Our History

100 years of service and impact

Grand Rapids Community Foundation was founded in 1922. We're proud to be Michigan's oldest community foundation!

While we tend to be a forward-looking organization, our past is quite impressive too. Our community’s needs have evolved through our history. The Community Foundation has a proven track record of responding to those needs and working with nonprofit and community partners to address key issues.

Our Centennial Year

Reflecting, acknowledging and inviting

Learn how we are celebrating a century of service and impact—and how you can get involved!

Explore Our Centennial

100 Years of Service and Impact

Grand Rapids Community Foundation was founded in 1922. We're proud to be Michigan's oldest community foundation!

While we tend to be a forward-looking organization, our past is quite impressive too. Our community’s needs have evolved through our history. The Community Foundation has a proven track record of responding to those needs and working with nonprofit and community partners to address key issues.

1922

The Foundation is Established

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Lee Hutchins

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

1929

The Foundation attracts its first major donation, an estate gift from George and Mary Metz. The gift of more than $100,000 adds significant strength to the endowment.

Learn about the Metz Legacy Society
1930

First Grants Awarded

In 1930 the Community Foundation makes its first grants, including to Grand Rapids Welfare Union (a predecessor to United Way) and Salvation Army. It also expands its operations beyond Grand Rapids to encompass all of Kent County. Assets soar to approximately $200,000 and the first development officer is appointed.

Read about our first grants awarded in PARTNERS in community magazine
1930 - 1939

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Blodgett Clinic for Infant Feeding

The Community Foundation embarks on a community study designed to ensure a more objective allocation of funds and distributes $55,600 in grants during the decade, primarily to social service agencies including D.A. Blodgett Homes for Children and Blodgett Clinic for Infant Feeding.

1945

First Scholarships Awarded

Wartime conditions heighten the shortage of local nurses, compelling the Community Foundation to initiate a post graduate scholarship program for nurses and faculty from area hospitals. The Community Foundation awards scholarships of up to $1,000 per person per year.

Scholarships today
1950-1959

Grants reflect an interest in employing professional personnel and techniques in the search for solutions to community problems. Grants are made for Butterworth Hospital Outpatient Clinic, Indian Trails Camp start-up operations and the Kent County Tuberculosis Society X-ray bus.

1958

A significant bequest from Curtis Wylie transforms the Foundation. The $6.2 million gift allows greater diversification in supported projects.

1960

Largest Grant to Date

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A groundbreaking event at the new Grand Valley State College.

With an emphasis on grants issued toward education, the Foundation issues its largest grant to date: $50,000 to establish Grand Valley State College. Capital projects are also funded for Calvin College’s Knollcrest Campus and the Grand Rapids Public Library’s downtown location.

1960s

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

1966

The Community Foundation awards grants to create a police-community relations program. As civil unrest issues continue to rise, the Community 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 awards grants to nonprofit organizations to improve inner-city housing.

1967

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La Grande Vitesse at its opening, courtesy Grand Rapids Public Library.

The Community Foundation awards a grant to help fund La Grande Vitesse, the first civic sculpture in American history to be jointly financed by federal, private and philanthropic funds.

1970s

With a $1.5 million estate gift earmarked "for the elderly" from Lucy Barnett, the Community Foundation funds a study of senior citizen needs which evolves into providing access to housing, transportation and health services.

1970s

Joseph Kinnebrew's Fish Ladder sculpture in the Grand River Open modal

Joseph Kinnebrew's Fish Ladder sculpture in the Grand River

Continuing its commitment to public art projects, the Community Foundation helps fund artist Joseph Kinnebrew's Fish Ladder sculpture in the Grand River.

By 1979, the Foundation's assets are $14 million.
1980-1989

The AIDS Resource Center receives start-up funds as the AIDS crisis begins to affect West Michigan.

1983

Friends of Grand Rapids Foundation

Motivated to build awareness of the Foundation and increase assets, partners form the Friends of Grand Rapids Foundation giving group. Friends endorse the organization and declare their intent to support with financial gifts. Over two decades, Friends make over $47 million in collective gifts to the Foundation.

