Our History

Celebrating (almost) 100 Years!

In the blink of an eye, 2022 will be here and Grand Rapids Community Foundation will celebrate its 100th anniversary. We're excited to think about that our next century might be like!

While we tend to be a forward-looking, future-focused organization, our past is quite impressive too. We've been on the ground with most of the big projects that have made our community notable.

Our Timeline of Notable Grants + Activities

Proud to be Michigan's First Community Foundation


With little more than a $25 donation and a dream, Grand Rapids entrepreneur Lee Hutchins (below) 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.


The Foundation attracted its first major donation seven years later, 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.

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 $200 million. The role of the Foundation has grown from simple grantmaker to a community leader seeking long-term solutions to diverse community challenges.


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 (below). 



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 awarded.


Grants reflect an interest in employing professional personnel and techniques in the search for solutions to community problems. In addition, the Foundation awards 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 (below) start-up operations and the Kent County Tuberculosis Society X-ray bus. In 1959, the Foundation hires its first director, Harry B. Wagner, on a part-time basis.



With an emphasis on grants issued toward education, the Foundation issues its largest gift to date: $50,000 to establish Grand Valley State College (below). 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 grants to create a police-community relations program. As civil  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 awards grants to nonprofit organizations to improve inner-city housing.



With a $1.5 million estate 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 public art projects, the Foundation helps fund artist Joseph Kinnebrew's Fish Ladder sculpture (below) in the Grand River. By 1979, the Foundation's assets are $14 million



The Foundation assets reach $35 million and among the grants made in that decade, The AIDS Resource Center receives start-up funds from the Foundation as the AIDS crisis begins to affect West Michigan. Executive Director Patricia Edison retires and Diana R. Sieger (below) is hired as President in 1986.



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

In 1992, the Foundation convenes 200 community leaders together in to define community priorities for the 21st century. The needs of children at risk is the greatest concern and Foundation plays a leadership role in issue of prevention of child abuse and neglect.

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

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

The Community Foundation purchases a building in 2007 (below). After a year of planning and renovating and successful capital campaign, the Community Foundation moves in and dedicates its permanent home at 185 Oakes Street SW on November 21, 2008.



To increase the number of low-income, first-generation college-goers who successfully earn a degree or vocational certificate, Grand Rapids Community Foundation launches Challenge Scholars (below), a program to academically support and provide college tuition to for Grand Rapids Public Schools students on the city's West Side. The first class is enrolled in 2013.

Our LGBT Fund is created in 2013 with a matching gift from donors Carol Sarosik and Shelley Padnos. The field of interest fund is focused on helping LGBT youth and families.


About Our Historic Building

From Beer to Philanthropy

The historic Anheuser-Busch Icehouse at 185 Oakes Street SW was originally constructed in 1905. The building was renovated and dedicated in 2008 to become the permanent home for Grand Rapids Community Foundation. The video below will show you the transformation of the building from start to finish.

Anheuser-Busch built the Icehouse on Grandville Avenue in 1905 as part of a network of railside icehouses. Company historians said the beer was brewed and bottled in St. Louis, then shipped in refrigerated railcars across the nation. Railcars stopped at icehouses to unload some beer and repack the rest with fresh ice, so beer would stay fresh till the next stop.

Prohibition hit brewers hard, which helps explain why only two Anheuser-Busch icehouses remain, ours and what’s now a hobby shop in Van Buren, Arkansas. Fortunately, local business owners had the foresight to preserve our building.

In 2009, the building was awarded a silver Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-LEED Certification.

The Transformation of Our Building

Videographer Chuck Peterson spent a year filming the renovation of our building, his video shows the change over time from rustic warehouse to LEED-certified offices.

Our Cool Video