Founders of St. Agatha community fostered over 30 children
Posted Aug 10, 2020 01:40:00 PM.
Fourteen kilometres outside of Kitchener, you’ll find a sleepy village called Saint Agatha. It is here where a page-turning, love at first sight narrative began. The main characters now rest in the cemetery across the street from their family home. Still, their story lives on in the structures they created, the gas station he built and the 31 children they raised.
Mary Fisher would spend a lifetime retelling the story of the moment she laid eyes on a handsome young aircraftman, stationed at a Royal Canadian Air Force training base outside Galt, in the late 1940s.
A move to St. Agatha would begin their lifelong journey inspiring the construction of foundational structures still standing today. Early on in their marriage, Gord would decide to build the Fisher Sunoco. Now an Esso station, it is run by his sons to this day. But one could argue, the lives they affected far outweigh the impact of the bricks and mortar they left behind.
After raising their four biological children, they would spend another two decades offering a safe haven for fostered children—many coming from broken homes, with empty bellies, and physical and emotional scars.
“Coming from a dysfunctional family with no support, rules or structure at such a young age, the transition into the Fisher family helped mend these fundamentals in a family environment,” said Terry Aivaliotis, one of Fisher’s former foster children. Today, he is the President of All-Brite Glass & Tint.
He says he will never forget when his social worker asked the Fishers to consider keeping him long-term. At the time, they were getting older and had retired from fostering. Despite this, they decided to keep Aivaliotis for eight years.
Another one of their fosters, Donny “Golden Boy” Lalonde, a WBC Light Heavyweight Champion – known for his Sugar Ray Leonard match at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, is now a motivational speaker. He shares his story of abuse to inspire change for children in similar situations.
Fisher’s gas station opened the summer of 1961 after Gord had his two eldest sons stand by the road and count how many cars would go by the house. “He decided it may work and built the garage with the help of friends and himself as he was a bricklayer by trade,” said their son, Allan Fisher. “He pumped gas, fixed tires, and did oil changes.”
Together, Mary and Gord would become founding members of the Park Board, responsible for the creation of the Community Centre that still stands today. “He did the brickwork there and laid the cornerstone,” says Brian Fisher. Outfront, you’ll find a plaque in their honour. He was the President of the Chamber of Commerce. She, the President of the Catholic Women's League.
A journalist for the New Hamburg Independent, Mary, covered community events. At the same time, Gord would continue to leave his mark on Waterloo Region thanks to his love of masonry. “I remember stories about Pop's involvement in laying brick and block for the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium,” says their youngest son, David. You will also find his brickwork in the Kingston Penitentiary.
When Fisher retired from the garage, his sons say his parting words were, “Be good to people, you have a job to go to every day, and you will never get rich.”
At the time, the Fishers received just $5 per day for fostering children. A lot of their own money went into extras for their kids. After they retired, as foster parents, Mary would speak of the void they left behind.
“In retrospect, this experience had a huge impact on my life,” says Aivaliotis. He now runs a local fundraiser, All-Brite Chip in for Kids Golf Tournament, benefiting Family & Children Service of Waterloo Region. He’s raised over $5000 for Extend-A-Family of Waterloo Region through a yearly free chip repair campaign.
“My first dollar was earned from Gord, helping him mix mortar and carrying bricks when repairing the local church walls. I am grateful for this and have cherished this silver dollar to this day,” he says, “it was the beginning of my entrepreneurship journey.”
Aivaliotis adds, “to see all the disadvantaged children they opened their home up to and gave them a second chance – to mend, repair and rebuild their lives into a more fulfilling, positive, productive future life – their philanthropic nature was inspiring.”
As the Fisher children set their sights on retirement, the decision was made to let go of the gas station that houses over half a century of memories. Fisher Esso was recently put on the market. The foundation that Mary and Gord created in this small town resides in the bricks he laid, the stories she penned, and the 31 children they helped raise.