Bill Draayer Award 2006

Given in recognition of outstanding personal contributions to the progress and development of the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association.




Mary Jane Harper was the third generation of her family to work for the Olds Gazette. The newspaper was purchased by her grandparents, William (Henry) Miller and Mary Miller in the 1930s and at the end of WWII her father joined his in-laws in the business. In the 1950s he and a partner bought the newspaper and formed Leatherdale Publishing Limited.

Mary Jane remembers her first reporting assignment when she was 12 years old. Her father had to run the press and she covered an important trial at the courthouse. A number of prominent farmers had been charged with selling grain. The judge asked her what she was doing there and the next thing she knew she was sitting next to him, making sure she was taking notes properly. In the early 1990s her parents sold the business to the four children; Brian, Leslie, Marlynn and of course, Mary Jane. She assumed the duties of Editor and General Manager at that time. She also took on the responsibilities of photographer and news reporter on a number of occasions.

When the family purchased the newspaper they also made the decision to join the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association. With that, Mary Jane soon became a member of the Education Committee and hosted (with the permission of her siblings) the annual Golf Tournament.

Her eight years of service to the board of Directors of AWNA was very rewarding and gratifying, she says. She was part of the board that moved to the digital archive project under the leadership of Roger Holmes and was also part of the board that revamped committees and cemented relationships with its corporate members under the leadership of Lynne Chernin. As president of the association, she helped direct the board to establish a policy handbook which would aid in the running of the organization and assist members and staff greatly. Mary Jane has been actively involved in her community as well.

Elected as school trustee for six years, she served as chair of the Policy and Education Committee as well as Vice Chair for two years and chair of the board for one year. She was elected to the Board of Trustees of the Olds Hospital Board for a three year term. She served as a board member of the Library Board and the Recreation Board for three years respectively. She also was a board member of the Olds Family Community Support Services for nine years and chair for six years.

She was a committee member of the Centennial Committee and a founding member of the Christmas Angels Society, a non-profit group of six women who organize the collection of food and toys for less fortunate families. She currently works with the Food Bank Society and serves on the Olds Institute Marketing Committee.

Mary Jane has had a remarkable career in the newspaper business, has made remarkable contributions, not only to the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association, but to her community, and I am proud to have served with her and more proud to call her my friend.

As she leaves the industry to move forward in another career we wish her much success in her new endeavors – another remarkable recipient of the Bill Draayer Award.

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