Inducted: October 28, 1992
John Van Raay was able to combine economic acumen with a deep sense of compassion to benefit farmers and the agricultural industry in Kent County and in Canada.
His life was a success story in the North American tradition. Born in Culemborg, Holland, he was forced by family circumstances to quit school after his elementary education to help his widower father. That was, however, just the beginning of an eclectic education. In addition to night agricultural courses in Holland, and business and English in London, Ontario, he read voluminously, and attended agricultural enhancement courses.
Mr. Van Raay came to Canada with a brother, and $7 in his pocket, in 1924, and got his first Canadian farming experience near Winnipeg. At the end of a year, family circumstances forced him to return to Holland, working his way on a cattle boat. Three years in Holland enabled him to develop a first-class tenant orchard operation.
Mr. Van Raay returned to Canada in 1929, and got a job at Mount St. Joseph orphanage in London, at first, washing diapers and scrubbing floors, and later, developing a market garden that supplied the orphanage and other Catholic institutions in London.
In 1933, he bought his first farm in Raleigh Township, and the following year, he married Georgette Lievens. He share-cropped that first farm, and continued to work in London, until he acquired his second farm and moved permanently to Raleigh Township in 1939.
As he achieved success. Mr. Van Raay was determined to share his good fortune with others. He returned to Holland for a visit after the war to encourage other farmers to emigrate to Canada, and he became President of the Immigrants' Aid Society. The Van Raay home was the first taste of Canadian hospitality for many of them; and a large number became prosperous land-owning farmers.
Mr. Van Raay's determination to excel in everything he did inevitably brought him leadership in many farm organizations.
In 1959, he was described as a "leader in the move toward greater productivity on the land," but that wasn't enough. He was determined to match that productivity with the development of markets and negotiations for fairer crop prices. He was concerned that farmers had no insurance or compensation.
Before that, in 1957, Mr. Van Raay was elected Director of the Ontario Sugar Beet Growers' Marketing Board, and the following year, Board Vice-President. From 1959-1964, he was Chairman of the Ontario Sugar Beet Board, and received recognition as the only Ontario delegate on a national committee drafting sugar policy, as Second Vice-Chairman of the Canadian Sugar Beet Growers' Association, and as a doughty warrior, battling for a more dependable supply of workers for a labour-intensive crop, and for better accommodations for them.
Mr. Van Raay's interest in beef cattle was shown first as a Director and later as President of the Kent County Beef Cattle Producers (1957-1960), and as President of the Ontario Beef Producers. He was a Director of the Ontario Wheat Producers' Marketing Board; and a member of a committee working with the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Board. He was also a member of a committee of the Ontario Hog Producers' Marketing Board.
His interests also included vegetable crops, and he served as Vice-Chairman of the Kent County Vegetable Growers' Association, and as a frequent member of negotiating teams for vegetable crops.
Mr. Van Raay got support for his wide-ranging activities and interests from his wife, and his daughter and son-in-law, Rose and Martin Buis. In 1969, they incorporated all farm holdings into Vanmar Farms Ltd., a cash crop, processing vegetables and beef operation of approximately 575 acres.
Mr. Van Raay was an active member of his church and the Holy Name Society, and a co-founder of St. Willibrord Credit Union, established to help new Canadians. A staunch Liberal, he was described by Paul Martin Sr. as "an old friend and warrior in good political causes."
Reflecting his passion for education, all six of Mr. Van Raay's grandchildren have worked their way through University, some into part- or full-time occupations that reflect that "humanitarian spark" that led him, in the early years to rescue a Mount St. Joseph orphan placed in an abusive home, and to provide a home for him until he could rejoin his family in England.
Mr. Van Raay loved Canada, and had exacting standards for new Canadians. His credo: "Canada is good for everyone, but not everyone is good for Canada."