Feb. 22, 2023

New engineering scholarship keeps business leader’s entrepreneurial spirit alive at UCalgary

Gift from Hunter Family Foundation pays tribute to longtime friend Jack Nodwell
Man standing next to windmill structure
Jack Nodwell with one of his pandemic projects: a "little free library" in the form of a windmill. Jackie Nodwell

“Beware of widows bearing casseroles.”

Jackie Nodwell recalls these words of warning with a warm laugh. They were shared in jest with her husband, Jack, more than two decades ago, when Jackie brought him a dish after his first wife passed away.

“In times of stress, I cook,” says Jackie, who had been friends with the Nodwells for years. She was widowed herself and knew what a trying time it could be. “So I brought him a casserole.”

The two grew closer and eventually married, spending 21 years together before his death in November 2022. As a partner and family man, Jack is remembered as thoughtful, curious and creative. 

“He built models, wrote books — even made breakfast. He was the kind of grandpa that had the grandkids bringing school projects to him for help,” says Jackie. “He always asked questions, always wanted the little details. Someone once told him that he had the curiosity of a five-year-old.”

It wasn’t just at home — Jack’s friends and colleagues admired the same qualities in him as a business leader. And for longtime friend Doug Hunter, Hon. LLD’19, they’re qualities he hopes to instill in the next generation of UCalgary engineers with the creation of the John (Jack) H. Nodwell Entrepreneurial Engineering Memorial Scholarship.

High-impact scholarship promotes entrepreneurship 

Funded by a $400,000 gift from the Hunter Family Foundation, the scholarship will award $40,000 annually between four Schulich School of Engineering students who demonstrate entrepreneurial thinking, each receiving $20,000 over their third and fourth years of study. It’s a fitting tribute to Hunter’s friend of more than 60 years.

Two men at a race track

Doug Hunter and Jack Nodwell at one of their forum retreats in the early 2000s.

Courtesy Jackie Nodwell

“Jack was a very nice, genuine guy, and a deep thinker. I used to liken him to being our forum philosopher,” says Hunter, referring to the professional forum the two were a part of for most of their careers. “He helped me become a better critical thinker.”

That’s saying something, considering Hunter’s name graces UCalgary’s Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking and Hunter Student Commons. His family’s extraordinary generosity has helped make UCalgary Canada’s entrepreneurial university, where students have unique opportunities to develop initiative, resilience, risk management, problem-solving skills and out-of-the-box thinking.

Hunter, chairman of Bluesky Equities and president of RFM Capital Corporation, has long championed entrepreneurialism — and admired the same in Jack. “He didn’t even wait until he was out of school to start his first company,” he recalls. “Foremost Industries was founded in his fourth year.”

Woman and man standing in front of an antique car

Jackie and Jack Nodwell in Etzikom, Alberta, with one of the antique cars, restored by his father, that he and his sister donated to the Etzikom Museum and Historic Windmill Center

Courtesy Jackie Nodwell

Foremost, an industrial manufacturer specializing in oil and gas, mining and construction equipment, is the spiritual successor to the company founded by Jack’s dad. He cut his teeth working alongside his inventor father, who designed the formidable Nodwell 110, a first-of-its-kind vehicle capable of traversing boggy muskeg terrain for oil exploration in northern Alberta.

Jack quickly made a name for himself and Foremost, securing contracts — and forging friendships — around the world. When he wasn’t out of town, he was an engaged father, home in time for dinner and enthusiastically passing along his expertise. 

“He was super creative and hands on. It seemed he could fix or build anything,” says daughter Carla Pagnucco, who fondly remembers the time she and her brothers spent with their father. “He loved to share his knowledge. We’d go out for a family bike ride, but it wasn’t just a bike ride — it was a bike ride to the university, where he’d tell us all about its history.”

Fitting legacy at one of Canada’s top engineering schools

Jack is now part of that history. The Schulich School of Engineering is an apt home for his legacy, and not only because he attended UCalgary. Today, entrepreneurial courses, experiential learning opportunities and even a certificate program are well-integrated into the engineering school, making it the perfect home for the Nodwell memorial scholarship.

And while most such awards are established after their namesake’s passing, Jack lived to see the scholarship take shape. Having been granted medical assistance in dying (MAID) after a hereditary disease from which he long suffered began worsening with age, Jack had the somewhat unique opportunity to plan his final days — which included a visit to campus with Hunter.

“The circumstances were certainly sad, but Jack was spirited and curious, even so close to the end of his life. He was easily the one of the most knowledgeable people I’ve ever taken around the faculty,” says Schulich School of Engineering Dean Bill Rosehart, PhD.

I was touched by not only Jack’s character, but also the friendship between him and Doug. It inspired this incredible award that will in turn inspire Jack’s bold and innovative spirit in our students. 

Those students will also get to know Jack, says Hunter. “He did so much in his life. When students apply for this award, hopefully they’ll learn a little about Jack at the same time.”

For Jack’s part, he was humbled by the tribute — just as he was by the support he received before his death.

“He was always helpful in a quiet way and never one to toot his own horn,” says Jackie, who recalls the near-countless number of people who reached out to express their appreciation to him.

“He was surprised by the outpouring of emotion,” she adds. “But we weren’t. That’s just who he was — a good friend to everyone.”

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