Roberta McKay and Elmer Brenner are enthusiastic, longstanding supporters of the University of Regina, in particular, the well-being of the University’s historic College Avenue campus. Whether it’s by good fortune or good planning, they live and work where they can watch the current renewal of Darke Hall and the College Building taking place just up the street.
McKay and Brenner both have deep attachments to the place. McKay grew up in Regina, and recalls taking piano lessons in the basement of Darke Hall, followed by end-of-season recitals on stage in front of family and friends. Brenner’s connections include Arts Education and Theatre classes, and a short time on the University Senate as a representative of library trustees. “I gained a greater understanding the institution’s overall operation and a deeper appreciation of its importance to the entire community,” he says.
McKay and Brenner may be best known for their support for College Avenue renewal, but their philanthropy touches the lives of many people in the community, particularly in areas such as the arts and health.
The couple served on the committee that developed plans to renew the historic campus, and in 2012, inspired by plans to revitalize Darke Hall and the Conservatory of Performing Arts, donated $250,000 toward the Building Knowledge project. Two years later they donated a piano for use in Darke Hall, but not just any piano. McKay and Brenner traveled to Italy, where – with the help of classical pianist Angela Hewitt, who once played in Darke Hall – they selected a world-class Fazioli piano that matches the acoustic properties of the performance space.
“It was donated to be in Darke Hall,” McKay explains, “although it is temporarily stored on the main campus while construction is underway.” Brenner adds, “Our intent was that it be in Darke Hall and available for student use; we want students to experience what it is like to play a high-calibre piano.”
McKay, a dermatologist, and Brenner, a designer and visual artist, may be best known for their support for College Avenue renewal, but their philanthropy touches the lives of many people in the community, particularly in areas such as the arts and health. They sponsor free Regina Symphony Orchestra programs at local libraries, the Regina Music Festival Association, and the annual Saskatchewan Fashion Forward Designer Award. The couple also founded the Saskatchewan Health Care Excellence Awards, which for ten years recognized the achievements of outstanding health care workers. Both have received a number of individual awards over the years. Among them, the City of Regina named Brenner volunteer of the year in 1978-79, and CTV Regina selected McKay as citizen of the year in 2007.
McKay says she was “certainly surprised” to receive the call from University of Regina president Vianne Timmons with the news that the couple were to receive an honorary degree. Both state they are pleased and honoured to be recognized by an institution that has shown an unwavering commitment to preserving an important part of Regina’s built heritage, and to revitalize Darke Hall as a community performance centre.
McKay and Brenner will receive their honorary degrees at Convocation on June 7.