Jim Mark and Geraldine Frache came to the growing Town of Ponoka on different career paths, but after meeting while training at the Provincial Mental Hospital they married in 1948 and embarked with keen enthusiasm on the long and exciting adventure of raising a family as well as building a successful business partnership.
Gerry arrived in Ponoka from Lethbridge in 1942 to begin the four year Psychiatric Nursing and Registered Nurse program at the Provincial Mental Hospital and was a member of the 1946 graduation class. Jim, who was born in 1925 to Scottish immigrants later immigrated with his family to Alberta, where they homesteaded east of Edmonton and then later settled in Bonneville. His rather daring youthful experiences included being a bicycle mechanic at the age of 10, a bootlegger at the age of 13 and an oil truck driver at the age of 15 who could hardly reach the foot pedals. In 1946 he ventured to Ponoka, met Gerry, got married and then began a little quieter lifestyle and schedule of hockey, building a house on Riverside Drive along with the hectic schedule of work and study for the P.M.H. Psychiatric Nursing course, from which he graduated in 1949.
A great pair of entrepreneurs and parents
After Jim and Gerry welcomed their first child Devon in 1949, Jim continued to work on the Nursing Staff of the Provincial Mental Hospital, but with the second child Camelia on the way in 1951 he headed into the busy Alberta oil-patch to seek greater financial rewards for his growing family, while still hoping to remain somewhat ‘independent.’ He later considered starting his own company in the oilfields, but with their third child Maureen arriving on the scene in 1952 the keen entrepreneurial business and community spirit of this happy couple really kicked in. Our family was so fortunate to be neighbours of the Mark family on Riverside Drive soon after we arrived from England. Jim really pitched in with others to help my dad build the foundation under our first $3,400 home in Ponoka and he and Gerry and the girls were always kind and very friendly.
The first step of their ‘stay at home’ business venture began when they purchased the Service Station and Coffee Bar on Highway 2A from Sue and Sid Cross just south of Ponoka in 1953, which fondly became known as ‘Jimmy’s Esso.’ In 1955 they added the ‘snack shop,’ with both businesses offering 24-hour year-round service and quickly became extremely popular with the locals as well as the steady day and night flow of highway travellers. Their next exciting family adventure came after Jim and Gerry sat down and drew up the plans for a fully modern, comfortable, and tastefully decorated motel. The final construction was completed by Jim and his rapidly growing staff as well as with help from all local contractors, and finally in 1957 the Oasis Motel and a new cafe located south of the garage were officially opened with a gala community style celebration. They never hesitated, and as business continued to boom the Marks purchased the nearby Trel’s Motel to add to their thriving service and hospitality business. It was during this hectic period of business expansion that Jim still found some precious time to organize ‘Jimmy’s Training School,’ at which over a period of 35 years hundreds of our local teenagers were enrolled as students in sessions on how to become expert employees, as well as being encouraged to work hard and to believe in themselves, no matter what the challenges might be.
During those very hectic but very successful 1950s, Jim Mark continued to dream and imagine and create at a steady and dedicated pace of building the business and solving the problems. Along the way he would always consult his beloved business partner Gerry, who carefully handled the finances and anchored this unique partnership with practical management, creative suggestions and ongoing support and encouragement from the whole family. Also in 1957 they welcomed their fourth daughter Lauri, as well as built a palatial new home in Lucas Heights, which of course was designed by Gerry. Going into the era between 1975 to 1988 and with the businesses enjoying amazing successes Jim Mark would consult his faithful business partner once again, and they whole-heartedly agreed to design and build their final project, which was the Oasis Family Dining, which many of us loved to visit on so many family and social occasions.
42 years after it all began Jim and Gerry Mark sold their businesses and happily entered into the next exciting chapter of their 60 happy and hectic years of married life together. Jim could now become a full time family man and a master craftsman at woodwork and tinkering, while he and his wife could look forward to extensive travelling as well as being proud and pampering grandparents to a growing list of grand and great grand children. Jim Mark’s long and outstanding list of volunteer and community services were shared with the Boy Scouts, Kinsmen, Central Alberta Tourism Association, Masons, Ponoka Minor Hockey and others. He also enjoyed the opportunity of teaching business courses at NAIT as well as serving on our Ponoka Town Council. When she had some spare time Gerry Mark enjoyed gardening and curling, as well as joining in on the year round activities of her busy and growing family.
Jim Mark, who was always known for his ongoing spunk, winning smile and love of his community passed away on April 26, 2007 at the age of 82 years. Gerry Mark, who was loved and respected by everyone that she knew for her gentle spirit and kindness passed away on February 3, 2016 at the age of 92 years. The proud and friendly business heritage that they created together over several decades along Highway 2A just outside of Ponoka would carry on that same grand and proud tradition of service and hospitality until the last of the motel buildings were dismantled just a few months ago. We will always share the memories and never forget the ambitious contributions that the Mark family made during that vibrant and early mid-century growth and history of our Town of Ponoka.