Our Grand Rapids Community Foundation

The Foundation History

With little more than a $25 donation and a dream, Grand Rapids entrepreneur Lee Hutchins took a bold step and pursued his vision of perpetuating the moral, physical, and mental welfare of the city and its people by creating the Grand Rapids Foundation in 1922.

In just seven years, the Foundation attracted its first major donation - an estate gift from George and Mary Metz. For the next 30 years, the Foundation continued to grow when, in 1958, Curtis M. Wylie, a local real estate and businessman, bequeathed a trust worth $6.2 million to the Foundation. His gift is one of the largest ever received by a public foundation in Michigan. The Wylie gift, which is now valued at $21 million is a shining example of the power of endowment and sustainability.

Since 1930, when the Foundation made its first grant, hundreds of thousands of people's lives have been enriched through grants and scholarships totaling over $100 million. The role of the Foundation has grown from simple grantmaker to a community leader seeking long-term solutions to diverse community challenges.

Timeline of Community Foundation Events



Lee Hutchins, president of a Grand Rapids pharmaceutical company, leads an effort to develop the Grand Rapids Community Foundation with a $25 gift from S. George Graves, president of the Grand Rapids Association of Commerce. The Foundation becomes Michigan’s first community foundation.


In 1929, the Foundation receives its first major gift of $100,000 from George and Mary Metz, owners of tanneries in Holland and Grand Rapids. The gift is critical to the community because by the time the income from the Metz trust becomes available to distribute, the country is reeling from the stock market crash. As the decade-long Great Depression takes its toll, the Foundation is able to support essential programs that provide relief to families.


As the Foundation's assets soar to approximately $200,000, it appoints its first development officer and embarks on a community study designed to ensure a more objective allocation of funds. The Foundation distributes $55,600 in grants - nearly all of which is distributed to social service agencies, including D.A. Blodgett Homes for Children and Blodgett Clinic for Infant Feeding.


Wartime conditions heighten the shortage of local nurses, compelling the Foundation in 1945 to initiate a post graduate scholarship program for nurses and faculty from area hospitals. Scholarships of up to $1,000 per person per year are given.


Grants reflect an interest in employing professional personnel and techniques in the search for solutions to community problems. In addition, the Foundation issues its first capital grant of $5,000 for the Public Museum's planetarium. Other grants are made for: Butterworth Hospital Outpatient Clinic, Indian Trails Camp start-up operations, and Kent County Tuberculosis Society X-ray bus. In 1958, Curtis M. Wylie, a local real estate and businessman, leaves a trust worth $6.2 million to the Foundation. His gift is one of the largest ever received by a public foundation in Michigan. It transforms the Grand Rapids Community Foundation into a major community funding agent. In 1959, the Foundation hires its first director, Harry B. Wagner, on a part-time basis.


The Foundation's resources expand tenfold with the Wylie bequest, generating an additional annual income of approximately $200,000. With an emphasis on grants issued toward humanities - specifically education - the Foundation issues its largest gift to date: $50,000 to start Grand Valley State College. Capital projects are also funded for Calvin College’s Knollcrest Campus and the Grand Rapids Public Library’s downtown location.

Additional grants for a dental clinic for children from low income families and a half-way house for rehabilitating prison parolees reflect the Trustees' increasing activism in dealing with social issues affecting the community.

In 1966, the Foundation awards a series of grants for the establishment of a police-community relations program. As social unrest issues continue to rise, the Foundation supports a variety of programs aimed at resolving issues, including a grant to Grand Valley State College to establish an Urban Studies Institute and grants to nonprofit organizations to improve inner-city housing.


With a $1.5 million gift earmarked "for the elderly from Lucy Barnett, the Foundation funds a study of senior citizen needs which evolves into providing access to housing, transportation and health services. Continuing its commitment to accessible arts projects, the Foundation helps fund artist Joseph Kinnebrew's Fish Ladder sculpture in the Grand River and a home for Grand Rapids’ new Civic Theatre. By 1979, the Foundation's asset base grows to $14 million.


The Foundation's grant-giving reflects a heightened interest in environmental concerns, cultural activities and social issues, such as grants to the Tourette Syndrome Association and The Hispanic Center of West Michigan. The Foundation also reaches out to 10 inner-city neighborhood associations. The AIDS Resource Center receives start-up funds, and the YMCA and YWCA are both awarded renovation funds. The Grand Rapids Community Foundation (and other community foundations) benefits from a new Michigan State tax credit for community foundations and many new donors are made aware of the benefits of community foundation giving (this tax credit was eliminated in 2011).


The Foundation forges new partnerships with other area organizations and becomes a key player in the development of low-income housing to strengthen community neighborhoods. Other grants include: Cherry Street Services for the West Side Clinic; Children's Assessment Center for child sexual abuse treatment; Faith, Inc. for job training for Heartside residents; Grand Action Foundation for Van Andel Arena; Grand Valley State University for the Water Resources Institute; Frederik Meijer Botanic Gardens for construction and the Public Museum of Grand Rapids for Van Andel Museum Center construction.

In 1992, the Foundation convenes 200 community leaders together in "Perspective 21!" to define community priorities for the 21st century. The needs of children at risk are the biggest concern. The Foundation plays a leadership role in convening many people and organizations around the issue of prevention of child abuse and neglect.

In 1997, the Foundation celebrates its 75th anniversary with more than $80 million in assets and approximately $3 million distributed in grants annually.


In 2000, the Foundation formally changes its name to Grand Rapids Community Foundation to better reflect its unique role and formation. A new "community leadership model" is adopted emphasizing the Foundation's roles of convening, leveraging funds, advocacy, and initiatives as well as grantmaking.

In 2005, the Foundation Board of Trustees votes to change its governance model from one of appointed members from various community entities to a wholly board appointed model. This new model is accepted practice in the community foundation field and helps to remove potential conflicts of interest.

After many years in the Water's Building, the Community Foundation purchased its first real home in 2007. After a year of planning and renovating and successful capital campaign, the Community Foundation moved in and dedicated its permanent home at 185 Oakes Street SW on November 21, 2008. Learn more about our home here


To increase the number of low-income, first-generation college-goers who successfully earn a degree or vocational certificate, Grand Rapids Community Foundation launches the "promise" initiative Challenge Scholars.

In 2013, Grand Rapids Community Foundation enrolls the first class of Challenge Scholars 6th graders at Harrison Park and Westwood Middle School, promising more than 150 students a last-dollar scholarship for college, along with necessary social and academic supports that ensure their success.