If you’re a kid wired for horseplay and shenanigans, you’d better have a go-to hospital for when things go awry.
For the Mrak family, it was always the Montfort. Not only was it close to the Ottawa neighbourhoods where they lived, it was a hospital that they trusted and respected.
In fact, Liza Mrak recalls one of her first visits to Montfort when she was just seven years old. Her mother, Margaret, insisted on driving her all the way back from Montreal to Ottawa to get stitches inserted – 16 in total – after she accidentally cut her leg.
“She didn’t want to go to any other hospital because she was so familiar with the Montfort,” said Liza.
On Friday, Liza and her brother Michael Mrak presented to Montfort Foundation a ceremonial cheque for $250,000 on behalf of their family-owned automotive business. Their gift supports the foundation’s ongoing fundraising campaign for the new Orléans Health Hub. It officially opened in the city’s east end on time and on budget last June.
Michael and Liza serve as president and executive vice-president, respectively, of the Mark Motors Group, which sells and services high-end cars from such European automobile manufacturers as Audi, Porsche, Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Jaguar and Land Rover.
The Mark Motors Group was started by their late father, Louis Mrak. He barely spoke English and didn’t have much money when he immigrated from Austria to Canada in 1956 at the age 21. But the young mechanic sure knew how to fix cars – especially European ones.
Within a few years, he opened a small service centre called Mark Motors not far from Montfort Hospital. He also married Margaret, a young German woman who'd immigrated here around the same time as him. Together, they raised four children: Andreas, Michael, Vincent and Liza. They say they learned from their father the importance of hard work, humility and giving back.
"Our father taught us that community is vital to a thriving city."
“Our father taught us that community is vital to a thriving city,” said Michael. “We’re very proud to be here in Ottawa and to do what we can to support the Ottawa community.”
In 2015, Mark Motors received the philanthropy award for outstanding small business from the Ottawa chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. They help such organizations as BGC Ottawa (formerly Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa), the National Arts Centre, The Royal and The Ottawa Hospital.
The Mraks say supporting social, community and health-care causes comes very naturally to them.
“Ultimately, it comes down to the basic principle that your community is only as healthy as what you give back to the community,” said Liza. “That comes in all different kinds of forms. It can be financial, it can be your volunteer time. Everyone has that opportunity to do that; you don’t need to be at our level of donation. And it feels good; it’s a feel-good moment, where you know you’re giving back something to the community that’s given back to you.”
It was Paul Bélisle, former owner of the Belisle Chevrolet Cadillac dealership, who first brought the campaign for the new Orléans Health Hub to the Mraks' attention. The families have been friends since the 1960s.
“Our connection goes back many years and we’re proud of it,” said Michael.
The Mraks say their gift reflects their belief that good hospitals are at the core of making good communities. The donation also made sense, they said, given that their business has both employees who use the hospital and customers who work at Montfort.
The owners were further persuaded during a meeting involving the hospital’s president and CEO, Dr. Bernard Leduc. They liked his approach and outlook.
The family believes in the hub-and-spoke model of health care that the Orléans Health Hub delivers for residents living in the rapidly growing east end. The facility makes health care more accessible and efficient while reducing the burden on hospital staff and services at the Montfort, they said.
The centre offers specialized clinics, rehabilitation, services for seniors, mental health services and medical imaging.
“I think the concept makes sense,” said Michael. “We’re really happy to support it.”
The $88-million state-of-the-art building offers visitors a facility that feels nothing like a hospital. The 96,000-square-foot space is bright and airy. It has incorporated natural materials into its design, from locally sourced pine to lush greenery for its live plant wall. And there's a bonus: parking is free.
To date, Montfort Foundation has raised $9.1 million toward its $12-million goal. It credits Mark Motors with helping it reach the home stretch of its largest fundraising campaign ever.
“This gift is a huge step for us at this point in the game,” said Montfort Foundation president and CEO Marc Villeneuve, who’s confident the foundation will complete its efforts by its target date of June 30. “They’re taking us so close now to that finish line, and we’re so happy about it.”
The foundation wanted to wrap up by the end of 2021 but extended the campaign by six months due to challenges it faced from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In the coming months, once the surge of Omicron cases subsides, the foundation plans to announce more major gifts made to its campaign, which is being led by former tech executive Yves Tremblay. In October 2020, he and his wife Sylvie Villeneuve went public with their own $1-million gift.
Reaching new donors
Tremblay, who was a senior vice-president at JDS Uniphase, has played a significant role in helping the foundation reach new donors and acquire major gifts, said Villeneuve.
“It’s been quite a ride,” said Tremblay of chairing a campaign during a pandemic, when it's been hard for him to properly meet supporters and network face to face.
One of his goals was to dispel the notion that Montfort, which offers French-language services, is a hospital just for francophones. Fifty-two per cent of its patients are, in fact, anglophone.
“That was very much my message when I convinced people to come along and help me out, that it’s a hospital that serves the whole community, not just the francophone community,” said Tremblay. “It belongs to all of us.”