Richard Kroft

My Story...

My maternal grandfather, Herman Cohn, was born in Saint John, New Brunswick, in 1870. His parents' families had immigrated to the United States from Germany in the 1840s, and settled in Louisville, Kentucky. Herman's parents moved to Canada in the late 1860s. Herman came to Winnipeg in 1885, at the age of 15, to live with his sister, Jennie Goldstine, who was already here, married to Max Goldstine, a well-known Winnipeg merchant.

My maternal grandmother, Hinda Isaacs, was born in London, England, in 1883. She arrived in Winnipeg with her parents, Henry Alexander and Leah Isaacs, and two brothers and a sister, in 1893. Henry Isaacs became Assistant Clerk of the Manitoba Land Titles Office; first President of the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue, following its merger with Congregation Shaarey Shomayim; founder of the Shaarey Zedek Sunday School (for many decades the core of Jewish education at the synagogue); and the longest serving member of the Board of Shaarey Zedek, up to this day.

Hinda Isaacs and Herman Cohn were married in Winnipeg in 1903, and lived here for the rest of their lives.

My mother, Heloise Cohn Kroft, was born in Winnipeg in 1910, the only girl in a family of five children.

My father, Btsalil Krawcjenski, was born in 1906 in Kolyshki, a village in the province of Vitebsk in Belarus, then part of Russia. He came to Winnipeg with his parents, Benjamin and Sarah Krawcjenski, and three siblings, in 1912. Btsalil came to be called Charlie, and he formally took the name Charles. The family name became Kroft.

My parents married in 1933. They were a typical Jewish couple of the depression era. My father was an immigrant, and my mother the child of immigrants. With roots in Russia, Germany, and England, they exemplified the way in which both Canada and the modern Winnipeg Jewish community were developing. They came from very different cultures, and merged them as a family. Proud of their identity as Jews and as Canadians, and full of ambition and optimism, they worked hard and succeeded in creating rich and full lives for themselves and our family. They never failed to remind us how lucky they considered themselves to be.

Hillaine Jacob, eldest daughter of Nathan and Anryette Jacob, and I were married in 1960. We were both university students at the time. Even though very young, we understood and appreciated that our families had given us common values that provided an extraordinary foundation on which to establish our future together. As our children Elizabeth, Steven, and Gordon came along, we took great care to inculcate those values in them. As fifth generation Winnipeg Jews on my side, and sixth generation on Hillaine's, they were born with deep roots in our city and its institutions.

My father built an outstanding career in the Canadian and world grain trade, was a major figure in the Winnipeg business community, and played a leading role in many aspects of Winnipeg life. He was a highly respected member of the Winnipeg Jewish community, and a generous supporter of its causes. He and my mother were lifetime partners in all aspects of their lives.

My parents gave me many things that I have carried with me throughout my life. First among these was a clear and strong set of values. They taught by example. My father left school after tenth grade to support his family. My mother went to business college, and became a legal secretary. However, they both believed deeply in the power and value of education, and gave me the gift of eight years of university, and degrees in Arts (Political Science and Economics) and Law. Forty-five years later I was granted an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree by the University of Manitoba. My parents instilled in me a thirst and respect for knowledge that has remained with me all of my life.

My brother Guy and I were brought up with a sense of responsibility for the well-being of our Jewish community and the Jewish people, and at the same time to understand that it is the city, province, and country in which we live that provide the freedom and opportunity to live our lives as Jews, to pursue our personal goals, and to fulfill our potential. I confirmed these beliefs through my formative years, and have been guided by them in my careers in business, public service, the Jewish community, political activism, and in government.

There are some things I have achieved of which I am especially proud. I mention a few in the hope that they will leave a positive mark on our community, and will reflect the priorities and values I have believed to be important. I founded and built an internationally respected company, Conviron, which since 1964 has provided research scientists in more than 80 countries around the world with laboratory equipment essential to the improvement of the world's food supply. In the late 1960s, Hillaine and I lived in Ottawa, where I served as Special Assistant to Canada's Minister of Finance, and Executive Assistant to our Foreign Minister. In 1973, during the Yom Kippur War, with a few close friends in the Winnipeg Jewish community, we activated the Canada-Israel Committee, which set the course in Canada for modern advocacy on behalf of Israel. I served in executive positions on the then Winnipeg Jewish Community Council, and for many years on the Board and Executive Committee of the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba, principally as Chair of the Investment Committee. I was a long-time executive member of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, ultimately President, and chaired the committee responsible for building the superb home the RWB now occupies. I was politically active for most of my adult life, and served for nearly seven years as a member of the Canadian Senate. In the Senate, I chaired two important committees: Banking, Trade and Commerce; and Internal Economy, the Senate's management committee.

I cite the foregoing as examples of the opportunities that exist around us, and the rewards that are available by seizing them. Hillaine and I have been extremely fortunate, and have tried by our example to pass on what we have learned to our children. Judging by what we see in their lives, and by what we see them passing on to our grandchildren, we know that we have succeeded.