The venerable, gentlemanly Joe Drago received an honorary doctor of science degree at Clarkson University’s 122nd commencement on Saturday.
A Sudbury native, Drago is the chairman of Hockey Canada, the former commissioner of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League and an erstwhile owner and general manager of the Ontario Hockey League’s Sudbury Wolves.
Clarkson awarded the honorary degree to Drago for what it termed “his dedication to academics and student achievement; for his commitment to sports and teamwork as a path to betterment; for his steadfast support of the arts and cultural outreach to build community; for his devotion to improving health care; for his leadership and for inspiring collaboration among future leaders; and for his service to the people of his community, his province and his nation.”
Drago was on hand to receive the honorary degree and to address the students.
“I love Clarkson,” said Drago in addressing the graduates. “I love the hockey program here. And I love everything about what this school has done for me. It has given me an opportunity to have an education and to have a lot of respect in my community and to be someone that I would never have been if I didn’t get an opportunity to come here as a student. I feel very loyal and devoted to this institution and will do everything in my power to bring more students here and to flog our reputation right across Canada. A good number of athletes have come here from my city and have been staunch performers both in the classroom and on the ice. And we’re all so proud to say we came from Clarkson.”
In closing, Drago quoted Mark Twain, saying, “And to the graduates, I say this to you: Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did. Throw away the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails, explore, dream, and discover. Go, Knights, go!”
The recognition brought Drago back to his alma mater, where he etched his reputation as a champion into the ice each time the Golden Knights took to the rink. A gifted athlete who attended Clarkson on an National Collegiate Athletic Association hockey scholarship, Drago was the first player recruited by legendary coach Len Ceglarski.
He skated as both a wing and a defenseman in the early 1960s, when the Golden Knights compiled a 56-15-3 record and participated in two NCAA tournaments, finishing as national runner-ups in 1962 and gaining a third-place trophy in 1963, his senior year.
Drago’s passion for hockey has never waned.
Even as he was building his career in education and was highly active in the Sudbury community, he coached at midget, high school, junior major, junior intermediate and senior levels. For 17 years, he was involved with the OHL Wolves, serving as director of operations, coach, general manager, president and part owner and governor.
Reflecting that service, he received the Arnold H. Barben Award from Clarkson University in 2004. The award, which recognizes the important role that hockey has played in the history of the University, is presented annually to a Varsity C hockey alumnus who has demonstrated outstanding professional achievement, who has contributed to the betterment of his community, and who has worked unselfishly for his alma mater.
Last December, in an honor commensurate to his lifelong love for hockey, Drago was elected chairman of the board of Hockey Canada.
In addition to his many hockey-related accomplishments, Drago is a tireless community leader.
Over the years, he has served with a long list of charitable organizations, including the Sudbury District Health Council, the Salvation Army, the Sudbury Food Bank, the House of Kin (a charitable organization that provides low-cost accommodation for families of out-of-town hospital patients), the Alzheimer Society of Canada, the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, and the Heart and Soul Capital Campaign for Health Care. Drago also served nine years on the Laurentian University board of governors and is a life member of the Salvation Army.
In 2003, he was presented with the Commemorative Medal for the Golden Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, which recognizes Canadians who have made significant contributions to their fellow citizens, their community and to Canada.
Drago has been honored locally and provincially as well for his community involvement. He served as the founding chairman of the Sudbury Regional Hospital Foundation since its inception in 1998, and was its first and only life member. In 2003, he received the Centennial Award by the Ontario Medical Association, their highest honor given to a non-physician. He was also named a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary International.
Drago also shone in his profession. He worked for 33 years in education, 27 of them as a secondary school principal, and retired in 1996. During that time, he enriched the lives of countless students, their families, and community residents.
With an eye on the beginners, he introduced the first nursery school in a secondary school setting in the Sudbury school system, and founded a performing arts program at Sudbury Secondary School. Drago established outreach programs to the First Nations population in the region. He pushed for community initiatives for safe schools and safe streets. He also set up guidelines for teacher education.
Among his many professional awards, he earned the Award of Excellence from the Sudbury Board of Education and the Award of Excellence from the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation.
In 2008, he received Clarkson University’s most-prestigious recognition: the Golden Knight Award. This honor is for alumni who have distinguished themselves either by service to Clarkson through Alumni Association activities or who have demonstrated outstanding career achievement.
After receiving his bachelor of science degree in business administration from Clarkson in 1963, Drago pursued his master of science degree in education from Niagara University in 1972. In addition, he earned guidance and business specialist certificates and the Ontario Secondary School Principal’s Certificate.
Drago’s wife of 52 years, Sylvia, passed away in December. The couple was married right after his graduation from Clarkson. Drago still lives in Sudbury and has two daughters, Lisa and Deana, and four granddaughters.
PHOTO: Joe Drago, at Saturday’s commencement at Clarkson University.