Power Lunch

May 24, 2002
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“I’m glad I came to lunch,” Casey Wondergem, Van Andel Institute’s marketing VP, told Thursday’s gathering of Grand Rapids Rotary.

And well he should be.

The institute, which opened its $60 million first phase in May, was recognized as Grand Rapids Business Journal’s Newsmaker of the Year winner.

With CEO Dave Van Andel out of town on business, the smoothing-talking Wondergem found himself heading to the podium to accept a framed copy of a front page from Business Journal Publisher John Zwarensteyn

“At least we’ve got a wall to put it on now,” quipped Wondergem.

But the VAI has far more than that.

And, once he recovered from his initial surprise, Wondergem acknowledged as much.

“On behalf of Jay and Betty Van Andel and the Van Andel family, I just want to say thank you very much. I want everyone to know how thrilled we are to have this community support us.”

He said that despite the relative newness of the institute, great things are already in the pipeline.

“I can tell you this, it’s a fast moving train,” Wondergem said. “We’ve got a lot of good, young scientists there, and some of our scientists are on the verge of announcing things that will rock your world.”

Dr. Luis Tomatis, former chief of the institute who is still an adviser for the project, said the VAI will have a long-lasting effect on Grand Rapids, the country and the world.

“Fifty years from now, this will be one of the leading (medical) research institutes in the world,” he said. “And, because of that, Grand Rapids will become a destination place.”

  • Speaking of making it big in the world outside of Grand Rapids, remember WXMI-FOX 17’s former general manager Pat Mullen

Current FOX-17 GM Ed Fernandez called let us know that Mullen, who recently was named group vice president within Tribune Television Co. (and even more recently picked up the Silver Award from the local Ad Club chapter), now has a new title.

“He’s now president of Tribute Television, overseeing the entire operation,” Fernandez said.

Quite a rise for someone who was in the ground floor of forming our local FOX affiliate.

  • When sister publication Grand Rapids Magazine came up with the idea of talking to Maya Lin in conjunction the upcoming dedication of the Monroe Center project, it seemed like a pretty plausible story topic.

But things are not always as easy as they seem.

Lin, who would prefer to work in her New York studio and avoid the glare of the spotlight, proved to be an elusive interview target. Not mean, mind you, just a little more keep-to-myself than most famous people.

So, reinforcements were needed. GR Magazine attempted to enlist the aid of David Frey, who has believed from the start that Lin should be kept in the line of vision for this project.

Alas, all calls are forwarded to Wondergem & Associates, which is the firm handling all questions and interview requests about the installation (do not call it a sculpture!).

So staff writer Myrna Anderson called with what she thought was a pretty straightforward request.

“I wanted to tour the site, talk to David Frey or someone else who knew the whole history of the Monroe Center project, and to — pretty please — speak to Maya Lin about her vision and hopes for the site. I also asked for any artwork — pictures, artwork or a model — that would give readers some idea of what the not-a-sculpture would look like when completed.”

A day or two later, a Wondergem staffer called back and made the following offer: If Grand Rapids Magazine would promise a cover story, Wondergem would deliver up Maya Lin.

They promised “access” to her along with one-of-a-kind high quality photographs that nobody else would get.

Also casually mentioned was the fact that the Monroe Center overhaul (“not-a-sculpture”) would not be dedicated until June 1, and it was suggested that GRM’s story would make a better feature for that month.

When asked what she thought, Anderson said she wasn’t allowed to think and would ask Grand Rapids Magazine Managing Editor CaraKissling what she thought of the proposal.

“I cannot repeat what my editor said, nor can I repeat what her editor (CaroleValadeCopenhaver) said to Wondergem’s proposal,” Anderson said.

A little more investigating found that, indeed, the project was a wee bit behind schedule and would open late in May or early in June. But no one could confirm or deny when the dedication would take place.

Apparently, the city engineer’s office will have a meeting soon to determine the official date.

Until then, stay tuned to “As Maya’s World Turns” and see what will happen next on Monroe Center. Rest assured, however, that a “sculpture” will never be unveiled. Because there isn’t one there.

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