A Fitting Farewell

June 5, 2002
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Oh, sure. A guy spends more than three decades as head of the area’s largest university and when it comes time to leave, he just won’t.

We are referring, of course, to the esteemed Don Lubbers, who was scheduled to take off a la Col. Henry Blake in M*A*S*H (via helicopter) in a ceremonial farewell on Wednesday evening. But a few of Don’s friends showed up for a very light-hearted sendoff and, before you knew it, Don and Nancy Lubbers were still under the tent, shaking hands, patting backs and laughing until they cried. And that was still pretty close to 11 o’clock.

This was nothing like the “official” farewell for the retiring Grand Valley State University president. No, this was more like a roast — without barbs from RichDeVos

Dan Balice, mayor of Ionia and a 1982 grad of GVSU, was master of ceremonies for the evening. In one of the funniest moments of the night, however, Lubbers turned his sharp wit on His Honor when Balice tried to steal some of the spotlight.

“It seems like every time someone gives you something, Don, all these photographers come up and start taking pictures,” Balice said, reaching for this wallet. “So I’d like to give you this.”

Lubbers, without missing a beat, graciously accepted the $1 bill, saying, “Thank you, Dan. This is the largest contribution you’ve made to the university since you’ve left.”

But being GVSU president isn’t always about money, it just seems that way.

Jamie Hosford, principal of Rockford High School and a 1977 GVSU grad, related the story of how when they golf together, Lubbers and Hosford will bet on everything — including who will find the most golf balls during the round.

So Hosford gave Lubbers a head start on the next outing by presenting him with a dozen used beauties in an egg carton, with some money taped to the top.

Event organizers figured (non-scientifically) that Lubbers touched 2,362,504 lives during his tenure as GVSU’s president. And while not all of those people were at the get-together, the ones who were there made every effort to make sure Lubbers was thanked at least that many times.

For those who don’t believe Lubbers’ reach extends beyond West Michigan, consider this: One of his gifts was a flag from the Republic of Palau in Micronesia. It just so happens that the president of that Pacific Island nation is a GVSU grad.

  • Another icon slipped quietly from the business scene last week when Bob Pew ended a nearly 50-year association with Steelcase Inc. at the 2001 annual shareholders meeting.

Pew, 81, stepped down as chairman emeritus of the Steelcase Board of Directors, ending an association that included serving 23 years as Steelcase’s CEO. During his years in helping guide Steelcase, the company grew from $15 million to nearly $3.9 billion in annual sales.

“You inspired us all at Steelcase to grow and to be the best,” CEO James Hackett told Pew at the annual meeting.

The same can be said for his influence on the local business community.

  • Could this be a twisted version of an argument from GRMAYOR Logie? Somebody in town certainly shares his views about children and firearms, at any rate. Recently on local talk radio a guest expressed the intent to vote against Michigan’s concealed weapons law because “AMA statistics show that the number of Michigan children killed by firearms has doubled every year since 1970.”

By all means, permitting law-abiding citizens to carry concealed handguns is an issue that merits debate. But the debate itself in turn merits argument based on facts rather than statistical hysteria. The AMA’s new president, Richard F. Corlin M.D., outspokenly favors rigorous research about gun violence, but the association’s Web site contained no such statistic.

It’s easy to see why.

Assuming 10 Michigan children died by firearms in 1970 and that the number has doubled every year since, the casualty rate among children would have reached 10 million by 1990, exceeding Michigan’s population. As of 1994 the calculator ran out of zeros, and by 1995 the numbers exceeded the population of the planet.

Just for the record, current census data show nine Michigan children died in firearms accidents in 1997 and three in 1998. In 1997, 72 Michigan children died in firearm homicides and 65 the following year.

Let’s hope people on both sides can be a bit more measured in debating this issue.

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