For a guy who couldn’t grow a beard, his sure has become a monkey maker

This article was published in February 2021 and may be outdated.

…and a money maker. That was not a typo!

Along with his beard, this happy tale has grown to impressive proportions – from an overdue haircut and unshaved face, into a fun fundraiser for the Canadian Cancer Society.

Tom Tonner happily shows off a very shaggy beard.

Tom Tonner and his $10,000+ beard.

Enlarge image: Tom Tonner happily shows off a very shaggy beard.

“I went up to Keeyask for work in November,” said Tom Tonner, a manager at Manitoba Hydro who won his own battle with cancer in 2002. “I hadn’t had a haircut in six weeks, and I hadn’t shaved in a few days. It was scratchy and ugly looking, and a colleague asked me when I was going to ‘shave that thing?’ I said I’ll get rid of it when Keeyask’s first unit is commissioned as we were having some hurdles with it.

When Tom walked in the door of his home three weeks later sporting his new beard, laughter erupted from his wife and three children, aged 19, 21 and 22.

“My kids had never seen me with a beard,” said Tom. “I had tried growing one once when I was 22 but without much success.”

So little success in fact that when colleague Ryan Ward suggested they grow the equivalent of playoff beards until Keeyask’s unit one was commissioned, Tom explained that he couldn’t actually grow a beard.

Clearly a problem he outgrew. Pun intended.

“My kids thought I should keep it and have people bid on what to shave it into,” said Tom. “And a coworker suggested we film it when I shave it off,” said Tom.

And that’s how the hair-raising plan got hatched.

Tom Tonner with a beard full of straws and toothpicks.

Not just a crumb catcher. “My kids began sticking items in my beard one night to see what it would hold,” said Tom.

Enlarge image: Tom Tonner with a beard full of straws and toothpicks.

Every year since April 2002, when he was diagnosed cancer-free from Stage II Hodgkins Lymphoma, Tom has gone door-to-door in his neighbourhood raising money for the Canadian Cancer Society.

Due to the pandemic, it’s not currently possible to canvas door-to-door, so Tom decided to do his own fundraiser to see if he could replace the donations he normally brings in.

Monkey tail and chin strap are out in front

“I sent out some emails and texts to my division, as well as friends and family, that said, ‘help me look foolish’. I gave options for people to vote on as to how to shave my beard,” said Tom. “The monkey tail beard style is definitely in the lead.”

And Tom has promised to keep the winning look for a full month.

“Many people have sent apologies to my wife for their votes,” laughed Tom.

Growing faster than the beard itself, are the funds his beard is pulling in is

“I usually raise $600-$1000 by going door-to-door, so I originally set a goal of $1000,” said Tom.

But Tom had to bump up his goal several times as it kept getting thoroughly smashed.

When the story was published in our employee news, more donations poured in, and at the time this was published, Tom and his beard had raised over $10,000.

“I’ve been surprised by people’s generosity,” said Tom. “Though I guess I shouldn’t be – that’s what we do here.”

The reason behind all the fuzz

“A friend called when I sent out the email,” said Tom. “I hadn’t talked to him in a while and he told me he was recently diagnosed with Cancer. And that’s the reason behind all this – we all know people affected by cancer. It’s nice to think this is something that will help people in their time of need.”

Growing in worth every day

“I’m very thankful to everyone who has helped make this happen. It has surpassed anything I imagined when I started this,” said Tom. “My neighbour even offered to be my campaign manager and has put out the word on social media. This beard is worth a lot of money now. If the monkey tail option does win, I may even stripe it.”

Put your money where his beard is

Got a suggestion on how to make Tom look better? See Tommy takes a cut at cancer.

And they say money doesn’t grow on beards.