Sharing Good Fortune

Sharing Good Fortune

The Osten-Victor Fund is one couple’s way of giving back

By Elizabeth Chorney-Booth • Photography by Jared Sych

Together, Al Osten and Buddy Victor have lived a life full of music and laughter. Now in their early 90s, the couple also have experienced good fortune, which they’ve generously shared with the communities and causes they’ve held dear for more than 50 years.

Osten and Victor met in the 1950s as members of The Rover Boys, an all-male singing group (or as Osten likes to call them, “a boy band”) credited with discovering Paul Anka. “We were in the business at the wrong time because boy bands now make a fortune!” Osten says with a hearty laugh and a twinkle in his eye.

Despite scoring a major hit with “Graduation Day” in 1956, the Rover Boys didn’t earn financial security. But in the late ’60s, the pair took a chance bringing Weight Watchers franchises to Western Canada, a business that kept them very comfortable. Without children to inherit their assets, the two started building a legacy through philanthropy.

“When we sold Weight Watchers in 2013, we did a really good deal,” Osten explains. “That’s when the opportunities to give really began to happen.”

To effectively leverage their charitable donations, they set up two charitable Funds in their home province: the Osten-Victor Fund, overseen by Osten and administered by the Calgary Foundation, and the Victor-Osten Fund, overseen by Victor and administered by the Edmonton Community Foundation.

Their names figure prominently in both cities, appearing on the Osten and Victor Alberta Tennis Centre in Calgary and on plaques at the Art Gallery of Alberta and Roozen Family Hospice Centre in Edmonton.

Osten says the decision to give was easy. They took care of their extended families’ needs and then supported community needs identified by a friend or Calgary Foundation representative, and charities that carry a personal connection.

In Calgary, recipients of the Osten-Victor Fund reflect Osten’s dedication to the arts, Jewish heritage and empathy towards the city’s most vulnerable through organizations like Theatre Calgary, Jewish Family Services, One Voice Chorus Society, Inn from the Cold, the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter (now FearIsNotLove) and many others.

Osten grew up with giving ingrained in him. “I come from a very poor family in Saskatchewan,” he says. “I never dreamt I’d have money to give to so many people. In the Jewish religion, there’s something called tzedakah where we’d drop coins in a box for donation. We always gave money to other people, even when we didn’t have any.”

Now, a long way from his modest roots, Osten lives with Victor in a beautiful apartment in downtown Calgary. Osten still loves going to the theatre and dinners with friends, though Victor, who has Alzheimer’s, stays close to home with his caregivers. Osten
faces his partner’s illness with good cheer and credits Victor’s ingenuity with setting them up in a position to put their generosity into action. “It’s never the money that makes you happy,” Osten says, flashing his contagious smile. “It’s what happens with it. And that’s what’s given me satisfaction.