Sunshine Coast donor puts students’ needs first

There are many ways to say thank you. For one Sechelt resident, her decision to honour an individual will leave a legacy for students on the Sunshine Coast.

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Following a 34-year teaching career with Delta School District, Mary Lou Owen wasn’t ready to sit idly by.

Owen relocated part-time to the Sunshine Coast 21 years ago. As a retirement project, she set out to create an online yearbook to connect with former classmates from her Kindergarten to Grade 9 school in Halifax, Nova Scotia – an ambitious goal when she did not have the technical knowledge to create a website.

She started taking computer courses through the Adult Basic Education program at CapU's kálax-ay Sunshine Coast Campus in Sechelt.

Learning computer programs did not come naturally to Owen, but with her fierce tenacity and the support of dedicated instructor Becky Wayte, she completed courses in Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and WordPress – and created the Gorsebrook School website.

When the COVID-19 pandemic halted in-person classes and courses move online, Wayte quickly recognized that Owen was challenged by online learning and offered to meet her weekly, distanced or outside, for one-on-one tutorials for close to two years.

“Mary Lou works harder than anyone I have ever met,” said Wayte. “She is the most persistent and dedicated student. I've never seen anybody that committed to learning. I imagine she was an absolutely amazing teacher, especially for students who didn't learn in a typical way, or those who needed extra support.”

Owen was ultra-careful during the pandemic. For a long time, Wayte was the only person in her bubble. Their weekly visits were rooted in teaching and learning, but the social connection was as important and a friendship quickly developed.


Owen mentioned she had some savings she wanted to donate to an organization where it could have a lasting impact. Wayte suggested she consider a donation to Capilano University to fund a scholarship or bursary and this appealed to her.

Mary Lou offered a vision for her financial gift with specific criteria.

“I don’t want the student funding to be a scholarship. I don't want it to go to students who have straight A's. Scholarships are already available to those students,” said Owen. “I want it to go to foster children or to students who face barriers to continuing their education, or to students who would not qualify for financial assistance.”

As a teacher, she had a heart for connecting with students who faced struggles at home, those who had trouble fitting in and students who had learning challenges. She taught a number of students in foster care and devoted attention to supporting their success. Owen wanted to provide a financial gift to students like those she had supported as a teacher.

Her donation proved to be a dual gift. Her $40,000 donation to Capilano University will create two bursaries for students living on the Sunshine Coast: the Mary Lou Owen Educational Fund and the Becky Wayte Educational Fund.

Wayte was astounded and delighted to have a bursary established in her name in recognition of her instruction and her above and beyond support to Owen. “I'm so honored by this,” said Wayte. “It is like she gave me $20,000 to give to the university.”

Owen’s act of gratitude offers a lasting tribute to her friend and leaves a legacy of support for students.

“I wanted to do something for Capilano University and for Becky. She went to high school on the Sunshine Coast and has worked at CapU for over 30 years.  This was my way of saying thank you to her and the university,” said Owen.


Submitted by: Communications