Portage pair salvage late mayor’s war accolades
Mayor Irvine Ferris( left), along with James Kostuchuk (middle), and Rusty Rutherford (right), stand in front of former Portage la Prairie Mayor Ian MacKenzie's World War II medals. (Brian Oliver/The Graphic)
A happenstantial find at a local auction is now mounted in Portage la Prairie’s City Hall.
Medals presented to former Portage la Prairie Mayor Ian MacKenzie during World War II were nearly lost had it not been for a local citizen looking to expand his antiques inventory.
“We went to the auction because we have an antiques and collectables business and we were just looking for treasures. I did not expect to find a set of medals there. Once I saw them I knew I had to have them,” explains Rusty Rutherford, on how he came into possession of the late mayor’s war accolades. “It’s unusual that the family doesn’t want medals, usually they want them, so I was quite excited to find them there.”
MacKenzie - originally from Fort William, Ont., present-day Thunder Bay, Ont. - made Portage la Prairie his home following service in WWII as an aircraftsman. MacKenzie joined friend and fellow soldier Bill Vopni, who had purchased Graphic Liberal Printing Company, owners of the Portage Daily Graphic and Portage Leader, and later purchased the MacGregor Herald and Neepawa Press. Originally working for Vopni as the paper’s advertising manager, MacKenzie purchased the operation in 1970 and remained president and publisher before selling the company in 1989.
“I passed the main medals onto James Kostuchuk and I had retained the smaller miniatures,” adds Rutherford. “Once I saw the picture in the paper of James presenting them to City Hall, I knew that these miniatures had to go with them because it’s a set.”
“Sometimes when an estate is cleared and the family lives some distance away, things wind up on the market, and that’s how we came into possession of the medals,” notes Kostuchuk, a local history buff.
Although originally from Ontario, MacKenzie called Portage la Prairie home for 70 years before his passing in 2014. With an unrelenting will to serve his community, MacKenzie was committed to Portage la Prairie up until his death. He spent nine years on the city’s council and eight years as mayor, he was the former president of the Portage Lions Club, and past president and life member of Yellowhead Interprovincial Highway Association. He was a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force Veterans Association and a member of the Portage Elks Lodge, the Assiniboine Lodge AFAM and the Royal Canadian Legion.
“We’re very fortunate these medals weren’t lost. We owe a debt of gratitude to both James and Rusty for donating these,” says Mayor Irvine Ferris. “This is an important part of our history in Portage. Over the years he served the community in many, many capacities. It’s really important to recognize his service to our community and our country.”
MacKenzie’s war medals are displayed on the second floor of Portage la Prairie’s City Hall, outside of council chambers.