His cancer was catching up with him by the time Terry Fox reached Sault Ste. Marie in 1980. Each day he would run his quota of 26 kilometres along Hwy. 17 N., then return to the Sault’s Water Tower Inn for respite. He loved the whirlpool spa. Terry was staying at the Inn because owner JJ (Jim) Hilsinger had offered accommodations to Terry and his crew for a week so they could rest up to tackle the difficult terrain to Thunder Bay. At the time, JJ also operated four Kentucky Fried Chicken locations. Terry would collect donations in a KFC bucket. This very bucket was part of an exhibit honouring the runner at the Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec. JJ (Jim) Hilsinger, dauntless entrepreneur, community-builder, world-wide cycling traveller, and philanthropic humanist, was honoured by his colleagues at the annual HAC conference this past week. Terry’s story is one of so many instances where JJ saw a need and jumped in.
JJ has a long-time reputation for pitting his time and resources toward a cause. Since it began operations in 1974, the Inn’s employee booklet lists the eight “Shared Values” that lie at the crux of The Water Tower Inn’s culture. One of these is Community Involvement. This is taken to heart: at their Staff Awards Banquet each year, people of the Inn always raise money to donate to a local charity.
A one-pager press release can’t begin to share JJ’s extensive list of contributions at community, regional and global levels. (Please see attached backgrounder for some cool stories and pictures). From his fund-raising activities that helped build the Sault and Area Health Centre; his donations and support for Sault arts, sports and recreation over the past 60 years; his hosting of major events that have put the city on the map; his initiatives to help vulnerable groups and individuals; his efforts to raise money for the United Way; his dynamic and innovative tourism and economic development strategies for the region; and his devotion to northern Ontario’s unique features.
But JJ’s sense of humanity stretches far beyond the borders of Sault Ste. Marie and Northern Ontario. Encouraged and backed by an enthusiastic staff, he began a series of global cross-country bicycle tours that not only enabled him to live his own dream of self-propelled travel, but to support the dreams of others. In 2005, he bicycled 11,000 kilometres from Cairo to Capetown, raising money for The Stephen Lewis Foundation to fight Aids in Africa, as well as for the Sault Cancer Society. In 2007, JJ rode 8,000 kilometres from Istanbul to Beijing, partnering with the city to challenge Sault citizens to save an equal number of carbon emission tons. In 2012, he rode through Ethiopia to the hottest spot on the planet, raising money for the Ethiopian Tree Planting Program. In 2015, JJ rode 2300 kilometres through Central America to raise funds in support of local volunteer Barb Harrison, who worked in the Kibera slums of Nairobi Kenya with an organization called TAPA (Transform a Person Africa). Currently JJ is very involved with Tumaini Afrika Sault Ste. Marie, a local based group of volunteers dedicated to giving a “hand up” to children and youth in Africa.
“Although JJ’s day job for many years has been to own and operate the Water Tower Inn in Sault Ste. Marie, his passion has been the land, his town and Northern Ontario.”
M. Atkins, Publisher, Northern Ontario Business.