George Markow, 99, has recently attracted national media attention for his COVID-19 fundraiser. He has walked 100 km around his retirement home gardens seeking to raise $100,000. His daughter, Sylvia Perkins, is a resident of Haliburton and has been coordinating the fundraiser. /Photo courtesy of Sylvia Perkins

Daughter champions 99 y.o. father’s fundraiser for COVID-19 research

Four generations of family, clockwise from top: Adrienne Gifford (Sylvia Perkins’s daughter), Sylvia Perkins (George Markow’s daughter), Oliver Gifford (Perkins’s grandson), Nora Gifford (Perkins’s granddaughter) and George Markow. /Photo courtesy of Sylvia Perkins

By Jenn Watt

When George Markow turned 99, he and his daughter Sylvia Perkins thought about what he could do to mark the milestone. Perkins had seen the extraordinary impact that Captain Tom Moore had in England, walking loops in his garden and raising money for that country’s health-care system.

“And I said, ‘well, my dad can do more than that,’” Perkins recalled during an interview with the Echo last week. “So I contacted my dad … and sure enough he says, ‘yeah, I could do that. So we chose 100 kilometres because of his 100th birthday [next year] and $100,000, so that’s how 100s played into everything.”

Perkins lives at Silver Beach in Haliburton and drives back and forth to visit her father in Newmarket at Roxborough Retirement Residence, which he affectionately refers to as the “Taj Mahal.”

To walk 100 km, her father would complete loops in the gardens at Roxborough, using a spreadsheet provided to him to keep track of his progress. Perkins set up a GoFundMe page to coordinate donations.

Markow decided that whatever money was raised would go to COVID-19 research, with 75 per cent to Sunnybrook Research Institute and 25 per cent to the Southlake Regional Hospital Foundation COVID-19 Action Fund.

“I think my dad is very concerned about this invisible enemy that we can’t see and that we’re trying to fight,” said Perkins, explaining why he chose COVID-19 research. “And because it’s affected the entire world, not just our little world that we live in. … And having three great-grandchildren now, he’s trying to create a better future for them. He said, none of us have ever experienced anything like this.”

Markow’s efforts started in April and last week, he successfully met his initial goal, breaking through the ceremonial ribbon in front of friends, family, Roxborough staff and media.

“There was nothing to it,” Markow told the Echo. “Honestly.”

At first, Markow said he was so focused on getting 100 km under his belt that he ended up too far ahead of schedule. Perkins reminded him that it was a fundraiser, and that time was needed to bring in donations before he reached his goal.

“He felt he had to get to 100 as quickly as possible,” Perkins said.

Even with his more moderate walking schedule, and a pause when Markow was recovering from a short illness, he still met his goal rather quickly – crossing the finish line on Wednesday, Sept. 2. News of his accomplishment made Canada’s major media outlets, including Global TV and the Toronto Star, something Markow said he wished his late wife and mother could have seen.

In his 99 years, Markow has had an eventful, and sometimes incredibly hard, life. Much of it has been chronicled in a memoir, My Not-So-Ordinary Life, produced by and distributed among family members.

“His life was very difficult the first 30 years, living in a very, very poor country [Russia] and then being conscripted into the Russian Army and then having survived prison camps during the war … and then he worked very hard when he came to Canada and built his life,” his daughter said.

Markow and his wife came to Canada in 1948, settling in Burlington to start their family.

“He ended up doing any jobs that they could find when they first came as landed immigrants: picking tobacco, painting the smokestacks at Dofasco, … washing dishes at a restaurant, painting lines on the highways,” she said. He was hired by the Ford Motor Company of Canada and worked for more than 30 years there on the assembly line, before retiring at age 65.

This fundraiser is the first time Markow or Perkins has ever done something of this size.

“This was the first for both of us to ever take on something of this magnitude and we never dreamed that it would come to something this large,” Perkins said.

Donations through GoFundMe were at more than $57,000 as of press time, and Markow was approached by the Galt Family Foundation, which has committed to match all donations up to $100,000, meaning the fundraiser has already hit its $100,000 goal, but could reach as high as $200,000.

So Markow intends to continue walking the paths outside Roxborough as long as the weather is warm, probably through September and October this fall, and beginning again in the spring until he is 100.

And what will he do for his 100th?

“He wants to go skydiving,” Perkins said. “Yeah, we’ll try to talk him out of that one … You never know. Watch for him for his 100th, you might see this old guy flying through the air.”

You can donate to Markow’s fundraiser by going to yr-old-walking-100-km-for- medical-research.