To everyone in the regional music business the late Don Vaugeois was known with great affection. He was a gentle giant with an unparalleled generous spirit.
The St. Albert resident, founder and owner of Don’s Piano Place, passed away in Feb. 2017. In doing so, he left a gaping hole in the hearts of many.
This Sunday, the Kaleido Family Arts Festival hosts a 75-minute concert to honour a man who, through daily undertakings created a blueprint for making the world a better place.
A proud alumnus of the Little White Schoolhouse and a graduate of St. Albert Catholic High School, he was a devoted husband, loving father, loyal friend and a savvy businessman who sold pianos.
Vaugeois was also a dedicated community builder, someone who saw a need and responded without question both as an individual and as a Rotarian.
“Don loved life,” said his wife and business partner Annette. “And he passed that on to everyone he met. He touched a lot of people. He was a community guy. He loved St. Albert and always gave back. It was important to him.”
Many business leaders create networks to grow the bottom line. Vaugeois instead recognized the value of music in a broad context. He waived piano fees to music and arts festivals that lacked funds to rent instruments.
Locally, Don’s Piano Place supported The St. Albert Rotary Music Festival, The St. Albert Chamber Music Society and Keys for the City. But when requests arrived from more distant towns, Vaugeois stepped up.
For instance, from 1986 to 2000, Vaugeois and his technicians supplied 20 pianos to Music Camrose, a summer workshop for young musicians. It was only one of many events he buttressed.
Edmonton’s Kaleido Family Arts Festival also borrowed one of Vaugeois’ grand pianos on an annual basis.
“He was such an encourager. He believed what we did was important to the community. It’s people like Don that build a community,” said Christy Morin, executive director of Arts on the Ave, producers of Kaleido.
She only met him in person once. After the initial meeting, they discussed business on the phone.
“The thing I regret is never having sat down and had a coffee with him. Every time we talked on the phone, we just picked up where we left off. He had such a spirit of abundance and it was contagious.”
Vaugeois’ generosity and natural desire to help others was fostered as a child. The Vaugeois family traditionally supported the Lac St. Anne Pilgrimage, said Annette.
“As a kid he would go up with his mother, set up, do whatever was needed. He had that inherited quality in him.”
Married for 40 years, the couple first met on a blind date arranged by friends. Annette’s first impression was that “he was a happy guy and lots of fun. But I didn’t anticipate going out with him again. For me it was just a night out having fun.”
They bumped into each other at the corner store and one month later he invited her out for dinner.
“That was the telling night and after that, we went out every night we could.”
Married in 1978 at St. Albert Catholic Parish on a sweltering hot day, they settled into married life. But a year later the couple moved to Victoria to develop a partnership selling new pianos.
The business built quickly and the couple met each challenge successfully while raising two daughters: Carmen and Yvette. But when the British Columbia economy crashed in 1983, the family returned to St. Albert.
The couple came home in 1985, purchased 43 used pianos to refurbish and opened Don’s Piano Place. While growing the flourishing business, a third daughter, Steffanie, was born in 1987.
Annette attributes much of the businesses’ success to Vaugeois’ personality.
“One of his big traits was generosity and love of people. And he was genuine. There was nothing fake about him. He was easygoing and easy to talk to and I loved that about him.”
She added, “He was very forgiving. He forgave a lot of things that happened in his life. You never saw him down in the dumps. He always had a positive way, and that made him a success. When there was a problem, he’d figure out a way to fix it. And he had a very charming way.”
Vaugeois walked the path of kindness and generosity, and bequeathed a legacy that is easy to emulate and powerful in its simplicity.
The Don Vaugeois Tribute Show is on Sunday, Sept. 17 at 2:50 p.m. on the Avenue Central Stage, 9210 – 118 Ave.