November 16, 2023

A Legacy of Gratitude: Honouring the Lives of Joseph & Elizabeth Wenisch

Even through the most profound of losses, Joseph and Elizabeth Wenisch – a much-admired Dundas, Ont., couple – showed generosity and gratitude.

Gratitude for the opportunity to immigrate to Canada in their early 20s. Gratitude to be able to build a family in a community they were proud to call home. And gratitude for the healthcare they would receive as they grew older.

Joseph was so grateful for the care the late Dr. Anil Kapoor provided to him, and Elizabeth believed so strongly in research and education that the couple donated more than $950,000 to St. Joe’s. Their giving has been divided equally between the Urology Department and the Urologic Cancer Centre for Research and Innovation (UCCRI). The Urology Department provides exceptional patient care, while the UCCRI, established in 2018 through donor funding, conducts research to develop new- and innovative treatments to care for patients living with cancers of the kidney, prostate and bladder.

“The urologic care Joe received at St. Joe’s was second-to-none in his opinion,” says Debbie Dorpmans, who acted as the couple’s power of attorney for healthcare. Debbie and her husband, Bert Dorpmans, were longtime friends of the Wenischs and their late son, Ralph.

“I never had the privilege of meeting Dr. Kapoor but, from what Joe told me, he was an amazing and compassionate physician who not only saved Joe’s life, but made it better,” adds Randy Wheaton, the executor of Wenisch’s estate and another longtime friend. “Joe wanted the gifts he and Elizabeth made tothe Hospital, both during their lives and after their passing, to continue to support research and education at the UCCRI and to improve health outcomes for more patients like him.”

Joseph and Elizabeth grew up in postwar Europe. As children, Joseph’s farm was seized during the war, and Elizabeth lost both her parents. The pair would go on to meet in Germany and fall in love. They married in Austria before making their way to Canada to begin life together anew.

“Their story really starts when they came here with nothing but a couple of suitcases,” Bert says. “As a couple, their core values were impeccable. They were hardworking, kind and selfless people. They were like a second set of parents to me, both when I was a kid and when Ralph and I reconnected during university,” Randy adds.

Joseph was known to charm everyone he met with his warm smile and personality. He loved to laugh and would say he was “born happy.” He was also a master cabinet maker whose unmatched craftsmanship made it easy for him to find work in Canada. His expertise in carpentry led him to start his own business, which grew through word-of-mouth alone.

Elizabeth, on the other hand, was always able to have wonderful and lively discussions about current events and the state of the world. A life-long learner, she took courses in dressmaking, millinery (making hats), and investing. Always by Joseph’s side, she kept the books for the business and was adept in managing its finances.

When the pair weren’t working, they were voracious readers, tended to their bountiful vegetable garden, and loved to travel, driving a van they converted into a caravan across North America.

In time, the Wenischs’ success enabled them to purchase two lots of land on Rock Chapel Road in Dundas, a scenic retreat with access to waterfalls and trails. It was on this picturesque property that they built a beautiful home, life, and family for themselves.

It was also on Rock Chapel that the Wenischs planned a future for their son. In 2011, Joseph and Ralph built a house on the neighbouring lot – a dream home for Ralph and his wife Mariana. Sadly, Ralph passed away at the age of 58 from a heart attack.

After Ralph died, Joseph and Elizabeth’s health began to decline. That’s when Debbie, Bert, Randy and his wife, Kathy, stepped in to help care for them.

“Ralph and I were like brothers growing up on Rock Chapel and Joe and Elizabeth always treated me like their son,” Randy adds. “It was a great honour to care for them in their last five years, to get to know them better, and to make sure their final wishes were met.”

Even after losing their only child, the Wenischs continued to show gratitude. In planning their will, they dedicated 100 per cent of their estate to charitable causes. As well as giving to St. Joe’s and other non-profits, they made a gift to the Heart & Stroke Foundation in Ralph’s memory.

Having to move from the house on Rock Chapel was hard for the Wenischs, but they were fortunate to spend their last days together in a nearby retirement home with support from the Wheatons and Dorpmans.

In May 2022, Elizabeth passed away peacefully at the age of 89. Joseph followed her not long afterward in November. He was 92.

“After nearly 70 years of marriage, they were one another’s cherished companions until the very end,” Bert says. “They were soulmates.”

Today, the Wenischs’ spirit of generosity and gratitude lives on in the many lives they touched, and at St. Joe’s where their gifts continue to support lifesaving urologic research and care.

This story was originally published in our 2022-23 Donor Impact Report. Click here to read the full report and discover other inspiring stories from our supporters.

Leaving a Gift in your Estate or Will Planning a legacy gift is a powerful way to show your commitment to the future of healthcare. It’s also an opportunity to say “thank you” for care received and to ensure St. Joe’s will continue to provide exceptional care to all those in need. Learn more about including St. Joe’s in your Will or estate plans here.

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