Dr. Tony Harras is the 2021 recipient of the USask BUZ Volunteer Leadership Award.
This award recognizes a graduate who best exemplifies dedication and spirit of volunteerism through community service.
By John Grainger
Growing up as the Dirty Thirties were ending wasn't an easy time for Dr. Tony Harras (BE’61, MSc’62, PhD’68) and his family in rural east-central Saskatchewan.
Harras’ parents were recent Ukrainian immigrants and worked hard to provide for the family which included 12 children.
As the Second World War was ending, times were tough. Families struggled to make ends meet and many didn’t have much in terms of material wealth. Often, families would lean on one another to get things done whether in the fields or in the communities.
“When you are a member of an ethno-cultural group, to a large extent everything in that group is a result of volunteers stepping up and doing things,” said Harras, who was born in 1939. “There were a lot of role models in my community where people spent virtually all their lives basically volunteering.”
Growing up and witnessing his community in action no doubt contributed to Harras’s strong inclination to be involved in his community.
That involvement is why Harras is the recipient of this year’s BUZ Volunteer Leadership Award. The award, dedicated to the memory of former USask senator Judy Buzowetsky (BEd’67), is presented to a USask graduate who is shown to best exemplify that dedication to volunteerism through community service.
The spirit of volunteerism was something Harras witnessed from the people around him in his rural community, many of whom had fled Ukraine and the Iron Curtain of the then-Soviet Union with little more than the clothes they were wearing after the Second World War.
“A lot of these people were extremely passionate about what they believed in and as a result they did an exorbitant amount of work supporting their communities. So, these were role models for me that I was exposed to,” said the long-time Regina resident.
His parents wanted a better life for their children and that included the chance to obtain a post-secondary education. Harras had enlisted with the Canadian Air Force and was given the chance to enroll at USask through the Regular Officer Training program in the College of Engineering. By doing so, Harras had to commit at least three years post-graduation with the RCAF.
His summers were spent in Ontario at the various bases and then at the military’s Ottawa headquarters before moving to Cold Lake, Alta. He left the air force with a flight lieutenant commission.
Back at USask, Harras won the esteemed award offered by the Engineering Institute of Canada to the deserving third-year engineering student. Later he received a generous scholarship from SaskPower which allowed him to pursue his doctorate of engineering studies. He finished his undergraduate program with a bachelor of engineering with great distinction in electrical engineering, followed by a master of science and PhD in electrical engineering.
Little did he know at that time, he would spend a 30-year career with SaskPower ending as vice-president and general manager of systems operations and decision support where he was responsible for long range generation, transmission and control planning.
Once retired in 1999, his commitment to volunteerism took off. Much of his effort focused on preserving his Ukrainian heritage, something he carried over from the community leaders of his youth.
One of the biggest accomplishments, and one he is proud of working on, is the founding and establishment of the Saskatchewan Organization for Heritage Languages. Harras was very passionate about the protection and enhancement of Ukrainian culture, not only in Saskatchewan, but across Canada. He has a long history of volunteering his support for the Ukrainian National Congress.
People would often come to Harras for help, advice or asking to become a member of a board. He rarely declined to lend a hand in one way or another.
“People sometimes look at volunteering as a one-way street. Not really,” Harras said. “When you volunteer, you learn a lot about how to deal with people, you gain experiences, so volunteering does contribute a lot to your own personal development.”
Harras’ many efforts have not gone unnoticed as he has received many awards, including the Saskatchewan Volunteer Medal, the Queen’s Jubilee Medal, and the City of Regina Community Volunteer Award.
The BUZ volunteer leadership award he is receiving from USask holds a special place for him.
“This award is probably more holistic. It sort of encompasses your university involvement, your university accomplishments, but it also looks at the broad spectrum of your life and where you have been involved,” Harras said. “This particular award is most encompassing for me.”
It appears that in his youth, Harras was watching the community around him and learned the importance of lending a hand where one can.
He knew the importance of his extended family and community, something he always appreciates.
“In my case, I look at my life as somewhat richer in terms of realizing what life is all about.”