It was a tip from a stranger that changed the course of Otto Pick’s life – and those of his descendants – forever.
Driving down a dusty road in his native Czech Republic, Otto gave a ride to a young man who was in rough shape. The year was 1939 and the man was Jewish, from Germany. On their short drive, he told Otto about the atrocities the Nazis were committing in his homeland. Also Jewish, Otto was naturally alarmed.
“He decided not to stick around to see to see what was going to happen next,” said Otto’s grandson Charles Pick.
Otto and his wife Marie packed a few belongings and moved to Canada with their young son. “Six months later, Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia,” said Charles.
The couple bought a patch of land in Hamilton, Ont. and later moved to Toronto, where they started a seed company. The business grew and, eventually, their two sons Tom and Martin came on board to help run it while Marie did the bookkeeping.
When Otto died from a sudden heart attack in the early 1960s, the business was on its way to becoming a top producer of forages and turf grass. Marie continued to work alongside her sons before retiring. She passed away in the mid 1980s.
In 2013, Tom and Martin sold their business to a Danish seed company. To honour their parents’ legacy, the brothers each set up a charitable foundation in their name. Martin and his wife Denise, their sons Charles and George, and their respective partners, run the Remembering Otto and Marie Pick Foundation.
“My grandparents’ bold move to come to this country with nothing and build a life for themselves and their children was a huge sacrifice. We wanted to honour that bravery and help people who may be in similar difficult circumstances,” said Charles.
The foundation partners with reputable charities that focus on family violence, health care, shelter, and food. Since 2020, the Remembering Otto and Marie Pick Foundation has donated to Eva’s to help youth get the shelter and services they need.
“Eva’s stood out to us because it offers a place where young people can go to be protected and get the kind of support that might not be available to them in adult-focused shelters,” said Charles.
“We knew a little bit about Eva’s before we made our first donation, but last year we watched an online presentation for donors that outlined all the services that Eva’s provides. We like to get to know the organizations we support on a more personal level and Eva’s is able to share information and examples about how the organization works and what we can do to help.”
He notes that the path that many of our youth walk today is not dissimilar to the realities that Otto and Marie Pick faced at one time in their lives.
“We’re fortunate to not live in a place where there is war, but that sense of your entire world being completely pulled out from under you may be what it’s like for youth who don’t have a stable home life,” said Charles.
The Remembering Otto and Marie Pick Foundation plans to continue donating to Eva’s as a way of honouring their namesakes.
“It’s not just the cost of giving someone a meal or keeping a roof over their head. Helping youth feel safe and comfortable and able to contribute is a huge return – for them and everyone in society,” said Charles.