THE NATIONAL POST
June 26, 1999
CARLO ALLEGRI / NATIONAL POST
When Lenny the Lender breaks from the starting gate in tomorrow's Queen's Plate at Woodbine, he will have more than just his jockey prodding him on to victory. He'll also have the good wishes of a troupe of Ukranian circus dwarfs, a former Canadian heavy weight boxing champion and thousands of underprivileged inner-city kids.
This will be their little way of thanking Lenny's owner, Mississauga businessman Victor Deschenes, whose other hobby outside the race track is helping out people in need - to the tune of $250,000 a year.
Mr. Deschenes is a card-carrying member of a small group of selfless individuals who feel a need to pay a little back for their own good fortune by aiding others, particularly kids, who are often forced to go without things others take for granted.
"Victor is a very interesting guy, quite unique and very compassionate," says CFRB morning man Ted Woloshyn, who first met the businessman at a charity event several years ago.
"I've seen him at a number of these charity deals and he's always eager to help out. I've gotten to know him, and I know I can call on him,"
One of those calls became public earlier this year when Mr. Woloshyn took up the cause of seven circus midgets stranded in Toronto after their sponsor failed to send them back to the Ukraine. They had worked for a year for the National Circus School of Canada, but when their visas expired they had no way to return home.
Mr. Woloshyn had some of the dwarfs tell their story on his show. After calling Mr. Deschenes, the businessman, whose Expedite Plus firm provides emergency transportation parts, donated seven plane tickets to Kiev for the tiny troupe.
He also gave wedding gowns to the brides-to-be in the group.
"I grew up at Bathurst and Queen and our family struggled for many years like so many others," says Mr. Deschenes. "I like to help out whenever I can on an ongoing basis, especially when it comes to kids."
Former Canadian boxing champ George Chuvalo, who has suffered through his own difficult times after losing three sons to heroin addiction and his wife to suicide, describes the philanthropist as a "fantastic guy."
"There was a time I was pretty cynical about people, but then along comes a guy like Victor who does some beautiful things for people," says Mr. Chuvalo. "I was so impressed with him. He's a guy who doesn't b-s, he acts. He had a tough time growing up and he feels for those who have to struggle in life."
Mr. Chuvalo met Mr. Deschenes through a mutual friend at a charity golf tournament and, within five minutes, the businessman offered the former boxer $50,000 to sponsor his Fight Against Drugs campaign for a year. Mr. Chuvalo tours the country telling his story to high school students and young offenders, hoping it will turn them away from drug use.
"He sees the work we do as a chance to help kids turn their lives around;' says Mr. Chuvalo.
Mr. Deschenes said he knew Mr. Chuvalo's story before they met. "He's a terrific guy and I believe strongly in his plans to help get through to kids. I agreed to give him $50,000 for one year. We're now reviewing the situation for next year."
Thousands of disadvantaged inner-city kids in Toronto have also benefited from Mr. Deschenes' generosity. He buys uniforms for sports teams, provides computers for schools, has taken more than 5,000 kids to Blue Jays games and donates hot lunches for countless students in school.
"If it has anything to do with kids, I'll do it," says Mr. Deschenes, who has a 13-year-old daughter from a previous marriage.
The no-nonsense businessman is a self-made success story. Growing up in downtown Toronto and in Parkdale he started working as a desk clerk, a taxi driver and a dispatcher before joining the transportation parts company. Ten years ago, he took over the firm and has never looked back.
His horse-racing career began about three years back and he now has seven horses, including Lenny the Lender, which he claimed two months ago for $40,000. Lenny had won his first race and come second in a major stakes race.
"I got my money back, says Mr. Deschenes. "Then I was offered, $300,000 for him, but my wife said only a handful of people have ever won the Queen's Plate. She said I should enjoy it so I didn't sell. And here we are.'
Copyright 1999, The National Post Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.