Huskies and minor hockey league players. The university has an agreement with Saskatoon Minor Hockey to reserve a significant number of hours for the use of community hockey programming.

Although the new ice facility will be named after him—Merlis Belsher Place—Belsher remains humble, and stated that he did not make the contribution for the notoriety. He made it to help university students, first and foremost.

“This is about the university, not me,” he said. “If you see a good cause, you get fulfilled by getting involved.”

To make a donation to the Home Ice Campaign, click here.

Jessica Elfar is a development communications specialist in University Relations.

Alumni Highlights: Marshall Toner

For this month’s alumni highlight, we’re profiling one of our accomplished Huskie alumnus, Marshall Toner (BE’86). A jack of all trades, Toner played Huskie football, hockey and track all while studying civil engineering in the late ‘80s. He went on to play with the Calgary Stampeders from 1986-1991. Today, Toner is the executive vice president of JLL in Calgary.

marshall-toner

What are some of your fondest memories of being a student-athlete?

Waking up on game day knowing I would have something else besides studying to focus on.

What did the student-athlete experience at the U of S teach you that apply to both your professional and personal life?

Juggling engineering and athletics taught me to be very responsible with time management and to prioritize on what really needed to be done. It also taught me that we can all be pushed beyond our comfort zone on what we think we can accomplish.

What do you remember most about playing at the rustic Rutherford Rink?

I remember the renovation to the rink and what an improvement it was which tells you just how bad it was prior to.

What does the athletic program bring to students on campus?

It brings a sense of belonging and pride that is bigger than just attending classes to get a degree. I still have a keen interest on how the athletic teams are preforming 30 years later.

How did going to the U of S shape your career?

It helped shape me as a person but more importantly gave me the foundation and the confidence to pursue my dreams and goals in life.

Check in for monthly Q&As with alumni from all the U of S colleges, as we sit down to talk about their life after the U of S and how being on this campus shaped their careers. In case you missed any previous features, you can read them here.