Back in the day, when Thompson Rivers University was known as Cariboo College, Ken Lepin donated a C-note to the school.
“I probably gave one of the first donations to this university when they started. It was $100, they remind me,” he told KTW.
“That was a lot of money. I’ve sort of increased that over the years.”
Indeed he has.
In the intervening years, Ken has donated $3.98 million to TRU and recently added $275,000 to increase all of his awards by 10 per cent to account for post-pandemic inflation.
Ken has 17 student awards at TRU that are funded by his endowments, including a new award for software engineering.
The 82-year-old also has awards in science, nursing, trades, business, law, education, animal health technology, culinary arts, tourism management, respiratory therapy and graduate studies.
Ken started out as a chartered accountant, then entered the sand and gravel business with a client, Ron Bregoliss. From there, Ken became a landlord of multiple rental properties and has done well enough to donate substantial amounts to the various causes.
Through the years, he’s built, owned and sold dozens of properties, starting with the Pemberton Terrace 47-suite building in 1971 and ending with the Hillside Plaza shopping centre in 1995.
At one point, Ken noted, he was informed he was Kamloops’ second-largest taxpayer, behind Weyerhaeuser, which owned and operated a pulp mill (now owned by Domtar) and saw mill.
“What it was, was playing Monopoly with real money,” he said. “I used to play a lot of it as a kid and I was pretty good at it. I’m not too bad with this, either.”
Ken and wife Maureen choose to where the money is allocated.
The larger donations began in 2008 with a focus on trades programs. Nursing awards followed — and with good reason, since Maureen graduated from the school’s nursing program in 1976. A daughter also studied nursing at TRU.
What thrills the Lepins is the opportunity to meet with students who benefit from the awards.
“They’re such fun to talk to,” Maureen said. “A rattlesnake researcher down by Osoyoos. We just get into these conversations that are so interesting.”
Added Ken: “It restores your faith in the coming generation like you wouldn’t believe.Holy smokes. I don’t remember kids in my class who were that smart and that hard-working.”
Maureen pointed to a student who used an award to help her graduate from TRU about a decade ago. Since then, the student worked on the Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator near Geneva and today has a doctorate and is teaching at Sorbonne University in Paris.
She stays in touch with Maureen and Ken.
“And that’s a story that people in Kamloops don’t know,” Ken said. “A lot of Kamloopsians still think this is sort of a hick town. Kelowna, they know they’re the world’s best, but I think people here should know the students here are damn good.
“My awards are not dependent on how much money you have in the bank,” Ken said. “You just gotta be bloody good.”
Maureen noted the majority of the recipients now are women, a reversal of the ratio when he first started the donations.
In addition to about $4 million in donations to TRU, Ken has donated to Royal Inland Hospital, Kamloops Hospice Association, BC Wildlife Park, Salvation Army and Kamloops Art Gallery, among other groups.
Ken said part of the reason he publicly donates is to encourage others with means to do likewise.
Two of many who have benefitted
One student to have benefited from Ken Lepin’s donations is Tyson Bodor.
Bodor, 26, had already completed a bachelor of science degree at Thompson Rivers University when he decided to further his studies with a bachelor of education degree.
“It was really beneficial in that I was able to cover my tuition with working part-time hours rather than full-time hours on top of my studies,” he said.
The $5,000 award Bodor received for excellence in education paid for nearly half of his studies in that field. It also meant he could focus more on his studies by not having to work full-time to cover the costs of his education.
Bodor has continued his education and is in his third year of medical school, currently doing clinical rotations at Kelowna General Hospital.
Although he hasn’t yet decided where he will focus his medical education, he is considering a family practice in Kamloops, where he and his wife have family.
But there’s another reason, too.
“People like Ken Lepin are really part of the reason I feel drawn back to Kamloops. The community being so heterogenous, there’s so many progressive things, as well as education and multiple industries, I think it adds to how beautiful Kamloops is and makes it an appealing place to come back to,” he said.
Another student seeing the benefit from Lepin’s donations is Taisya Rouault, who was working toward her bachelor of science degree in 2016 when she received the Ken Lepin Award for Academic Achievement in Science.
“School can be quite expensive for tuition and really knowing that I’d have some financial support behind me really allowed me to not only have support for school, but also from some phenomenal people in the community, as well, who cheered me on,” she said.
Rouault finished that degree and moved on to medical school. She recently graduated and returned to Kamloops and these days, training to become a family doctor. She hopes one day to open her own practice.
She cited the need for family doctors in Kamloops as one reason for returning. She has two years left in her education, and is learning from family doctors in their offices and from specialists at Royal Inland Hospital.