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Lakehead University Magazine Fall/Winter 2008

Target $20 Million

Meet Paul Weber Jr., entrepreneur and Chair of the fundraising campaign to build a sustainable campus in Orillia

By Lee Pigeau

Paul Weber Paul Weber

Paul Weber Jr. is well known for his roadside eatery on Highway 11, by far the most popular food stop for people driving north to cottage country from the Greater Toronto Area. Paul Weber Drive-In Restaurant has become an Ontario landmark and cultural icon, serving up to 7,000 people on the Friday of a long-weekend!

By 1981, the restaurant's famous charcoal-broiled burgers had become so popular that patrons were tempting fate by crossing the four-lane highway. When the Province of Ontario barricaded the middle section of the highway to prevent people from crossing, Weber installed a pedestrian footbridge over the highway – the first and only privately owned bridge to be built over a public highway in Ontario. Since then, he has expanded his business operations to include airport franchises and two dine-in restaurants, making Webers one of the most recognized food brands in Ontario.

In 2004, Paul Weber sold Webers Restaurants to pursue personal interests and to spend time with his wife and four children. In 2008, he volunteered to chair Lakehead University's $20-million Orillia Campus Capital Campaign, and he spoke with Campaign Manager, Lee Pigeau last August.

Pigeau: You aren't a Lakehead alumnus, what got you interested in the Lakehead University Orillia Campus fundraising campaign?

Weber: From the moment I heard about this project, I understood its massive scope. It has far-reaching economic and social benefits for this city, Central Ontario, and beyond. I wanted to be part of the biggest and best thing that has happened to this community.

P: What really sparked your interest in getting personally involved as a leader? Why did you take on this challenge?

W: It was perfect timing for me to make a significant commitment to a worthwhile endeavor. I see this as a way that I can personally give back to all the families of the City of Orillia. They gave Webers Restaurant so many great employees. Webers would never have achieved such cult status without its employees.

P: Someone once said that because of the employees you've hired for summer jobs at your restaurant, you have put more people through university than anyone else in this area. Did you see a difference in the university kids? Did any of your summer students go on to do great things?

W: Well, we certainly employed a ot of students! But the story is more about their drive, their work ethic. My employees bought into the Webers Way: love your work, be a part of a team, understand that it's the customers that pay your wages, and always have fun. The employees accepted responsibility and treated each other with respect. The stories about the successes of past employees and the good times they enjoyed are endless. I am proud of their accomplishments and I still get a kick out of hearing about how much they enjoyed their time at Webers.

P: You have children who were, or are, about to go on to post-secondary education. What do they think about this project and your involvement?

W: My children are very supportive. They want to get involved if the occasion arises. The ones who are university age get the picture about sustainability. The whole commitment Lakehead has to going "green" and actually doing something significant excites them, especially right here in our own backyard. Lakehead University Orillia Campus will be a special learning environment with an overriding theme of educating critical thinkers. My kids love that hook.

P: Why is Orillia and Simcoe County an ideal place to build a university?

W: Orillia is just far enough away but not too far from home. The Highway 400 corridor is very accessible. The City needs long-term sustainability to build on its rich history, and I personally think that a LEED Platinum campus will add to, and enhance, Orillia far into the future.

P: What impact will Lakehead University have on the local community — socially, culturally, and economically?

W: The community will be part of a movement that will see the Lakehead campus in Orillia become the environmental leader in design and everyday practice. I foresee Lakehead University Orillia Campus achieving worldwide acclaim as a green campus and attracting conferences and leaders from all disciplines. Critical thinkers will converge to discuss and debate issues. Right here in Orillia! 400 to 500 new jobs will have an enormous economic impact and these employees and their families will all need homes, cars, food, clothing, and places to go. Eventually the 7,000 students expected to be enrolled at Lakehead's Orillia campus within the next 15 to 20 years will have a huge spin-off. Every entrepreneur should sit down and figure out how they can be a part of it… what potential it has.

P: Since you've been involved, you have been working very hard connecting with people – what is the general reaction you get?

W: I'm surprised and elated by the willingness of people of all ages and backgrounds to get involved by making a financial contribution and by volunteering. The spirit of stewardship is very much alive in the Province of Ontario and in some cases far away from where Lakehead University Orillia Campus will be located. People see the benefits and want this project completed.

Canadian Architects Moriyama and Teshima are leading Phase 1 of the Lakehead University
Orillia Campus project
Canadian Architects Moriyama and Teshima
are leading Phase 1 of the Lakehead University
Orillia Campus project

P: Is the reaction of those who don't have a direct connection with Orillia or with Lakehead University different from those who are already connected?

W: I think that people see Lakehead University in a much broader way than associating it with just one city, one community, or even one university – two campuses. They see the big picture. This is win-win for everyone involved and can bring critical acclaim to everyone who is a part of this project. This is a big deal!

P: You have discussed the importance of being environmentally friendly. Why is it especially important for a university to be a leader in sustainability?

W: Sustainability is most certainly the "it" cause right now; and if you think about it, the connection makes sense. In essence we're saying we must be responsible for who we are, what we do, what we build, and how we run our lives on a daily basis. Therefore it's up to the educational institutions to lead the way, teach the way, and live the way. That is certainly what Lakehead University Orillia Campus is doing.

P: What challenges do you see for fundraising?

W: The initial challenge was to get the City of Orillia to buy in, and that has already happened with their $10 million contribution to building a permanent campus on 85 acres of agricultural land within the city limits. The next challenge is to get our message out to all the potential students as to what a cool place Lakehead University Orillia Campus is. Students embrace the ideas of inquiry-based learning, environmental responsibility, and sustainable design. They want to be on the cutting edge. Finally, we need to tell this inspiring story to the media, civic groups, and community leaders. We need to communicate who is involved now and how others can be part of this groundbreaking initiative.

P: With all of that, what experiences are you drawing upon from your restaurant days that are helpful in your current role as Chair of the fundraising campaign?

W: (Laughs) So far, all of my life experiences, including some that I had forgotten about, have been put to the task. Truly I'm blessed to have had such a diverse life, so rich in experiences and challenges. I will need to continue to draw heavily upon my past and my friends to achieve the goals ahead of us.

P: You mentioned the "spirit of stewardship." You really believe that saying "thank you" to donors, volunteers, and customers is important. Why is that?

W: Stewardship is not a hollow word. It means thanking those who have made our goal a reality. It is not a one-time thing, it's ongoing. Successful people have more opportunities to get involved with more projects than they can handle. It's their choice to choose us. So, if we are privileged enough to get their involvement, we most certainly need to have an ongoing process of acknowledgement. Without volunteers and donors, nothing is going to happen. We can only achieve success with the help of many willing hands. This campaign is about Phase 1 of Lakehead University Orillia Campus. In the future, we want to ensure that those who helped us open the doors to our first permanent building for 1,500 students in 2010 are around to help us celebrate when we have 5,000 students, 10 buildings, and the wonderful achievements of our students, staff, and faculty. I can't imagine a more fulfilling role right now.

For more information about the Lakehead University Orillia Campus Capital Campaign, contact Lee Pigeau by phone: (705) 330-4018 or by email: lpigeau@lakeheadu.ca

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