Robert Ireland, 2024 Recipient

Inspiring Philanthropy – The Story of Bob Ireland
Suzanne Bone, Bill Winegard, Bob Ireland at the Partners for Better Health over the goal celebration.
Suzanne Bone, Bill Winegard, Bob Ireland at the Partners for Better Health over the goal celebration.

This year’s recipient, announced at our Black Tie Bingo fundraising gala, is Robert Ireland.

Robert Ireland (or Bob, as he is known to many) was born at Guelph General Hospital into a family of four siblings led by an engineer dad and a stay-at-home mom. When urged by his mother to acquire a trade at the end of his years at Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute, he chose to align with his father’s interests, embarking on an apprenticeship in tool and die-making.

Leadership in Business

In 1965, at age twenty-five, Bob left his job at Imperial Tobacco to found Guelph Tool and Die in a modest 10-foot by 20-foot space on Fountain Street, providing local industry with essential dies, jigs, tools, and fixtures. Under Bob’s expert leadership, the business grew and diversified.

Nearly 60 years later, the once-small start-up has grown to become Guelph Manufacturing Group, one of the city’s premier employers, boasting more than 600 staff. Along with Sharon, his exceptional wife of sixty years, and three sons, Bob has created a workplace culture at GMG that fosters innovation and teamwork. This achievement is a testament to the entire Ireland family’s hard work, resilience, and unwavering spirit.

Bob’s leadership in his field garnered him an Outstanding Business Achievement Award from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce in 1990 and the Ernst & Young Canadian Business Entrepreneur of the Year in 1999. But his exemplary contribution to the city economy is only one aspect of his exceptional involvement.

In the Community

Bob’s volunteerism is legendary. He has been a member of the Rotary Club of Guelph for more than forty years, and, in that time, there have been very few campaigns or events that have not benefitted from his contributions, especially when it involved inviting fellow business leaders to join in or when sharing his considerable skills in moving and storing equipment! He is a Paul Harris Fellow nine times over, recognized for his outstanding contributions to the service club.

One admiring Rotary colleague, Anne MacKay, offered, “When Bob signs on, he invests his all, demonstrating what private business owners can do to support the communities that helped them succeed. And what is more, he has taught a whole new generation of community volunteers how to make those important fundraising connections.”

Bob Ireland with Rotary colleagues, Colin Ferguson and Bill Winegard, presenting the Rotary Club of Guelph donation to the Partners for Better Health Campaign.
Bob Ireland with Rotary colleagues, Colin Ferguson
and Bill Winegard, presenting the Rotary Club of Guelph donation to the Partners for Better Health Campaign.

In the mid-90s, the family made substantial donations to support The Foundation of Guelph General Hospital’s CT Scanner Campaign and the Dialysis Closer to Home Campaign. Then, in the late 1990s, Bob chaired the Partners for Better Health Campaign for the Foundation. With his leadership, the campaign raised over $12 million for Guelph General Hospital and St. Joseph’s Health Centre, including a $500,000 gift from the Irelands. Our 2007-2008 MRI and More Campaign benefitted from a $250,000 contribution from the Irelands.

Bob is described by many as a paragon in donor stewardship, pledge follow-up, problem-solving, leadership, and perseverance, with endless generosity and a wonderfully sarcastic sense of humour. Jennifer Hall, VP Development at St. Joseph’s, recently had this to say. “Bob and Sharon Ireland and family have been one of St. Joseph’s Health Centre’s most valued partners for over thirty years. Bob embodies the true spirit of leadership in healthcare philanthropy and has played a pivotal role in St. Joseph’s ability to continue providing high-quality healthcare services and programming. His enduring dedication and remarkable generosity continue to touch many thousands of lives, leaving an indelible mark of healing, compassion, and care.”

Ireland Family Gives Back

Over the decades, Bob and Sharon have contributed to innumerable community causes that have improved the quality of life in our city. The list includes Guelph’s River Run Centre, Homewood Health Centre, Sunrise Therapeutic Riding & Learning Centre, Guelph Community Foundation, Guelph United Way, and many more. Bob has also provided leadership through participation on non-profit boards of directors — Guelph Chamber of Commerce, Second Chance Employment, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Guelph-Wellington Counselling Centre, and the Career Education Council, to name a few.

Bob and Sharon Ireland with their sons,
(Left to Right:) John, Brad and Rob.
Bob and Sharon Ireland with their sons,
(Left to Right:) John, Brad and Rob.

Most notably, the family’s impact has been transformational for three of our city’s critical healthcare facilities.

At Hospice Wellington, the Irelands made a leading donation to sponsor the 10-bed The Robert Ireland Family Residence in 2017, a true haven for so many families.

In 2019, St. Joseph’s Health Centre benefited from a similar significant gift.

And, in 2020, the family contributed a remarkable $1 million to the Hospital’s Together We Care Campaign. The donation supports the Hospital’s essential equipment needs, helps our staff provide high-quality, patient-centred care, and inspires many.

Passion for Service

Bob and Sharon’s commitment to philanthropy is genuinely inspiring. According to their son Rob, his dad would probably not want us to use the word “philanthropy.” He would likely prefer “giving back.” And Bob definitely embodies the spirit of giving back. Whether supporting local charities, helping those in need, or spearheading community initiatives, Bob leads by example. His passion for making a positive impact and infectious enthusiasm bring people together in camaraderie for a common cause, creating a ripple effect that touches many lives.

When the late, well-known Guelphite Bill Winegard was asked what he liked best about volunteering, he pointed a thumb at the man and said, “Working with Bob.”

But it’s not just about grand gestures. Bob’s giving extends to the little things that make a big difference. He is the club member who offers his garage to event organizers to untangle lights for Sparkles in the Park. He’s the man who shows up at a housebound friend’s door to offer a ride in one of his vintage cars. He’s a stalwart member of his church congregation. He’s the neighbour who is always willing to lend a hand. And he’s a loving “Poppa” to nine grandchildren, tinkering on cars with them, playing cards, watching movies, and offering them a real-life example of good citizenship. Sharon Ireland, Bob’s inspiring and constant partner, wants everyone to know that her husband is a “devoted and caring family man, who enjoys having fun with everyone. Bob has a strong love of God, church, family and all people.”

Established in 2022, the Inspirational Philanthropist Award recognizes outstanding community members who have furthered the Foundation’s mission, vision, and values. Through his life of service, volunteerism and philanthropy, Bob Ireland has undoubtedly made an immeasurable impact on our local hospital and

our community.

Helping set up ‘Sparkles in the Park’ at Riverside Park.
Helping set up ‘Sparkles in the Park’
at Riverside Park.

I met Bob and Sharon Ireland 40 years ago through my husband John who was also an active Rotarian for many years. Since then, I’ve seen Bob give of his time and expertise for many worthy causes, including Guelph General Hospital, Hospice Wellington, and so many other projects. We have all benefited from these years of service and philanthropy.