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No one could have guessed the outcome when Irv and Dianne Kipnes met at a Montreal restaurant gathering in 1977.

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It was a meeting that led years later to their philanthropy and generosity in Edmonton becoming legendary.

“Irv and his then-wife Myrna were on their way back from a holiday in Israel and stopped off for dinner with a mutual friend,” says Dianne.

“Irv and I didn’t speak, but I had an odd premonition that one day I would marry him. I don’t know where that thought came from. We were both married, and I lived in Montreal and Irv in Edmonton.”

But Dianne moved to Edmonton with her former husband taking a new job in 1983. When her marriage broke up two years later, she agreed to go to dinner with Irv, whose marriage had also broken down and his business interests were in trouble.

They didn’t meet again for some time but spoke to one another by telephone for an hour most nights for several months.

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“I found Irv stimulating and very exciting,” says Dianne, who was working as a therapist in the University of Alberta’s Adult Psychology Outpatient Department and later went on to gain a PhD psychology.

“I think he thought I brought a psychological stability to his life.”

Their relationship prospered and early in 1987, Dianne moved in with Irv and they were married in April the following year.

In June of 1989, the couple also held a religious marriage ceremony following Dianne’s conversion to Judaism.

“Some thought it was Irv’s wish I converted to Judaism,” says Dianne. “But he is Jewish by ethnicity, and it was not an issue. He does, however, enjoy Jewish traditions.”

Irv was born into a tightly-knit Jewish community in Calgary in September of 1936. “My father, Harry, ran a small confectionary store where I learned at an early age to pitch in by weighing candies for customers.

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“I was paid in candies while taking in essential lessons about the value of hard work and the basic principles of running a business.”

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Another early influence for Irv was the concerted efforts his community undertook following the Second World War to support the fledgling State of Israel and the surviving refugees of the war in Europe.

“On hearing Holocaust stories, I became aware of how people had suffered,” he says. “I appreciated my life in Alberta, and it pointed to me the importance of becoming involved rather than sitting on the sidelines.”

In 1954, Irv had moved to Edmonton to pursue a degree in chemical engineering at the University of Alberta. He quickly showed his creative business flair at his fraternity house, when, with a friend, he bought a vending machine for $100, stocked it with three-dozen dozen beer, selling them for 50 cents a bottle.

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“We earned our investment back in weeks,” says Irv. “And on graduation, we bequeathed the machine to our fraternity.”

In 1959 he became a systems analyst for Imperial Oil in Edmonton, and with a friend he supplemented his income with small building projects.

“I later decided to take a risk and make development my full-time occupation and I left Imperial Oil in 1963,” says Irv.

As president and managing director of his Delcon company, he led it to become one of Edmonton’s leading residential land, business and industrial developers.

Later came the success of his Liquor Depot chain, which was followed by his winning Liquor Stores North America.

As business continued to thrive, the Dianne and Irv Kipnes Foundation that was founded in the late 1980s became more active in the charitable and philanthropic field. Rather than retire, the couple found themselves working six days a week in their Delcon office.

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Kangjun Lee from the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Vancouver, presents Austin McClure (left) with an Ambassador For Peace Medal at the Kipnes Center for Veterans in Edmonton on Thursday, June 1, 2017. Ian Kucerak / Postmedia
Kangjun Lee from the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Vancouver, presents Austin McClure (left) with an Ambassador For Peace Medal at the Kipnes Center for Veterans in Edmonton on Thursday, June 1, 2017. Ian Kucerak / Postmedia Photo by Ian Kucerak /postmedia

Beginning in 1992, the couple began holding charity dinners in their home every Valentine’s Day. The event became so successful it was moved to the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald.

Then Dianne, by now a retired chair of the Capital Care Foundation board, was shocked at a visit to the Mewburn Veterans Center in the early 2000s.

She declared the center a to be a dreadful, dark, smelly place where some veterans were living four to a room.

Irv told people: “Our lifestyle today would not be possible without the sacrifices of our soldiers in two world wars.”

I attended the Valentine’s dinner at The Mac in 2004, where the couple had planned to donate $250,000 to help build a new veterans’ center and 30 individuals and several companies pledged a total of $800,000. In appreciation of the support, Irv and Dianne increased the foundation’s support to $1 million.

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It would take a full newspaper page to list the organizations the Kipnes’ foundation has generously backed, with a figure totaling many millions of dollars. But a gift close to Dianne’s heart was donating $5-million to help create the Dianne and Irving Kipnes Chair of Lymphatic Disorders at the University of Alberta. The chair is the first of its kind in Canada

“Irv and I were on a trip to Germany in 2009 when my legs became three times their normal size and it wasn’t until I returned to Edmonton I was correctly diagnosed with having cellulitis,” says Dianne. “It is related to lymphedema, a-side effect of my treatment for cervical cancer five years earlier.”

There is little treatment available for this little-researched and not understood Lymphedema, a chronic condition thought to affect about 300,000 Canadians.

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While the Kipnes foundation has contributed to the arts, and especially to the Edmonton Opera, the recent donations have been directed towards medical research and better patient care.

It began with their Chair in Radiopharmaceutical Sciences in 2004 — shortly after Dianne finished her cancer treatment at the Cross — followed by Irv’s involvement as co-chair of the multi-million dollar Men’s Prostate Health Campaign and to the naming of the Northern Alberta Urology Center .

The Kipnes’ have received many awards for their philanthropy, two of the most prestigious being The Peter Lougheed Award for Community Service and in 2017, the Order of Canada.

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