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Thompson Rivers University holds a special place for Ken Lepin, particularly the trades programs.DENNIS OWEN/The Globe and Mail

The donors: Ken and Maureen Lepin

The gift: $2.5-million

The cause: Thompson Rivers University

The reason: To fund research programs, lab equipment and awards for students

Thompson Rivers University was holding its annual fundraising gala in Kamloops, B.C., recently when 75-year-old Ken Lepin stood up to make an announcement.

Mr. Lepin said that he and his wife Maureen had decided to donate $2.25-million to the university. The couple had already given $250,000 over the years, bringing their total donation to $2.5-million. "I was going to do this when I died; I'm just bringing it forward," Mr. Lepin explained from his home in Kamloops.

The family has had a long association with TRU, dating back 40 years when Mr. Lepin taught a weekly accounting class at the university, then called Carbioo College. "I wasn't a very good teacher but it paid $8 an hour," he said. Ms. Lepin graduated from the university and two of the couple's daughters have attended TRU. Mr. Lepin, who grew up near Penticton, B.C., wanted to become a plumber but his mother insisted he learn a profession, so he signed on with an accounting firm and eventually became an accountant.

As Mr. Lepin's business interests grew, in the sand and gravel trade and property development, he became one of the city's largest philanthropists. Along with gifts to TRU, he has made donations to the local hospital, art gallery, wildlife park and the Salvation Army.

But TRU holds a special place for him, particularly the trades programs where he established "prizes of excellence" for graduates. His new gift will expand the prizes across other faculties and fund research programs and new equipment.

The university "has been a part of my life," he said. "I just think the work they are doing is wonderful."