Current and culture: Arnold Rumbold’s multi-faceted approach to giving back

Published on June 12, 2024

2024 Honorary Electrical Installations Technology Diploma

Arnold Rumbold adores electricity. He’ll enthusiastically discuss the finer points of history and theory of generation with any willing audience, clearly energized. That affection dates back decades to when the now-retired electrician and estimator studied the trade in Calgary.

“When I saw how trigonometry related to electricity, I loved it,” says Rumbold. “I used to do a problem just to see how the results came out.”

But Rumbold uses the same reverential tones for his other love: music.

In the 1940s, during the London blitz, his father worked all winter supplying firewood to a Peace River merchant to pay for a shortwave radio. The BBC World Service’s “This is London calling” became a familiar phrase in the family’s northern Alberta home, a rustic log cabin.

But, along with news, that radio brought culture. Rumbold’s mother tuned in to the Metropolitan Opera on Saturday afternoons.

“Music was always around us,” he says. “I was immersed in it.”

What the two seemingly disparate disciplines have in common, however, is that both enriched the lives of Rumbold, a 2024 NAIT honorary diploma recipient, and his wife Grace. They’re also high among the reasons that the couple has made it their mission to enrich the lives of others today.

A lifelong fascination

Rumbold’s belief that a strong community comes from uplifting all of its varied facets through philanthropy has roots deep in the boreal forest, site of the humble homestead where he grew up.

Rumbold’s father came to Canada before World War I, working as a farm labourer in Ontario before deciding to try his luck farming on his own land in Alberta, where he landed in the Peace River area. “He got off the train and saw nothing but trees,” says his son. “He said if he’d had the money he’d have gone right back to Ontario.”

Instead, dad built the cabin in which Rumbold was born. While he was able to provide for the family (in part by working for other farmers), he was never able to make enough from the poor, woody soil to inspire his son to follow in his agricultural footsteps.

Instead, young Rumbold’s interest was in electricity. An electric motor kit from the local general store sparked his passion for the subject (and, incidentally, drained all the flashlight batteries in the house). Rumbold learned he could use it as a generator that ran off a bicycle tire to power a headlight for night riding. Eager to keep innovating, he later connected it to a three-foot propeller to drive it, and mounted it on a pole as a yard light.

That fascination with electricity, along with Alberta’s burgeoning oil industry, would see Rumbold through Grade 12 and into an electrical apprenticeship, leading to designation as a first-class journeyman electrician and, later, master electrician.

The hands-on aspect of the trade occupied him for a decade. In 1964, Rumbold was employed at the construction site of what would become NAIT’s original business tower. There, he was asked to come to the company office to help in the estimating department. It proved a new calling. Rumbold never went back on the tools for the rest of his working career.

Then in his mid 50s, Rumbold realized he knew the technical, practical and business aspects required for electrical estimating, and he’d built a good reputation in the industry. With that, he decided to follow his entrepreneurial instincts and work for himself, forming his own company.

“People worry about security of employment. I found security was within my own self.”

Rumbold provided cost estimates for major commercial and industrial construction projects, and adjudicated costs demanded for change orders that altered the original agreement underlying a job. He prided himself on saving money for company owners that included firms across Western Canada.

Rumbold spent the rest of his career as a successful estimator, having only one regret: “Sure wish I'd done it 10 years sooner,” he says with a laugh.

Efforts that made the difference

Given the opportunities he’s enjoyed, Rumbold (who previously earned NAIT’s Distinguished Friend of the Institute award) has worked to ensure opportunities for others too.

The beneficiaries are many and varied. Summer camp programming, facilities and operations at Camp HeHoHa, an organization dedicated to supporting those with disabilities, are made possible in part by donations from Arnold and Grace. Rising stars in the Edmonton Opera are supported by the Rumbold Vocal Prize. The Richard Eaton Singers have also seen the generosity of Rumbold, who has sung with the group.

(He also still gives his time to the electrical field by volunteering with the Edmonton Radial Railway Society, which runs the vintage streetcars that cross the High Level Bridge and traverse Fort Edmonton.)

The list goes on – and it includes NAIT.

Rumbold began donating to the polytechnic in the mid-2000s, soon establishing bursaries and scholarships. Grace would make a gift in 2021 to establish awards in her name as well.

The awards are in part granted according to student need but also seek to improve equity. The Arnold Rumbold Apprenticeship Award, for example, is given to a first-period Electrician apprentice student, with preference given to female applicants.

“Why shouldn’t women have the opportunity to be in the trades?” asks Rumbold.

The efforts have made a difference. “The scholarship I received was such a great help … especially as a single mom with two small girls,” wrote one recipient. “I remembered being told throughout life that women and men have equal opportunities, but your gift was the first time I felt like someone was actually rooting for me and wanted me to succeed,” reported another.

“I would like you to know how grateful I am for the help and kindness you provided me with,” wrote one woman who’d recently achieved her journeyperson status. “I try to ensure I pay it forward every single day with small acts of kindness. We all need each other to make it in this world and I'm glad you were there when I needed it.”

Mindful of his origins, Rumbold feels a sense of responsibility to be there when needed. He’s grateful that he decided to take his education beyond the local one-room school and finish Grade 12. And he’s grateful for the opportunities that ultimately gave him.

“Growing up in the middle of the forest, in a developing agricultural district, the horizons were as far as the next field,” he says. “They were just so limited.”

The marvel of electricity, filling a log cabin with the sound of music, or illuminating the path ahead of his bicycle, assured him that a great deal waited beyond.

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