Jack Tennant joins our table

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, August 1, 2001

With this edition of Coffee with Warren I'd like to welcome to our table the staff and readers of Cochrane's newest newspaper, The Cochrane Eagle. I'd especially like to introduce its publisher, Jack Tennant, whose own story solidly establishes him as a lamplighter in the true spirit of this column.

Jack is an old hand at the newspaper business (how old is anybody's guess). He started out back in 1955 as a photographer at the Brandon (Manitoba) Sun, and went on to become a television news reporter, newspaper columnist, and founder and publisher of several Alberta papers, including the Calgary Golfer.

He has a special fascination with horses and dogs. "I love critters – and people – and some days, critters more than people," Jack likes to say.

But the fact is, it was his respectful way of writing about people that first grabbed my attention. "A good newspaper is a reflection of the community it serves," Jack once told me. "If it's an honest reflection, then we all gain."

The Sunshine Fund is a good example of Jack's community-mindedness. It all started with a column he wrote for the Calgary Sun in 1982 . . .

The paper had asked him to do a Christmas article on the Salvation Army. The service of the Sally Anns to the down-and-out has brought hope to many over the years. It had a particularly personal meaning for Jack. His column was received so well, the paper approached him again the following year for another article.

Jack met with his publisher to develop a way in which readers of his column could contribute to the work of the Salvation Army. Thus, the legendary Sunshine Fund was established. Every Christmas since then, in cooperation with the management of the Calgary Sun, Jack has donned his Santa's hat and used his writing and public speaking to raise support for this worthy cause.

"To date, we have raised over $1.6 million," Jack tells me. And it's all from individuals and small corporations, not from big corporate donations, he stresses.

"We've received all sorts of $5 and $10 contributions from kids and senior citizens. That's what makes it worthwhile." All donors, unless they request anonymity, receive recognition through the column.

"I once received a ten dollar donation from a woman who had been a recipient of one of the Salvation Army food hampers the previous year," Jack recalls, and then beams that that grateful person recently contributed a thousand dollars to the Sunshine Fund.

All the money received is turned over, without any administrative deductions, to the Salvation Army.

"It's been a great journey for me," he adds.

But even though Jack's Sunshine Fund is recognized widely throughout southern Alberta, there is part of Jack's background which is less widely known – a part of his life that explains why he is personally grateful for the street work of the Sally Anns.

In 1961 Jack was fired for drinking. He wound up in Vancouver – on skid row. For five years life was about as low is it could get for him.

"I would go to Harbor Light Mission for supper. That stew tasted like a gourmet meal to me," Jack remembers. That's where he met "Banjo Billy," a major in the Salvation Army. Life started turning around.

"Since June 4, 1966, I haven't had the need for a drink or a mood-changing drug," Jack says, with the humble admission that it's still one day at a time.

I guess this is why Jack has become such a hero to me. He illustrates so well the saying, "It's better to light one candle than to curse the darkness." He appreciates the candle lit for him, and has used his journalistic interests to light candles for others.

Welcome to our table, Jack. And best wishes on your new venture. Let the Eagle soar!

© 2001 Warren Harbeck

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