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Charity golf organizer has been instrumental in helping GBGH for over a decade

Victoria Harbour citizen honours his late wife through “Family and Friends”
2020-06-04 dh
Gerard La Chapelle stands on the practice tee of the Midland Golf and Country Club, near where last year’s “Drop The Ball” charity raised $94,000 for Georgian Bay General Hospital in his late wife’s name. Derek Howard photo

Humility brings those superstars above us down to our level, allowing us to relate to them on a human scale to which we’re normally accustomed. Athletes are the most visibly recognizable, but there are those as well who work behind the scenes.

“I’m never one for spotlights,” explains Gerard La Chapelle. “I’ve always declined, because I always felt it was never about me. It was always about the group and the team.”

La Chapelle, aged 66 and standing proud at 5’4”, self-describes himself as “a pretty tough nut.”

His words are sharp and strong. Beneath his unassuming exterior lies a passion, which has driven nearly every action he’s taken in his life.

“Back in my early teens in Victoria Harbour— when I look at Oakwood Park— these are all projects that I put together with the great people around me; we as a team made our community better.”

La Chapelle’s love of playing sports blossomed into community involvement when his social network of teammates and friends shared similar goals.

“I developed a relationship with a lot of guys from back in my early twenties when I played Intermediate and senior hockey, that I kept them on,” he explains.

“So when I turned 35, I joined the guys I used to play senior and junior with in an over-35 team.  They used to do a lot of tournaments all through Ontario, called the Penetang Memories. When I became part of that, one of their fundraising things was doing charity work in the hockey tournaments.”

La Chapelle ended up running the Penetang Memories’ annual golf tournament for 25 years starting in 1990; and from there his role as a community leader expanded to cover a large number of charity tournaments across the region.

Gerard’s wife, Gail, had been a beloved, long-time nurse in Georgian Bay General Hospital’s emergency department. She was also a prominent champion of fundraising efforts toward the support of cancer research and treatment.

Her passing on in 2007 after a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer provided the momentum for Gerard’s involvement with further charities.

Gail was a strong-hearted woman, who returned to school years earlier for her RPN designation. That dedication to nursing and education became the catalyst for The Family and Friends of Gail La Chapelle, a multi-faceted organization dedicated to helping nurses in the area.

“I walk in the hospital in GBGH right now, and I—,” La Chapelle hesitates, his voice wavering with welled emotion. “You look at the care that you get, and if you go in there you’ll see Gail’s name there in large letters in the emerg part.

“What makes me happy is that we contributed to an organization that,” he paused briefly to collect himself, “…represents the whole community, and it’s a need to the community and I look at the equipment that we have purchased to better provide healthcare to those who enter into the hospital.”

With his voice regaining strength, he noted: “When I see what we have provided, with the use and the need, it kind of puts a smile on my face. We helped in making our place a better place to live in.”

The Family and Friends of Gail La Chapelle initiative has so far raised roughly $880,000 for GBGH. In addition to equipment purchases as well as the refurbishing of nurses’ stations within GBGH, the organization established a memorial fund and bursary for registered nursing students at Georgian College.

“Plus, we have an endowment called the Education Fund (click here),” adds La Chapelle. {} “If you take an RN subject and it costs you $500, we pay up to about $300 of that.”

Whether it’s running the helicopter-released 16,000 golf balls at the Drop The Ball charity raffle, which raised $94,000 for GBGH last year, or just a personal project like the Tay Shore Trail and its eventual extension from Waubaushene to near the Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, it seems like La Chapelle’s destiny is tied to the betterment of his community.

“Where you live, your community’s only as good as you make it,” he says. “Any opportunity people can get to participate in events or charities, do so. That’s the message I would leave, is for people to be mindful of where you live and support it the best you can.”

La Chapelle comments that he only has one more charity event slated to run this year or the next before he steps away for good.

And to those who wish to start a charity event of their own, he puts four key elements as the requirements for a successful event: A thorough community network, a solid team to rely upon, a strong game plan to make it happen and a worthy cause for the community to gather around.

Sometimes, the worthiest of causes can elevate the worthiest of individuals into a spotlight to be celebrated.