They were newly-weds in the late 1980s on their way to the Calgary Stampede, with all their belongings in tow and a dream of finding jobs in Alberta.
Scott and Elan Lees never imagined where that dusty road would take them nor the legendary man standing at the end of it who helped shape the trajectory of their lives.
“We were two poor kids from Saskatchewan who had nothing, who came with everything in the back of a truck,” said Elan Lees. “When we drove in the main yard, I was just in awe. in Saskatchewan there was nothing like a Soderglen.”
“The people who knew him know he had a big booming voice and he was a big man. He walked over and said: ‘Hello, I’m Stan Grad. Who are you? That’s how we met,” said Scott Lees, with a half smile on his face.
Scott and Elan Lees would eventually become business partners with Grad and close friends.
The couple managed the Calgary oil and gas executive’s sprawling Soderglen Ranch, helping to grow it into the largest seedstock operation in Canada.
“Never did I dream we would have the opportunities that we had and it’s because of Stan Grad,” said Elan. “He didn’t give us pressure. He was never hovering. He allowed us to do what we wanted to do.”
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On July 29, Grad passed away due to complications from a lung infection. The Lees and countless others are mourning a larger-than-life man, with a generous heart who was like family.
“He was a mentor a friend and a father figure to me for 34 years,” Scott said. “We will miss him.”
While Grad had enormous success in the oil and gas and agriculture industries, he was also a prolific philanthropist who supported countless causes.
But perhaps the closest to his heart was STARS Air Ambulance, an organization he dedicated his life to supporting after losing his own teenage daughter in a car crash in 1990.
“He was never not involved in STARS,” said John Griffiths with STARS. “He was the driving force in energy, fundraising the innovation, expansion and hiring key figures.
“He knew the people flying, he was on the board and would go to lunch with our CEO… He was instrumental. We wouldn’t be what we are today without Stan Grad.”
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Grad grew up on the outskirts of Calgary. His parents ran a small motel.
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His hard work and success in business, leadership and philanthropy has received some of the highest honors, including an Order of Excellence.
He also built a hospital in Punta Mita, Mexico, a place he enjoyed in the winter months.
Giving back was a way of life for Grad — a value he bestowed on others.
“He taught Scott and I that it wasn’t a choice to give back but it was our responsibility to give back because we were so blessed in our lives, “ said Elan.
“He had a heart of gold that was so generous to anybody that knew him and he shared that with Scott and I and our daughter, who was his Goddaughter.
“And the last thing he said to me was: ‘I would do anything for you, Elan Lees,’” he said, pausing in reflection.
It was one last gift Grad gave to the once young couple from Saskatchewan, who have now realized three decades of great big dreams in a place their dear friend found solace.
“This farm is what grounded him that’s why he lived here, that’s why he loved it and it was separate from his business career,” said Scott.
Grad was in the process of finding a new owner for the 7,000-acre farm just 15 minutes from Calgary.
It’s a finely tuned operation, thanks to the hard work of 12 dedicated families who have helped run it and called it home some for decades.
Friends said it was Grad’s hope Soderglen Ranch would stay that way and remain turn-key.
“They loved him and admired him and stayed because of him and he hoped it will be the new case for the new owner to continue on,” said Elan.
Stan Grad was 78.
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