Foundation Just Keeps Giving And Giving And Giving

June 21, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Mike Taylor, a local tax and estate lawyer, serves as the executive director of the Wade E. and Violet Sackner Foundation, which is celebrating its golden anniversary this year.

And it frustrates him that neither he nor any of the board of directors knows much of anything about the long-deceased Grand Rapids couple in whose memory the foundation was established.

The Sackners are believed to have died in the late 40s and the foundation’s trust dates from 1950. “And they apparently were very private people,” Taylor told the Business Journal.

“We know they didn’t have children,” Taylor said, “but they apparently wanted to help kids because they specified that a third of their foundation’s gifts go to Mary Free Bed Hospital for the benefit of children there.”

Taylor says Sackner was an industrialist, the owner and perhaps the founder of Sackner Products, a firm that still exists though it long since has come under entirely different ownership and management and in a different location.

In fact, Sackner buildings, stock and some ancillary real estate holdings initially formed the corpus of the foundation.

Changes in federal tax law, however, caused the foundation’s first attorney and director — the late George Slykhouse — to transform those assets into securities that now constitute the foundation’s holdings.

Taylor came into the foundation with Slykhouse’s encouragement. Both were, and Taylor remains, members of the Miller, Johnson, Snell and Cummiskey law firm.

The foundation’s net worth, according to Taylor, now is in excess of $9 million, though last year — before the bear jumped onto the Market — he said wryly, the corpus was more than $11 million.

In July of last year the Sackner Foundation made $495,000 in gifts and this year the total disbursement was near $450,000. Taylor said the foundation uses the same 5 percent donation rule that dictates most foundations today.

A third of each year’s donations goes to Mary Free Bed Hospital to benefit young patients. The remaining two thirds is apportioned in equal shares among the local branches of United Way, the American Cancer Society, two local Shrine organizations, both of which focus explicitly on helping children, and the American Red Cross of West Central Michigan.

“In fact, the Red Cross has used its share of the proceeds to pay the mortgage on its headquarters building on Fuller.”

The current directors or elected heads of those organizations constitute the board of the foundation.

Through those entities, Taylor said Sackner gifts have gone not only to finance care but also to help in the work of camps and other recreational facilities for children in need.

With the permission of Michigan’s attorney general, the foundation board also recently created a new gift, a $5,000 college scholarship.

The foundation awards the stipend annually in memory of Slykhouse, through the Grand Rapids Economic Club, which Slykhouse virtually founded on his own.

The members of the Sackner Foundation board are its president, Susan Schrotenboer of Mary Free Bed, Michael Brennan of United Way, Jon Bachelder of the Red Cross, W. Tom Wells of the Saladin Shrine Temple, and Nader Atillah of the Grand Rapids Shrine Lodge No. 34.

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