By Katie Yablecki, Interim Director of Development, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra


At 93, Bill Loewen may be retired from his position as the founder and head of TelPay, but he certainly hasn’t retired his passion for classical music and the Winnipeg arts community. This was a love that he shared with Shirley, his wife of 66 years. They eventually passed this love on to their five children, Howard, Ann, Louise, Peter, and Jennifer, as well as their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And this love has led Bill and his children to honour the memory of Shirley, who passed away in 2022, by funding the creation of the Shirley Loewen Sunday Classics concert series with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. This matinée series will appeal to those who cannot attend the regular Classics performances in the evening. It is something that Bill hopes will bring families together at the WSO at a more convenient time of day for many.

Unlike his offspring, Bill did not develop his taste for classical music through the influence of a family member. Like so many things in his life, Bill had to work and find his own way to this passion. “As a very young child, I would wait every night for 11 o’clock to come to hear the classical music broadcast [on the radio] from Chicago – 'Music ‘til Dawn’ it was called – and I’d sit in this chair, and I might eventually go to sleep in this chair, and my mother would find me and scold me, but there was always that music that drove me to do what I did and so that was sort of the beginning.”

Growing up in the small farming village of Elkhorn, Manitoba, in a family of nine, access to classical music and the arts was not easy. But Bill held on to this interest as he grew up and entered the working world, eventually meeting his future wife, Shirley, a nursing student at the time, after being transferred to Regina as a young chartered accountant.

Bill and Shirley left Saskatchewan to start new jobs and a family in Edmonton It was there that they had their first opportunity to attend a live symphony performance, as the firm Bill worked for would often get complimentary tickets.

In 1965, the Loewen family moved to Winnipeg, where they would remain, and Bill would found his computerized payroll company Comcheq and later TelPay. Bill and Shirley began to attend performances of the WSO and made lifelong relationships there with some of the other patrons. Despite how incredibly busy they were with Bill’s business, their family life and the different causes Shirley took up on her own, “The WSO was their date night!” daughter Ann explains.

Bill and Shirley Loewen: passionate supporters of the WSO.

During a difficult period for the WSO in the 1980s, Bill was tapped by then WSO vice-president and later chair herself, Dorothy Dobbie, to join the Fundraising Committee. This led to a seat on the Board of Directors, where he would later serve as the chair for several terms. It would be fair to say that the WSO survived those dark time thanks to Bill Loewen. When the WSO was in trouble, Bill was there to help guide it back to where it needed to be. When the WSO was hurting financially, Bill opened his wallet to make sure that the WSO did not have to close its doors. His companies sponsored the WSO, and he personally did what it took to nurse the WSO back to health.

Bill’s daughter Ann describes her mother as finding her own love for classical music and the WSO through her relationship with Bill. Following Bill’s lead, Shirley eventually went from being an audience member to being incredibly involved with what was then known as the Women’s Committee. Ann describes Shirley noticing that “something needs to be done here and no one else is doing it, so I’m going to step up,” which was a motto that both Bill and Shirley seemed to live by and made them such wonderful life partners. Ann believes that both of her parents felt that it wasn’t enough to simply attend the WSO concerts, “They had to make sure that it was a viable entity, that was important to them.”

Ann describes her family’s relationship to the WSO as something “we’ve all come to through our parents and in our own ways, and even though none of us, except for one, are musicians, I know for all of my family that music is vitally important to our well-being and our sense of what is important in the world […] and now that we are out of the pandemic especially, I see it, how important going to concerts is for those human-to-human connections. You can listen to all of the music in the world, but there is something about experiencing it live, collectively with other people and being able to share and exchange in dialogue about it afterwards.” Another takeaway Ann has from her upbringing in the Loewen household is “Without a symphony, so many things will be lacking in the community—there would be no ballet, no opera, the whole infrastructure of the Concert Hall—so many things are so dependent on this organization. We would lose a lot if we lost the symphony.”

This passion for the WSO goes beyond the children of Bill and Shirley Loewen, as their grandchildren would also frequently attend WSO performances with their grandparents. “I have so many memories of going to the WSO concerts with my Grandma and Grandpa. It was always such a special occasion for me, and the Concert Hall has always seemed like a magical place where amazing musicians and performers get together to transport people to other worlds,” explains granddaughter Hannah. Hannah herself is now a mother and, following in Bill and Shirley’s footsteps, has begun taking her child to the WSO Kids Concerts.

Bill is passionate about maintaining the longevity and health of the WSO and believes that it’s up to the older generation to teach the younger ones about the importance and value of the symphony by bringing them out to live performances. It is incredible to see how music has connected the Loewen family. Their remarkable generosity speaks to the importance of individuals working to sustain not only our cultural institutions, like the WSO, but also the relationships and ties we build with our families and communities. We hope you’ll take a note from Bill Loewen and his family and bring your family to one of the Shirley Loewen Sunday Classics concerts.