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Tragedy spurs lifelong devotion to STARS

Instead of dealing with his grief privately after his youngest daughter Kristine died in a car accident, Stan Grad turned his efforts to fundraising for the Shock and Trauma Air Rescue Society (STARS).

In 1990, Grad wrote to STARS about the loss of his daughter, who had been airlifted to the Foothills Medical Centre.

“With this tragedy, as a family, we became immediately aware of how critical air ambulance service is to each and every member of rural Alberta,” wrote Grad.

Supporting STARS soon became a passion for the successful oilman and rancher.

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It began in 1991 when Grad donated a completely restored 1929 quarter-ton Model A truck to STARS. He assembled a team of volunteers and took the truck to 53 towns and villages in Alberta, telling people about STARS and selling raffle tickets for the antique truck. That first year, his efforts raised $125,000.

Only 20 per cent of STARS funding comes from the provincial government — the rest must be fundraised every year — even though it’s vital to get a critically injured person to hospital as soon as possible.

“There is no expeditious way, whether you’re farming or in the oilpatch, that you can get to a trauma ward in that golden hour (after an accident) without the helicopter,” said Grad, who was chairman of STARS for 14 years.

His efforts were honoured this year, when Grad was admitted to the Alberta Order of Excellence, the province’s highest honour.

He has also contributed to Alberta in a variety of other areas. Born in Vancouver in 1944, Grad was raised in the Calgary area, studied petroleum technology at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, and became a very successful oilman, holding a variety of high-ranking positions in the industry. In 1983, he started a private oil and gas company with Willard Walker (the first store manager hired by Sam Walton and a major shareholder in Walmart). Grad & Walker Energy Corporation was the first of several oil and gas operations established by Grad.

But he also has a passion for agriculture, and was a founding member of the Calgary Stampede Foundation. He developed an interest in cattle while working on a dairy farm in his youth and later for Harvey Trimble, a well-recognized seed stock cattleman who became one of his mentors. Later, he partnered with other individuals and bought a quarter section of land near Airdrie to start Soderglen Ranch — now the largest seed stock producer in Canada. It has steadily expanded over the years, and now has 2,600 breeding cows on 22,500 acres at the original site as well as locations near Fort Macleod and Cardston.

He’s had many honours, including an honorary degree from SAIT and a place in the Calgary Business Hall of Fame. But the Order of Excellence is special because many of his former mentors, who have since passed on, are members.

“To be in their league, I feel proud of that. For me, I’m coming 71 and so I’m still trying to help out,” he said.

Grad’s current projects include the creation of a health centre in Airdrie that combines urgent care with a wellness centre and end-of-life care. He’s also involved in the expansion of a medical clinic in Mexico and helped raise money to send seven Mexican doctors to Texas for training.

About the author

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Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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