GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Towering high above the corner of Oakes Street and Grandville Avenue SW in downtown Grand Rapids are marks of history.
Adorning the building that sits there is the unmistakable capital “A” with an eagle flying through it — the Anheuser-Busch logo. Built in 1905, a train would arrive at the site from St. Louis, Missouri, carrying beer that horses would then take to local beer gardens. It is a piece of the city’s past and the foundations are practically immaculate.
Now, the Grand Rapids Community Foundation calls the building home. It has strong foundations, too.
The foundation is celebrating 100 years of “service and impact,” using those strong foundations to continuing shaping and growing the community around it.
“When I think about the growth of this foundation, it’s the growth of how we are really giving back to our community that is so critical,” foundation President Diana Seiger said.
Seiger has been leading the organization for the last 34 years. She noted its success in a new millennia and at the centennial celebration is due in part to the strong leaders who helped build what the foundation was.
“We’ve done remarkable work over the course of the last 100 years and since the time I’ve been here and that change, that wouldn’t have happened had it not been for the leadership that was in existence when I came here,” Seiger said.
There is a newspaper clipping from the Grand Rapids Herald that hangs in the foundation’s library. The headline reads, “Foundation Destined to Make G. R. Croesus.”
The Grand Rapids Foundation, as it was called then, was formed by Lee Hutchins after a trip to Indianapolis, where he was introduced to a similar organization. It was the first of its kind in the state and only the 40th in the entire country back in 1922.
The objective then was to “make Grand Rapids a millionaire” that those “who have prospered and lived happily in the Furniture City, and who feel not only affection for the community but also a debt to it, may now enrich it after they die,” as the Herald said.
For the first decade, the foundation held just over $25. Then in 1929, the Mary Metz estate gave it the first major donation. Since then, the GRCF has grown to over $400 million in assets with around 800 funds. The generosity of donors and grants has helped shape what the city has become.
The foundation has had a hand in helping to grow and develop projects like Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, Van Andel Arena, the Grand Rapids Public Museum and even the fish ladder. Their first major gift was to kick-start Grand Valley State College in the 1960s. While brick-and-mortar has been a key piece to their past, what Seiger and the foundation hang their hat on is the ability to help people and shape attitudes.
“The physical aspects are probably a lot more tangible and easier to understand. But I would also say when we look at the needs of this community, in terms of physical health, mental health, really encouraging affordable housing — that’s a big issue,” Seiger said. “We’re at the forefront of that.”
It always has been. During the Great Depression, the foundation used its resources to help fund basic needs in the city. Through World War II, there was a need for nurses and it created scholarships to get community members educated and fill those gaps. In the 1980s, as the AIDS crisis reached West Michigan, it formed the state’s first AIDS Resource Center.
“In recent times, we have really been focusing on equity. We have been focusing on how do we assure that all people in our community can really have access to, to homes, to food security, to a whole number of things,” Seiger said. “And we really are focusing on how that equitable distribution of those resources.”
In 2007, the foundation bought the building at the corner of Oakes and Grandville. It restored it and kept key pieces of the rich history. Beams, boards, and original doors can be found throughout the building. The cork room that once held the stored kegs is now a space where nonprofits can gather and teach. Old horse stables can be identified by the slight color variation in the brick.
There is a theme in the building that is evident in what the Grand Rapids Community Foundation is today; strong in its past but growing differently toward the future.
“I’m hoping that we’re demonstrating that we can do that without … the divisiveness that seems to be tearing up the community and the country and be that listening ground, be that collaborative organization that can really bounce back,” Seiger said. “To the point of resiliency, but resiliency with a purpose.”
In a century, the organization has given away more than $265 million in grants and scholarships. After changing its name in 2000 to the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, its efforts have been focused more uniquely on all in the community, creating funds like the Black Legacy Fund, Our LGBT Fund and the Challenge Scholars program. That is where Seiger sees the wealth of the foundation: Keeping true to a century-year old vision, 265 times over.
“This community is very generous and we have been so fortunate to have wonderful, wonderful donors and others who care deeply,” Seiger said. “Not only in terms of financial resources, but in, I would say, in making sure that we that we are listening to what’s being said. We have wonderful thought partners and that’s the richness of this community.”