Gift of Property: Marvin Stahl

Marvin Stahl was a lot of things, but average wasn’t one of them. His father abandoned him. He dropped out of high school. His 27-year-old wife and fourth child died in childbirth. His lost two daughters as young adults, and the third preceded him in death as well. Dorothy, his wife of more than 50 years, died in 1998.

But Stahl, whose generous gifts to the Grand Rapids Community Foundation keep his memory alive, is likely to be remembered more for his legendary successes than his heartbreaking losses.

Stahl died at the age of 93 in Palm Springs, California, on November 2 2002.

His history of turning losses into gains started early. As he worked to help his single mother make ends meet in 1922, the Cascade Country Club caddy learned the game that would make him a pro. During the Great Depression, not many people were taking golf lessons, so the young pro had ample time to perfect his own game. As the clouds of World War II loomed on the horizon, he landed a prestigious pro job at a Palm Beach club. When the club closed for the duration of the war, the golf pro became a Hollywood filmmaker. He dined with the rich and famous. He played golf with the stars. He counted Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and Jimmy Cagney among his golf partners, and screen actor Buddy Rogers became his lifelong friend.

But for all the luster of his star-studded life, Marvin Stahl never forgot where he came from. After his career as a filmmaker wound down, he returned to Michigan with his new wife, Dorothy, and family. A chance encounter with one of his old caddying clients led to a job at A.J. Sparks in 1946, and by 1954, Stahl was running the company. After owner Arthur Sparks’ death in 1956, he bought the firm and grew it into a holding company with several lines of business.

In his later years, Stahl said he owed his many successes to those early days at Cascade Country Club. Without Cascade golf pro Maurice Wells, he might never have played a round of golf. Without golf, he never would have met the Wall Street mogul who gave him his break in Hollywood. And success in business would not have been possible without the guidance and mentoring of Art Sparks, the man who had generously given 25 cent tips to a struggling 13-year-old caddy in 1922.

Stahl, despite his many losses, saw himself as a fortunate man—and wanted to return a portion of his good fortune to the community he called home. So in 1987, Marvin and Dorothy Stahl donated their beloved summer home on Baldwin Lake to the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. It was sold, with proceeds establishing the Marvin Stahl Fund. In his estate plan, Stahl also established a Charitable Remainder Trust for the broad benefit of the community. He chose to make both gifts unrestricted, meaning that the Community Foundation’s volunteer board of directors can make grants from his permanent fund based on changing community needs.