1987

New Leadership for the Community Foundation

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Diana R. Sieger

Executive director Patricia Edison retires and Diana R. Sieger is hired as president in 1987.

1990, the first Donor Advised fund is established by Tom and Mickie Fox.
1990-1999

The Foundation forges new partnerships with other area organizations and becomes a key player in the development of low-income housing to strengthen city neighborhoods.

1990s

Capital grants

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Capital grants help build the Van Andel Arena, Grand Valley State University's Water Resources Institute, the Frederik Meijer Botanic Gardens and the Public Museum of Grand Rapids' Van Andel Museum Center.

1992

Perspective 21

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The Foundation convenes 200 community leaders to define community priorities for the 21st century. The needs of children at risk was the greatest concern and the Foundation plays a leadership role in issue of prevention of child abuse and neglect. The Perspective 21 Task Force forms to hear from more people and organizations. Its process marks a significant step in opening Kent County's child welfare system to community involvement.

The Foundation celebrates its 75th year with $80 million in assets.
1994

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Professional advisor partners at an event.

The Professional Advisory Committee, whose members serve as consultants to help direct the Community Foundation's strategies, is formally established. Lawyers, attorneys and tax professionals play an important role in their clients' charitable giving.

Meet our professional advisor partners
2000

The Foundation formally changes its name to Grand Rapids Community Foundation to better reflect its unique role and formation.

2005

Changing Governance Model

The Board of Trustees vote in 2005 to change the governance model from one of appointed members from various community entities to a board appointed model, an accepted practice in the community foundation field that removes potential conflicts of interest.

2006

African American Heritage Fund is established

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The African American Heritage Fund (now Black Legacy Fund) is established in response to a community desire for partnership with African American communities. This endowed Field of Interest fund makes its first grant in 2008 to Youth Engaged in Government, a summer program of New Hope Baptist Church.

Learn more about Black Legacy Fund
2007

The Community Foundation purchases a permanent home

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After a year of planning and renovating and the successful implementation of a capital campaign, the Community Foundation moves in and dedicates its permanent home at 185 Oakes Street SW on November 21, 2008.

2013

The first class of Challenge Scholars is enrolled

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To increase the number of low-income, first-generation college-goers who successfully earn a degree or vocational certificate, the Community Foundation launches Challenge Scholars, a program to academically support and provide college tuition for Grand Rapids Public Schools students on the city's West side.

2013

Our LGBT Fund is created

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Our LGBTQ fund members.

Our LGBT Fund (now Our LGBTQ Fund) is created with a matching gift from donors Carol Sarosik and Shelley Padnos. The Field of Interest fund is initially focused on helping LGBT youth and families.

Learn more about Our LGBTQ Fund
2019

Catalyzing Community Giving

The Community Foundation is among the international grant partners selected for W. K. Kellogg Foundation’s Catalyzing Community Giving cohort, which seeks to amplify locally-driven philanthropy by and for communities of color. Read the news release.

2020

Collaboration During COVID-19

A Shot of Love community members outside Baxter Community Center. Open modal

A Shot of Love community members outside Baxter Community Center.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted existing disparities, making them impossible to ignore. The Community Foundation collaborates with area foundations, nonprofits and business leaders to assess the immediate, near and long-term impacts of the crisis, and establishes the Kent County COVID-19 Recovery Fund. Community-led responses like Shot of Love bring together nonprofit, grassroots and faith-based organizations. Learn more about our response.

2020

La Lucha Fund

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A Movimento Cosecha GR volunteer working for La Lucha fund.

The Community Foundation is fiscal sponsor of La Lucha Fund, an emergency response to provide financial resources directly to families who are undocumented or have mixed immigration status, making them ineligible for government support. Read the article.

The Community Foundation celebrates 100 years of service and impact.
2022

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100 New Philanthropists at the Centennial Partner Party

Our 100 New Philanthropists goal is surpassed! The Community Foundation recognizes more than 100 community-minded people who have a clear vision for the Kent County of tomorrow and commit to leveraging their philanthropy to bring it to light.

Learn about 100 New Philanthropists