"Work hard, because it won’t come to you any other way."
Irv Kipnes is a respected businessman and a dedicated community leader who has committed significant time, energy and financial support to enhancing the quality of life enjoyed by his fellow Albertans. His lasting contributions as a volunteer and philanthropist can be seen in a number of areas including health care, education, the arts, culture and community development.
Irving Kipnes was born in Calgary on September 10, 1936. The youngest son of Russian immigrants Harry and Rose, Irv’s childhood years were centered around the city’s tightly knit Jewish community. His father, Harry, ran a small confectionary store where Irv learned at an early age to pitch in by weighing out candies for the customers. He was paid in sweets and also benefitted by absorbing essential lessons about the value of hard work and the basic principles of running a business. Another early influence for Irv was the concerted efforts his community undertook following the Second World War to support the fledgling State of Israel. In hearing the stories that emerged following the Holocaust, Irv was affected by the realization of how people had suffered. It helped him to appreciate his life in Alberta and it also showed him the importance of getting involved rather than sitting on the sidelines. It was a foundation that would come to serve Irv well in his adult life.
In 1954, Irv moved to Edmonton to pursue a degree in Chemical Engineering at the University of Alberta. By the time he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1959, he was a newly-minted chemical engineer with a wife and children to support. He found work as a systems analyst for Imperial Oil in Edmonton where he was able to put his university-honed problem solving skills to work. Keen to look after his family, Irv supplemented his income with small building projects he took on with a coworker. In time, he decided to take a risk and made building his full-time occupation. Irv founded Delcon Development Group Ltd. in 1962 and then left Imperial Oil a year later to serve as the president and managing director of the company. In the decades that followed, Delcon evolved into one of Edmonton’s leading residential land, business and industrial developers, with a sterling reputation for innovative and award-winning projects that honour Edmonton’s unique heritage and foster a strong sense of community pride.
In 1988, Irv set out on a fresh chapter of his life with a new marriage to Edmonton psychologist Dianne Walker. Together, Irving and Dr. Dianne Kipnes formed a remarkable team that would come to benefit their city and province in a number of important ways. With resources from Irv’s many successful ventures, including Delcon, Topco and other businesses such as the Liquor Depot and, later, Liquor Stores North America, they began making thoughtful community investments through The Dianne and Irving Kipnes Foundation.
The list of organizations that have benefited from Irv and Dianne’s hard work and the couple’s generosity is long. It includes the Alberta Cancer Foundation, which is home to the endowed Cross Cancer Centre Kipnes Research Chair in Radiopharmaceutical Sciences, and the University Hospital Foundation which has benefited greatly from Irv’s service as co-chair of the multi-million dollar Men’s Prostate Health Campaign. Other key Edmonton-based health care initiatives, such as the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute, have also greatly benefited from the generosity of Irv and Dianne Kipnes.
The quality of life enjoyed by Edmontonians has also been greatly touched by Irv and Dianne’s longstanding dedication to and love of the arts. Their influence can be seen in virtually every sector of the arts community, from the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra where Irv once served as a director, to the Citadel Theatre, the Art Gallery of Alberta and the Edmonton Opera. They also have been involved in plans to bring a University of Alberta Arts Campus and a four-theatre performing arts centre to downtown Edmonton. Their involvement with the annual Valentine’s Gala, which now raises funds for the Edmonton Opera and Capital Care Foundation, is an anticipated event every February. The Valentine’s Gala was previously also a key fundraising initiative to support a new facility for Canadian Veterans, which was named The Dianne and Irving Kipnes Centre for Veterans in their honour.
Irv has provided valued leadership and support to his alma mater as a member of the U of A School of Business Advisory Council. Dianne and Irv have sponsored the School’s Chair in Finance and Development which is focused on developing policy options to raising the standard of living in lower income nations. In 2009, both Irv and Dianne received Honourary Doctor of Laws degrees from the University of Alberta.
The Edmonton Jewish community is another area that has greatly benefited from Irv’s service as a leader and volunteer. He is vice president of development and fundraising for the Beit Horim (Our Parents’ Home) Society, which was formed to build a new (non-denominational) Jewish seniors centre and residence in Edmonton. Irv is also a past trustee of Beth Shalom Synagogue, a past director of the Jewish Federation of Edmonton and past chair of the United Jewish Appeal Annual Campaign.
Irv has further shared his energy and expertise with the Edmonton and Alberta business communities through his service as the first elected president and as a longstanding board member of the Alberta Liquor Store Association. He was the founding chair of the Alberta Liquor Industry Round Table (ALIRT) Social Responsibility Council. Other contributions to the business community include duties as a past director of the Urban Development Institute and the City of Edmonton’s Downtown Development Corporation. Irv’s considerable acumen was recognized with honours as one of Alberta Venture Magazine’s top 100 business people of the past 100 years and with membership in the Junior Achievement Alberta Business Hall of Fame. He was awarded the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce Northern Lights Award of Distinction in 2010 and the Grant MacEwan University Allard Chair in Business in 2011.
Although the honours offered to Irv over the years have been many, he continues to draw energy not from accolades but from the work ethic and the commitment to community service that have shaped his life. He says, “money is important but the satisfaction of getting the job done and getting it done well is really what motivates me.” It’s clear that Irving Kipnes has done a remarkable job of helping to build a better city and province and his service will long stand as a source of inspiration for his fellow citizens.
Executive Director, The Alberta Order of Excellence