LETHBRIDGE, Alberta-Gary Kirk, owner of Lethbridge-based Kirk's Tires Ltd., has parlayed his friendship with one of Las Vegas' most popular performers into $140,000 for area charities. It's a feat the independent tire dealer said he never would have imagined the first time he met Wayne Newton at a 1962 concert in Vancouver, British Columbia.
``It was just by chance. Someone was going back stage to meet him, and I was there,'' Mr. Kirk said. ``I mean, (Mr. Newton) meets people every day of his life.''
Mr. Kirk thought little of that meeting until he was attending his second Wayne Newton concert a couple of months later in Las Vegas. A man walked up to his front-row seat and told him Mr. Newton wanted to see him backstage after the concert.
``It's grown into a genuine friendship, a fantastic friendship,'' Mr. Kirk said.
So much so that Mr. Kirk will be one of the guests at Mr. Newton's April 9 wedding ceremony.
The Newton-Kirk fundraising partnership stems back to a New Year's Eve party in 1975, when the two men's paths crossed again and Mr. Kirk jokingly asked Mr. Newton ``When are you coming to Canada?''
Three weeks later, Mr. Newton replied that he could do a concert on July 29, 1976. The two decided to turn it into a charity fundraising event.
That first concert, held in the Lethbridge Sportplex arena, earned more than $80,000 for local charities, Mr. Kirk said.
Last November, Mr. Newton returned to the town of 60,000 residents-this time helping to raise some $58,000 in a concert for the United Way, two local hospitals and a local agency helping developmentally disabled children.
``He does it out of friendship.... He let me pick the charities the money would be donated to,'' Mr. Kirk said.
The entire experience has been ``a dream come true'' for the tire dealer, who said Mr. Newton has been the ``greatest inspiration'' in his life.
``The way he works on stage, the way he entertains people-it would motivate me when I would go to work after seeing him.
``I just think he can do it all. I don't think there is a person I respect more than I do him.''
For Mr. Kirk, ``work'' is tending to the dealership his father started in 1936. Today, Mr. Kirk owns six retail/commercial locations, two of which have Bandag truck tire retreading shops. The outlets sell passenger, farm and off-the-road tires and provide service throughout southern Alberta.
Will Lethbridge fans get another performance from the now 51-year-old entertainer?
``It's a possibility,'' Mr. Kirk said. ``He might come back again, but he is a very busy man.''