Denhof Loves Job Security

November 4, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — At a time when insecurity seemingly grabs headlines on a daily basis, he stands out as a security professional. And as a 20-year veteran of what is now a highly volatile industry, his calm and confident manner marks him as perhaps the most self-assured and relaxed man in the city.

Kevin Denhof is chief of security for the Van Andel Institute, having moved into that position nearly three years ago.

"I was one of the first ones in the building," he said.

Denhof, a native of Grand Rapids, is in charge of the institute's contract security. His goals are to protect the assets of the medical research and education facility, a lot of which are intellectual property, and to provide a secure working environment. To do that, Denhof heads a staff of 10 and uses DuHadway Kendall as a security contractor.

"We do a lot of systems monitoring," he said. "I like to say that we have more computers here than we know what to do with. We have about nine computers that control different systems in the building."

Despite the recent national scares and color-coded terrorist alerts, Denhof said security hasn't gotten tighter at the VAI in the last year. Maybe a better way to phrase that is: The security hasn't had to get tighter.

"Not really. We're a secure facility and we've pretty much done things the way we've always done them."

Denhof was a natural choice for the VAI job. For most of his life, he has had an interest in law enforcement. First, as a criminal justice major at Grand Valley State University, and then as a reserve police officer in Hudsonville.

"I finally got that out of my blood," he said of police work. "I've been in security for 23 years now and love it."

He started in the profession as corporate security director for the half-dozen Steketee's department stores that were once hugely popular and busy retail outlets in West Michigan, and he held that spot for 10 years.

"The Steketee family was great, a great family to work for," he said.

Before he went to the VAI, Denhof spent another decade heading security at Rogers Department Store. He considers his lengthy stint at Rogers his biggest career break, as the job gave him an opportunity to learn from a master retailer and work with a generous man — the late Hy Berkowitz, who founded the store more than 50 years ago.

"He was a dear, sweet man. He was in his 80s then and coming to work every day. He was a gentleman and I enjoyed working for him immensely," he said of Berkowitz.

What Denhof likes best about his current position is that the institute tries to provide the best security humanly and electronically possible. He said a mindset exists at the VAI that constantly strives for excellence, and it shows in the fact that there haven't been any major incidents or breeches of security during his watch.

But what about the one thing he'd like to change about his job?

"Maybe not be in charge of parking," said a chuckling Denhof, who, by the way, sits on the city's Parking Commission. "Just for the Van Andel Institute, though. If I could pass that baton on to someone else, I gladly would."

The institute is on Bostwick Avenue, which is in the Michigan Street Hill area, where the most extensive and expensive parking study in the city's history has started. In fact, the VAI is one of the six stakeholders in the study that hopes to relieve traffic congestion there and eliminate some major parking problems in the neighborhood business district.

The first in a set of focus-group meetings took place two weeks ago, after it took two years to get the study going.

"My hope is when this parking study comes out it points us in the right direction to solve some of our problems," he said. "I guess if you asked me five years ago if I would have anything to do with parking knowing what I know now, I'd say, 'No way.'

"It really is a big problem. It's probably a bigger problem than any one of the stakeholders here can solve on their own."

As a job perk, Denhof has worked with presidential security personnel on three different occasions. Current President George W. Bush and past presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter each have visited the institute. Carter made the most recent and timeliest trip here, arriving at the VAI just a week before he won the Nobel Prize for Peace.

"I'd have to say those have probably been my high points since I've been here," said Denhof of meeting the trio.

Another high point for Denhof comes when he coaches the 7th grade girls' basketball team at St. Jude Catholic School, something he has done for a number of years. He also looks forward to hunting wild turkey each spring in Michigan. But, like a true woodsy artisan, he wouldn't reveal where he does that.

"That would kind of be like asking a trout fisherman where his favorite place is. But we head up north and don't really have one particular spot. Actually, the turkey population is doing pretty well and we could probably hunt closer to home," he said. "I don't hunt fall turkeys, I just do the spring hunt."

He has a stuffed turkey that his father shot in 1972, one of the biggest turkeys taken in the state that year.

"I actually bring it in to my kids' school and talk about Michigan turkeys, because they've never seen them up close, and that usually goes over pretty well."

Denhof and Nancy, his wife, live in Plainfield Township with their 12-year-old daughter Alexandra, and 9-year-old son, Nicholas. This year he was named chairman of the western Michigan chapter of the American Society for Industrial Security International.

"That is something I worked for for a long time," he said.

As one might expect from a chief of security with a quiet and friendly demeanor, Denhof feels secure about his immediate future and that of the VAI.

"I think things are nothing but bright here at the Van Andel Institute," he said. "Who knows where we'll be in five years? But I think we've kind of passed the start-up stage, and I see nothing but good things ahead."    

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