Circle of Giving
Circle of 7

Seven Strong Personalities; Seven Kind Hearts; Seven Intelligent Minds; All linked by a common goal.

Circle of Seven is a group of friends who share a passion for golf and a desire to give back to the community they call home.

If one person can make a difference, seven can do wonders. This is the common goal of the Circle of Seven. This group of men committed themselves to giving back to the community they grew up in, while enjoying the friendships and passions they share.  Together, they work to raise funds for the less fortunate in our community by holding golf tournaments and other fundraising events.  Over 31 charitable groups benefited from the generous donations and support of this unique group of men in 2006.  With old-school work ethics and respect for one another, each member brings something magical to the table.  These seven separate personalities have one united goal; to serve the Windsor and Essex community.

The individuals who are the Circle of Seven are well-respected people who have achieved success in their careers while maintaining an active level of community involvement. They are “Mr. Community”  Ed Agnew, long-time AKO Fraternity executives Don Wiley and Bob “Knobby” Knudsen, community-minded successful  real estate agent Rob Agnew, Freeds Vice-President and auctioneer executive extraordinaire Keith White, and former NHL hockey stars Tom Williams and John Ferguson Sr.

When a meeting of those minds occurs, the results are dynamic. Together, as The Circle of Seven, the men transform mediocre charity fundraisers into major money makers, occasionally make the dreams of individuals come true, and participate in any way they can with countless numbers of community events.

The Beginning

It all began when Don and Ed were matched with professional hockey legend John Ferguson during a charity Pro/Am tournament.  To celebrate their tournament victory, the men went to Don’s home and a casual conversation led to the request of John Ferguson to host a charity tournament. “I said, yes, as long as it’s done first class,” says the five-time Stanley Cup winning former Montreal Canadian.

“We’re all busy guys, but we find time for the right things,” adds Rob’s uncle Ed Agnew. Agnew is another member of the Circle who has devoted much of his spare time, especially in the last 14 years since his retirement, to various causes in the city. While having dinner following a day of golf at Pointe West, the men began to discuss a name for their group. A few names were tossed around until the “Circle of Seven” was mentioned.

Ed explains, “we looked around the table and there were seven guys. So we said, how about the ‘Circle of Seven’ and Keith began to draw the logo on a napkin.”

Adds Tom Williams, “That is who has been playing together for years- the seven guys- so that’s how the number became seven.”  In June 2000, the group was officially incorporated a non-profit organization. Directly or indirectly, in the past 10 years, the Circle raised over $1,1800,000 for charities and individuals.  The Circle of Seven supports many worthwhile causes. Closest to home is cancer care, the Children’s Aid Society, and other wellness-related groups. In July 2006, the Circle of Seven, with various business friends, gathered at the Caboto Club by invitation of Tony Toldo Sr.  The media attended, anxiously awaiting the call to action, a financial challenge to raise funds for a new state-of-the-art digital ultrasound device used for brachy-therapy, for treatment of prostate cancer.  Tony Toldo Sr. pledged to contribute $10,000 and requested other individuals and companies to match the challenge.  In less than three months, the Windsor community pulled together and the 10th Annual John Ferguson Golf Classic, the Circle and seven local businessmen each matched “Tony’s Challenge” and met the challenge. The Windsor Regional Cancer Centre is now using the 3D ultrasound machine.

Philanthropist Tony Toldo Sr. had previously, in 2000, “thrown down the gauntlet” that he would donate $100,000, if the Circle would raise an equal amount. Well, with further financial support from the manufacturers of equipment for cancer treatment, the partnership raised $355,000 in one day for the purchase of the Chryotherapy machine used at the Cancer Centre.

Since the evolution of the Circle, each member’s role has become more defined.  Keith is the premiere auctioneer; John and Tom obtain celebrity guests and gather unique auction items that aid in the success of events; Rob has a host of innovative fundraising ideas; Knobby gathers auction items and brings a lot of strength with his ideas; Don is a good organizer and hard worker, and brings a lot of knowledge of hosting past tournaments to the Circle; Ed is the well-organized finance guy with the infrastructure in place to get the job done. Associates of the group are Tony Toldo Sr., Mike Duval, and Ian Chippett, a retired inspector with the Windsor Police.

Some of the Circle of Seven had met previously through other things, but their mutual love for the game of golf is what eventually brought all seven together. “The key to this whole thing was we all love sports, and golf, and we often played as friends,” says Agnew.

