Longtime Peninsula residents Horst and Emmy Werner weren’t the type to do things for recognition.
“These were very classy, dignified people,” South Surrey lawyer Dale Bradford said Thursday, during a ceremony celebrating the renaming of White Rock’s Centre for Active Living in the couple’s honour. “Every time I come in here, I’ll think of Horst and Emmy.”
The renaming – to the Horst & Emmy Werner Centre for Active Living – recognizes the $1.75 million that Emmy Werner, who died in 2012, gifted to the Peace Arch Hospital and Community Health Foundation in her will.
It is the culmination of a history supporting the foundation that the Werners started in 1999.
“They would go out for walks in the community and they would pop in here and leave their gift,” Stephanie Beck, the foundation’s director of major and planned gifts, told Peace Arch News. “For a few years, they dropped off about $10,000 annually.”
During their lifetime, the Werners donated approximately $135,000 to the foundation.
Bradford said the couple, who met at Lake Louise, Alta. and married in 1953, came to him in 2000. Noting they had no family in Canada – Emmy had a son prior to meeting Horst, but Michael died at three months of age – they asked the lawyer to be the alternate executor of their estate.
He said their decision to gift the entire estate to the foundation was “not anything that I foresaw.” When they first came to Bradford, the Werners wanted to earmark half of it to the foundation, and split the other half between some friends, he said.
For reasons unknown to Bradford, that changed a couple years later.
While Bradford wasn’t personally close to the Werners, he became emotional reading a letter about them from the husband of Emmy’s goddaughter, who lives in Germany.
Edgar Most describes Emmy as “a very beautiful and cultivated woman, and Horst adored her very much.”
“Their relationship was characterized by deep love and huge respect for each other,” Most writes.
He notes that Horst was deeply traumatized by the death of his mother, who was shot by Russian soldiers as he hid behind a door. Other tidbits shared by Most included that Horst worked for Canada Post until he retired, and that Emmy spoke three languages: Polish, German and English.
The Mosts last saw Emmy in November 2010 – the year after her husband died – and said the renaming tribute is a fitting show of respect.
“We will treasure both forever in affectionate memory and would be happy of (sic) they will duly be appreciated at the place where they lived such a long time.”
Emmy died in 2012, less than a year after the CAL officially opened. The project was a combined expansion of the Mel Edwards Centre (a cardiac rehabilitation facility) and the Peace Arch Curling Club.
The hospital foundation contributed about a third of the $6.6-million facility’s cost. A condition of the partnership included having exclusive naming rights for 25 years.
White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin described the facility as “really a community project.”
Foundation chair Graham Cameron lauded the impact donations to the charity can have. They benefit the entire community, he said.
“It is because of the generous donors like the Werners that we’re able to support the programs and resources that take place here,” he said.
Cameron noted the foundation only learned of the gift after Emmy died, and had no opportunity to thank the couple personally.
Beck told PAN that is often the case with planned gifts.
“One in nine people will tell the charity that they’ve left a gift in their will. The other eight won’t,” she said.
The Werners’ donation is one of the largest ‘planned’ gifts that the foundation has received. About eight years ago, Edith Stroyan designated $3.5 million to the hospital’s fifth and sixth floor project; and the foundation is in the process of completing a gift from Grace Laurendeau value at approximately $1.5 million, Beck said.
Of the Werners’ gift, $1 million went to the centre; the balance will benefit the hospital’s ER expansion and renovation project.