By HOLLY HARRIS Laughter and tears will flow when the Seven Oaks Performing Arts Centre (SOPAC) honours the late Jerry Maslowsky (zt”l), a prominent local business executive, supremely gifted entertainer, devoted family man, and all-around mensch, as the inaugural inductee for its newly minted “The Jerry Maslowsky Hall of Fame,” bearing the beloved Winnipegger’s name in perpetuity.
A special tribute concert co-hosted by Maslowsky’s sister Debbie Maslowsky and his daughter Tara is being held Thursday, October 20th, 7:30 p.m. in the 525-seat venue located at 711 Jefferson Avenue. The gala evening that kicks off with a 6:30 p.m. reception will be capped by the naming of the SOPAC lobby in Maslowsky’s honour, in addition to the Hall.
All ticket proceeds will go towards establishing “The Jerry Maslowsky Scholarship” through the Seven Oaks Education Foundation (SOEF), to be awarded annually to a student graduating from the division pursuing their passion in the arts. Online and in-person donations will also be gratefully accepted to help build the scholarship fund.
“Jerry would be overwhelmed with gratitude,” Debbie shares over the phone when asked how her brother might have felt being feted in such a significant way, as his formative years growing up in Winnipeg’s leafy Garden City neighbourhood essentially comes full circle.
“He’d be extremely humbled. He would thank his very dear friend, Dr. Harvey Max Chochinov, for nominating him for this honour, and his wife, Chris, and three children, Kaylee, Bobby and Tara for always supporting him, and letting him do all that he loved to do,” she adds.
Debbie gives full credit to Chochinov for getting the ball rolling back in 2020 by originally pitching the idea to Seven Oaks School Division Superintendent Brian O’Leary; followed by his formal nomination letter to the Board of Trustees now bearing rich fruit.
“It’s a wonderful occasion to recognize Jerry, and his history and career,” O’Leary affirms. “It also celebrates our arts programming at Seven Oaks, and all the opportunities we’re able to offer kids.”
Born in 1957 to Sam and Evelyn Maslowsky, Jerry first cut his performing teeth at I. L. Peretz School, later dazzling audiences in musical theatre shows at Jefferson Junior High School and Garden City Collegiate (GCC), also attended by his three siblings Kenny, Debbie and late sister Barbara. The charismatic entertainer appeared in his first Rainbow Stage production, “The King and I,” at the tender age of 12, and became a featured singer/dancer with the Sarah Sommer Chai Folk Ensemble in his teens.
He also co-wrote /co-hosted a three-part TV special “Wish Upon a Star” for CKY TV with Debbie in the early 1990s, as well as performed in “around 150” shows at the Hollow Mug Dinner Theatre, including many directed by my own father, Neil Harris, who recognized Jerry’s world-class talent and loved him like a son.
“Jerry just adored Neil Harris and was so honoured to have worked with him, and to been asked to do any of his shows. They had such a special connection and laughed all the time,” Debbie reveals of their unique bond.
Maslowsky passed away unexpectedly from an aggressive form of cancer on September 4th, 2016, with his death sending shockwaves throughout the local Jewish community and beyond. Over a thousand people, in stunned disbelief, attended his Celebration of Life at the RBC Convention Centre on September 8th; a living testament to how Maslowsky’s passion to make the world a better place through community service, and sharing his wisdom with all those who asked for advice had touched their lives.
As a brilliant businessman, his career included being appointed CEO of Variety, the Children’s Charity of Manitoba, as well as serving as Vice President of Sales and Marketing with the Winnipeg Football Club as a diehard Blue Bombers fan. And it all began with this very newspaper, with “Maz” beginning his professional life as advertising manager with The Jewish Post (prior to the merger of The Jewish Post and Western Jewish News in 1987).
He launched “Special Blend” in the early 1970s with his childhood chums, including Chochinov, as the city’s “go-to” band on the Bar Mitzvah and wedding circuit. The group performed at hotels and every synagogue in Winnipeg for hundreds of Jewish holidays and life cycle events (“He knew the kitchen staff of every shul in the city,” Debbie quips), including an anniversary bash at the Chevra Mishnayes Synagogue, co-founded by his zaida in 1908.
Chochinov, who needs no introduction as a world renowned psychiatrist and distinguished Officer of the Order of Canada, revered for his empathic research in palliative care, recalls playing violin and wailing on guitar licks with Maslowsky as the band’s nattily attired lead singer throughout the mid-1980s. But their bond went much deeper than that.
“Jerry was like a brother to me. He was family,” Chochinov shares of his lifelong pal, whom he first met at age 13, and kept in touch with over the years despite divergent career paths. “We were both auditioning for our Jefferson Junior High musical, ‘Annie Get Your Gun,’ and I remember thinking, ‘I may have enthusiasm, but this man has real talent.’
“Jerry had this incredible sense of humour and an amazing kind of comedic timing. He could read a room and bring the house down with gales of laughter, but at the same time, had no ego about it. It was always about bringing joy to the lives of people,” he continues.
“Jerry was an extraordinary friend and he was an extraordinary man, and a real role model for young people today in how he lived his life. While we all miss him terribly, we’re just so delighted that we have an opportunity to honour him in this very special way.”
The long defunct band, comprised of Michael Ryczak (accordion/ keyboards); Tim Feduniw (saxophone); Craig Doering (the group’s original drummer, eventually replaced by Jeff Dolovitch), poignantly joined by Maslowsky’s daughter, Tara, are notably coming together again to belt out several numbers at the October show – certain to bring the house down just as Jerry would want.
The program also includes Chai Folk Ensemble Alumni, popular vocalists Tracy Kasner Greaves and Arthur Liffmann with David Vamos on keyboard, world-class soprano Tracy Dahl and Winnipeg Jets anthem singer and longtime vocal jazz instructor at GCC, Stacey Nattrass.
The evening rounds out with R. F. Morrison School’s high-octane Ukrainian dance ensemble, vocal jazz group Garden City Groove led by Nattrass, as well as excerpts from GCC’s recent production of hit musical comedy “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”
“This is going to be a deeply emotional night for our family, but it also just affirms that while Jerry might be gone, he will never be forgotten,” Debbie says of her cherished, dearly missed brother.
“Jerry’s legacy will continue to live on through his family and friends, and all the many people whose lives he’s touched, and is now being recognized with this honour. It would mean the absolute world to him.”
For tickets ($30) or further information, visit: www.7oaks.org/resources/soef
Holly Harris has served as the classical music/opera/dance reviewer for the Winnipeg Free Press since 2004. She feels privileged to have known Jerry Maslowsky, and recalls his electrifying performances at the Hollow Mug and beyond, throughout the years.