Unrestricted Gift: Allan and Claudia Carlson

They still remember what it was like to live within a budget. They went on picnics and to the lake with their children, they borrowed books from the library. They also remember the lean times as very good times and believe that they live almost as simply as they did 25 years ago. “When you don’t have a lot, you don’t seem to need as much,” said Claudia Carlson. “But, there’s no point in just accumulating wealth,” said her husband, Allan.

True to their words, their unrestricted gift of $1 million came to the Grand Rapids Community Foundation in late December 2005 and is the first gift of its kind. “We are honored and frankly, thrilled, to have a gift like Claudia and Allan’s,” said Community Foundation President Diana R. Sieger. “An unrestricted gift is very special indeed. With it we are able to lead significant social change and the Community Foundation leaders of the future will be able to address issues that we cannot begin to imagine,” added Diana. “Allan and Claudia’s selfless generosity now will only become more magnified as time passes.”

In 1998, the Carlsons established a donor advised fund at the Community Foundation. The 2005 gift is their second major donation. “It was an opportune time to do it and we just have more than we really need. The Foundation proves itself responsible with our first gift. We also feel that they know the needs of the community,” said Allan.

It is only fitting that their life story begins in the workplace. It was the late 1950’s when Claudia and Allan met. She was well established as the assistant secretary and treasurer of a metal office partition manufacturer in Jamestown, New York. He was a drafter for the firm. For a year, he asked her to go out with him and for a year, she told him no. He persisted and she finally agreed to a date. It didn’t take long for her to warm up to the tall, handsome young man, “I knew he was the kind of person I wanted; marrying him was the best thing I ever did,” said Claudia. For 48 ½ years they’ve been married; through thick and thin they’ve believed in each other.

After the couple relocated to Grand Rapids, Allan was working a lot, traveling from coast to coast in a marketing management position. They both agree that it was a slightly stressful time in their lives, and one day he came home and announced that he’d quit his job.

What he wanted to do was to build a business and work for himself, and he was specifically looking for a security firm. In 1970 he found that EPS (Engineered Protection Systems), a home and commercial security company, was available. He entered into partnership with the owner and built the company from five employees to more than 150, eventually becoming sole owner. Claudia came on board as the unpaid accountant. “She was my right arm. She was always a big part of the business. If you didn’t have a spouse who could back you on something like this, you’d never make it,” he said.

The couple laughs now about those days when they had returned to the early years of their marriage of tight budgeting and money worries. But the couple has moved forward, making a success of their business venture and dedication. Now, retired, the Carlsons enjoy their lives together, and with their contribution, they share their joy with the whole Grand Rapids community.