Rob and Keith’s relationship stems back 20 years when Rob cam to work at Freeds where Keith is Vice-President.  Ed Agnew met Keith through his nephew at a golf tournament.  Knobby and Don have been heavily involved in the AKO Fraternity for many years and both are past presidents. Knobby coached baseball and Keith was on one of his teams. Knobby lived around the corner from Ed for over 20 years.  Tom Williams was coached by Don in minor hockey.  Ed Agnew worked with Don’s father Eric Wiley for many years at City Hall while Agnew worked there as the commissioner of finance. When Don moved in the home beside Ed during the 80’s, their friendship grew.  Both John Ferguson and Tom Williams were NHL hockey players who had known each other for many years. Knobby has known Rob since he was a kid, and Rob even helped with Knobby’s campaign to run for City Council.

Our Diversity

The group is very diverse- some members are more outgoing, others tend to be more serious.  Together, the meetings of those minds can be very dynamic, as evidenced by their results.

Success stems, at least in part, from the reputations of men involved. Collectively, the men know hundreds and hundreds of people through the different sectors of their work.  Rob, for example, has a lot of connections in real estate and fashion industries given his work history; Ed has contacts with business owners, industrialists, and local municipal, provincial, and federal government officials; Knobby and Don have been very involved with the AKO organization; Tom is in the life insurance and investment industry and has sports connections dating back to when he played; Keith is involved in the fashion industry with his senior position at Freeds; and John  is with the San Jose Sharks- for the past 12 years and is known to fans across the world as a real “man’s” hockey player.

“Everybody is bringing something to the table in our Circle of Seven,” adds Tom Williams, more affectionately known as Tommy to the guys in the group. “I’m responsible for bringing professional players- most have been from hockey who participate because that’s my background.” Williams played in the NHL for the New York Rangers, the Los Angeles Kings and the St. Louis Blues.

Williams, as past president of the Detroit Red Wings Alumni, has aided in drawing numerous sports celebrities to the Circle of Seven events as well as a collection of unique sports memorabilia for auctions.

“I participate in 90 percent of their (Red Wing Alumni) charity events, and they participate in my events.  It’s about feeding off each other,” says Williams.

Adds Ed Agnew,  “we’re connected with people in the business of collecting memorabilia, and also through John, we get a number of great items.”  Their ability to auction off unique items aids in attracting large crowds and big dollars. Stanley Cup tickets, seats at the Superbowl Game, the list goes on. In fact, through Tom William’s connections to former LA Kings teammate Marcel Dionne, the group auctioned off a framed piece that showcased authentic photographs of every Masters champion, including Tiger Woods, for $5100. The money raised at the All-Star Hockey Game fundraiser, co-chaired  by Williams, supported the local branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CHMA).

Ed Agnew attributes the group’s fundraising success to the fact the Circle hosts a classy event with new ideas added each year.  An example is the prize (in the Ferguson Classic) of dinner for eight at the winning bidder’s home prepared and served by Chef John Kukucka at the Essex Golf and Country Club.  From Keith’s recollection, the winning bidder paid $2000.

Along with helping organizations such as Windsor Regional Hospital, Children’s Aid and the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Circle has also helped individuals in need through bingos and raffles.  Their recipients include a harpist who won a small scholarship to the University of Western Ontario in London, but could not have gone without a substantial financial support; a young girl who made the boys travel team in hockey, but whose family couldn’t afford to send her, and a sledge hockey player who eventually played on Team Canada and won gold at the 2006 Paralympics.

Says Ed Agnew, “We’re trying to help out people who can’t get help anywhere else.” Individual cases are brought forward to the group from a Circle member who has heard of an individual’s situation and a decision is made. “We’re a little group of people where you can come and ask, “Could you help,” says Knudsen.

Some of the Circle have a history of being involved in the organization of golf tournaments which contributes to the Circle’s success.  Known as a talented auctioneer and organizer of golf tournaments, Keith White was asked to lend his knowledge as co-chair of one of the larger, long-standing charity golf tournaments in this city.

Don Wiley has long been involved as well, and even started some of today’s largest golf tournaments in the city.  He chaired the AKO Tournament for 18 years and tournament for the Children’s Aid Society for seven years.  And in honour of Paul Rhoads, a close friend and fellow police officer, Don started the Windsor Police Charity tournament and raised thousands for various charities.

The Church Rob Agnew attends, St. Mark’s by the Lake in St. Clair Beach, was in need of funds to rebuild and expand, so Agnew suggested the Circle of Seven become involved.  The Church congregation had hoped to raise a few thousand dollars, but instead raised over $100,000 since inception.

The group agrees that a big part of the enjoyment of fundraising is the joy their events and support bring not only to the receivers of the funds raised, but also the participation of those events.

“It’s a chance to not only get together and have some fun, but also to use some of our energies towards helping people in need.  We love the end result,” says Agnew.

President Keith White adds, “none of us are captains of industry or geniuses, we’re just a bunch of good guys who care about people.