The Sarnia Community Foundation has received the largest donation in its history – a cool $1.2 million – from John Rozema, co-founder of a sprawling business empire that still calls Sarnia home.
“He really doesn’t want a whole lot of publicity, but he’s such a champion of this community and we’d be really remiss not to mention it,” said Foundation executive director Jane Anema.
“It’s the biggest gift we’ve ever been given. This is truly huge.”
The Foundation uses the interest from invested capital to support dozens of community groups and activities with grants each year. With the new donation the nest egg has grown to $4.9 million.
“We had a good year anyway but this really took it over the edge,” Anema said, adding the positive impact of Rozema’s generosity will start to be felt in 2017.
“He is a passionate supporter of this community, and, as he says, his success is because of this community.”
Rozema was a chemist working at DuPont when in 1963 he and the late Donald Steeves teamed up to built an apartment building on Colborne Road.
Today, Steeves and Rozema owns and manages real estate in Guelph, Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo, London and Chatham, and with 1,700 employees is one of the region’s largest employers.
The company was among the first to foresee a growing need for long-term care homes and seniors’ housing, and its Sarnia projects include Rosewood Manor, Landmark Village and Residence on the St. Clair.
“I’ve been very fortunate to be part of this community,” said Rozema, who chaired the Foundation’s board through some lean years in the 1990s.
I’ve had great support from the community while building my business and so giving back to via SCF makes sense to me.”
Steeves and Rozema, despite its widespread interests, continues to be headquartered in Sarnia at the St. Clair Corporate Centre on Front Street.
In 1997, with the backing of the business community, Rozema mounted an unsuccessful bid for the mayor’s job against incumbent Mike Bradley, who was then seeking a fifth term.
The Sarnia Community Foundation has handed out more than $3 million in grants to improve local lives. Recently, it sent special needs kids to summer camp, provided play structures at Kenwick on the Lake, brought new doctors to the community, got drunk drivers off the road, launched new music programs and helped open a centre where mental health clients and their families can support each other.
It has also provided scholarships, computers, a jazz festival and hundreds of soup kitchen meals each month.
Anema noted that Rozema, 85, could have used the money to start his own charitable organization but opted instead for the Sarnia Community Foundation, which began in 1983 with an initial donation of $25.
“He’s really given an incredible gift that is going to pay back forever,” she said, “Or at least as long as forever is.”