The year was 1979 and old-timers hockey was just starting to gain popularity across the province. Fresh off their first tournament trip to Morrisburg (near Kingston), about a dozen local players — mainly ex-juniors — were chomping at the bit to form a permanent team.
No sooner was their intention verbalized than Bruce Dolson caught wind of it.
The general manager of Milton’s Rockwell International at the time, Dolson was more than willing to jump in as team sponsor for the yet-to-be-established Milton Oldstars.
On one condition.
“Bruce was very community-oriented and was the chairman of fundraising for the original expansion of the hospital,” explained Dave Del Papa, one of the original club members and currently president of the now Milton Active Transport Oldstars. “The idea was he’d provide our equipment on the premise that the club would fundraise for the community… specifically the hospital.”
With a few would-be club members already fundraising for the hospital and pretty much everyone on board with a pay-it-forward concept, the proposal was enthusiastically accepted.
“The guys were all like ‘That’s great. Let’s do it,” said Joey Auger, another Milton Oldstars original who’s still an active member of the club. “It was a go… no problem.”
Three-and-a-half decades later, Dolson may be gone but his legacy is alive and well.
In fact, it just recently enjoyed a noteworthy milestone — with the Active Transport Oldstars have just surpassed the $500,000 mark in overall community contributions.
“It’s like a dynasty now. I’m so proud of these guys (clubmates). They do a good job,” said Auger, whose Milton Oldstars were recognized as the Fundraising Organization of the Year by the Milton Chamber of Commerce in 2009.
Added Del Papa, “When we’re recruiting new guys, it’s not really about finding the most talented player so much as someone who’ll fit in with our goal, which is a step beyond hockey.”
The Milton District Hospital Foundation (MDHF) continues to be the main beneficiary — having received roughly $300,000 to date — although the club has stepped in to help many other organizations and individuals over the years.
Among them are the Darling Home for Kids, St. John’s Ambulance and Halton Women’s Place, while each of the four local high schools receive $1,000 annually for scholarships.
There’s also a number of one-time club endeavours — like ‘make-a-wish’ type projects for Milton families and the purchase of an elevator for Lions’ Hall at Memorial Arena — that are often done with little to no fanfare.
“We do some of these (projects) quietly,” said Auger.
After hosting a few exhibition events in its infancy — bringing in the likes of the NHL Oldtimers and the Flying Fathers (priests) — the club members realized an annual tournament was needed to boost fundraising.
“With all the costs involved in these exhibition events, we’d be holding our breath just to raise $1,500,” recalled Del Papa, whose Oldstars now enjoy team sponsorship from Brad Grant’s Active Transport after previous support from John Williamson’s Canadian Tire, Al Bahman’s Tee-Comm and a returning Dolson with SKD (after Rockwell International closed its doors).
With the establishment of an annual October tournament in 1981 and a late-May golf tournament started just a couple of years later, the Oldstars’ annual community contributions quickly grew.
That was due in large part to the addition — at both events — of a silent auction, brought about by Brian Brady and Steve Serwatuk.
“It’s a hybrid of a fraternity and hockey club,” said Jim Simpson, who now runs the events’ auctions.
Del Papa admits there’s some club members who consistently take on the bigger jobs, but that everyone pitches in to one degree or another.
“When something needs doing it’s all hands on deck. There’s a pretty solid commitment from our members.”
The same can be said for the business community, which — through recessions, a changing business climate and massive population growth — has always seemed to recognize the value in the Oldstars’ community-minded mandate.
“We’re knocking on those same doors (businesses) every year, and we’re not showing up with new team jackets or asking for travel funds for a tournament in Florida,” said Del Papa, whose club is the longest-running annual donor to the MDHF, having just recently attained Pioneer Level status on the donor wall. “It all goes back into the community. A lot of these business owners are community guys. They recognize what we’re doing and jump in (to help).”
And with growing help from the club’s young members — well, young to the originals anyway — the Milton Active Transport Oldstars community-wide support shows no signs of slowing down.
“I don’t know of too many old-timers hockey clubs out there that do what we do. And I can’t see us going away,” said Auger.
Steve LeBlanc is the news/sports editor of the Milton Canadian Champion.
He can be reached at email@example.com
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