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Locals land seniors awards

Annual SAGE Awards praise seniors who make big differences in the community

By: Scott Hayes

  |  Posted: Saturday, May 03, 2014 06:00 am

RECOGNIZED – Jack and Mary O'Neill each recently received an award from the Seniors Association of Greater Edmonton at its eighth annual SAGE Awards ceremony.
RECOGNIZED – Jack and Mary O'Neill each recently received an award from the Seniors Association of Greater Edmonton at its eighth annual SAGE Awards ceremony.
SCOTT HAYES/St. Albert Gazette

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Other Award Winners

• Eunice Barron – Arts and culture
• George Nikel – Community building
• Earl Choldin – Education
• Hilary Gray – Environment
• Victoria Van Vliet Vaitkunas – Public and non-profit
• Dr. Gary Faulkner – Science and technology
• Clarence Hirsch – Sport and leisure

St. Albert residents won three of 10 awards handed out recently by a prominent Edmonton seniors organization.

The Seniors Association of Greater Edmonton held its eighth annual SAGE Awards ceremony to honour the outstanding achievements and contributions of seniors in the Edmonton area.

St. Albert’s Bev Halisky won in the transportation category. Mary O’Neill won in the health and wellness category while her husband Jack won in the social justice and peace category.

Bev Halisky – Transportation

Halisky was singled out for founding the well-known and widely renowned Driving Miss Daisy. She started the business from St. Albert to provide a reliable taxi service for seniors that also helped to prevent the clients from experiencing social isolation and keeping them independent, healthy and mobile.

Since its inception in 2002, it has expanded to include 45 franchises with more than 70 vehicles in total across four provinces.

She was humbled to accept her award, saying the honour comes to her, her family and friends, and her staff and franchisees as well. She also thanked everyone who believed in her and her dream.

“I have gained very powerful insights over the years,” she said in her speech to the assembled crowd. “I listened with my ears and with my eyes wide open to those who supported and mentored me.”

Driving Miss Daisy, she continued, started as a semi-retirement project that turned into a retirement project, one that required her full attention and energy. This often took her away from her family and she gave much credit to those who stuck by her. She was joined at the event by her husband, her daughters and several of her siblings, all showing their solidarity with Halisky.

“I did not achieve this on my own,” she said. “I had a lot of help along the way.”

Mary O’Neill – Health and wellness

One of the most recognizable figures on the local charity and political scene, Mary O’Neill has a long history of giving back to the community. Apart from her two terms as St. Albert’s MLA and school trustee, the former teacher also served on the University of Alberta senate and on NAIT’s board of governors.

O’Neill received the award specifically for her work as the executive director of the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation and for serving on the board of directors of the Kids Kottage Foundation, Edmonton’s first and only crisis nursery to help prevent child abuse.

She is also on the strategic advisory committee for the Tomorrow Project, a long-term research project spearheaded by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer.

O’Neill’s work with the Glenrose’s Courage Campaign was praised as it brought in advanced technology to establish Western Canada’s first virtual medical treatment system. She still volunteers at the hospital, an institution that she called “a treasure.”

She suggested that her award is a wonderful gesture that also helps draw attention to the many worthy causes that she supports.

“I feel honoured. I feel quite undeserving because there are thousands more who do a whole lot more for communities. When you get to be a senior, I guess you might as well accept everything that is offered!” she said with a smile and a laugh.

Jack O’Neill – Social justice and peace

Jack O’Neill has a long history of humanitarianism and concern for human rights. He previously served as the chief commissioner for the Alberta Human Rights Commission, the deputy minister with Alberta Culture and Multiculturalism and the director of administration of the Alberta government’s Federal and Intergovernmental Affairs ministry.

Apart from other roles, including special assistant in the office of Premier Lougheed and the executive director of the Alberta Heart and Stroke Foundation, O’Neill has volunteered on committees for St. Albert’s Youville Home, the Arts and Heritage Foundation, and St. Albert Stop Abuse in Families.

Along with Gurcharan Bhatia and Gerald Gall, he co-chaired the 1998 International Conference on Human Rights in Edmonton and co-founded the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights. He was awarded the Order of Canada in 2001.

O’Neill said he doesn’t work to garner the limelight at these kinds of events. In fact, he was surprised to get the call about winning the award.

“I’m always convinced that there’s a lot more people than I who should receive acknowledgement like this,” he remarked.

He later added in his speech, “there are many, many seniors who are never recognized, who don’t want to be recognized in the tremendous work that they do. This is for all of them.”


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