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This article was published 22/1/2010 (3557 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It's a really smart way to raise millions — show John and Bonnie Buhler a picture of the Buhler Centre, then ask them for the money to build it.
The agribusiness philanthropists gave the University of Winnipeg a record $4 million Friday to help build a new faculty of business and economics on the site of the old United Army Surplus store.
The Buhlers donated $3 million towards the $15-million building that will bear their name and another $1 million for needs-based scholarships for business students.
It's the largest private donation in U of W history, eclipsing several $1-million gifts from individuals and the $3.5 million the Richardson family donated to the new science complex.
When they went in to talk to U of W about a donation to the ongoing capital campaign, John Buhler said with a laugh, "They had a picture of that building with our name on it, as though it was a done deal.
"They asked us for $5 million. I got a bargain — I couldn't afford any more," he said.
Construction is already underway at 460 Portage Ave. The Buhler Centre, which will also house continuing education and the Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art, opens this coming fall.
"We couldn't think of a better way to invest our money. It's our desire to help students improve their lives," he said. "It's part of the revitalization of downtown Winnipeg."
Bonnie Buhler said she's never forgotten how difficult it is to put children through school and she ensured the scholarships will go to students with financial need. Their daughter, Kathy, is a U of W grad.
John Buhler said he's always felt grateful to U of W president Lloyd Axworthy, who as foreign affairs minister intervened and overcame U.S. objections to a major business deal his company was pursuing.
"This is a family of entrepreneurs who worked very hard in this province. You've provided a very good model for our students to follow," Axworthy told a full house hearing the announcement in historic Convocation Hall. Axworthy said the Buhler Centre will be a signature building downtown. While the army surplus store was an icon, said Axworthy, "I can't say it was an architectural paragon."
Business dean Michael Benarroch was ecstatic. "This contribution allows us to grow the program. It's a business education built on the notion of corporate social responsibility," Benarroch said.
The 4,000 students in continuing education will finally be part of the campus after shifting among six locations scattered around downtown, said dean Erin Stewart.
The Buhlers have donated tens of millions of dollars and have their names on buildings at the University of Manitoba, Red River College and three city hospitals.
Buhler said some of the money U of W is receiving was money he had intended to spend in his hometown of Morden. Four years ago, Buhler donated $5 million for a theatre complex at Morden Collegiate. But after spending more than $1 million, Morden was bogged down in delays and bickering over the project, with some residents demanding he build an indoor swimming pool instead. Buhler withdrew the bulk of the money and the project died.
What's the Buhler Centre?
It's the University of Winnipeg's four-storey, 50,000-square-foot building now under construction at 460 Portage Ave., on the corner of Colony Street, next door to the Winnipeg Art Gallery. It was, for decades, the site of the United Army Surplus store.
What's going in it?
Mainly the faculty of business and economics. The division of continuing education and the Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art will also be housed in the $15-million project.
What have the Buhlers donated?
They've contributed $3 million of the $15-million cost of constructing the building and $1 million for needs-based scholarships for business and economics students. It's the largest private gift in U of W history.
Who are the Buhlers?
Surely you don't have to ask.
John and Bonnie Buhler made a fortune in the farm-equipment agribusiness and have donated tens of millions of dollars. Among the many recipients are the University of Manitoba medical school, Red River College and three city hospitals.