From time to time, we receive unexpected bequests from kind strangers. A few years ago, Grand Rapids Community Foundation was named beneficiary of a life insurance policy held by Joy Brown Baker. It was a generous gesture from a woman we never had the pleasure of knowing. Not to let her story go untold, we did some exploring and made contact with her son. “Though she hadn’t lived in the community for more than 50 years, my mother maintained a loyalty and love for Grand Rapids. She kept strong ties with family, friends and the community there,” said James Baker II.
Joy grew up in Grand Rapids and attended Aquinas College. She later served on the Aquinas College board of trustees. Joy earned several master’s degrees and was a dedicated teacher and administrator in Bay City Public Schools. She was the first African American female to serve as a principal in that school system.
The passion for education runs deep in Joy’s family. Her great grandfather, Spencer Thomas Johnson, a former slave, led the effort to start the first high school for African American students in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1899. He and his partners did so out of a desire to get young people out of the cotton fields. They knew education was the answer. One can only imagine the pride he would have later felt to see his grandchildren—Joy and four of her siblings—go to college and become accomplished professionals.
“In our family, we believe in helping people. It’s not giving back, but paying forward,” James said. He followed in his mother’s footsteps, dedicating his life to the teaching profession as well. “I hope my mother’s gift to the Community Foundation can continue to support education in the community. That would please her.
“She was community-oriented, but most importantly, she was a doer, not a talker. For her, giving came naturally. She wouldn’t have expected anything in return. I think when you are raised a certain way, you don’t know any different. Investing in others is just what you are supposed to do,” James said.
We remain so thankful for Joy’s support of our Community Foundation.
If you have a gift already planned or are thinking of including the Community Foundation in your will or as a beneficiary, please let us know. We’d love to have the opportunity to get to know you and understand your wishes for this very special donation.
You can contact any member of our development team at (616) 454-1751