National Philanthropy Day awards honor Fahner, Wege

November 3, 2008
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Awards are going to a Grand Rapids doctor and a local family foundation at the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ National Philanthropy Day event Thursday in Kalamazoo.

Pediatric oncologist Dr. James Fahner, board president for Hospice of Michigan’s foundation, and the Wege Foundation, led by retired businessman Peter Wege, are winners of two of the four awards. They are joined by Kalamazoo philanthropists John G. and Kathryn S. Polzin and by McCrosky Marketing Communications, also of Kalamazoo.

Cara Jones, director of development for Hospice of Michigan, said Fahner has helped to raise $21 million for the nonprofit organization since 1995. He was nominated for the Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser award by the statewide hospice, which serves about 30 children per day.

“He has such a passion for what we do in Hospice of Michigan, especially the pediatrics program,” Jones said. “Anybody who believes in a program to that degree — he so inspiring. He tells our story so well.”

“I really feel grateful for the award, and it’s humbling because I know it’s really a reflection of the organization and the fundraising professionals. I’m just a community volunteer. It’s very much a team effort,” Fahner said.

A cure is unavailable for 25 percent to 30 percent of children with cancer, he said, and the hospice program provides important support for them and their families, he said. The U.S. has only about 15 pediatric hospice programs, he added. 

Fahner has been involved with Hospice of Michigan and its pediatric program since the mid-1990s. He served as medical director, but that role is now filled by his associate, Dr. David Dickens, freeing Fahner to take on more responsibilities on the boards of the organization and its foundation.

“I get to be the community cheerleader and advocate,” he said.

The Wege Foundation was nominated by Aquinas College for the Exemplary Foundation award.

“The Wege Foundation has put a lot of its resources into improving the quality of people’s lives on as broad a scale as possible,” said Aquinas President Edward Balog. “Education, the environment, the Great Lakes: Almost everything I can think of has been a desire to preserve and extend people’s quality of life.”

Balog said Wege has been generous to the Catholic college in Grand Rapids, funding a lecture series and a conference on “Economicology,” providing matching gifts for the annual fund and supporting capital campaigns.

“Mr. Wege and his foundation have been among the most solid supporters the college has,” Balog added.

Wege Foundation Executive Director Ellen Satterlee said environmental initiatives have been an important accomplishment.

“Mr. Wege taking the leadership and saying from the philanthropic side he would not do capital funding unless it was LEED (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design) certified, and green building — a lot of other foundations have started that same trend. It’s something Mr. Wege is very proud of,” Satterlee said.

“One of the other grants I’m especially excited about is the grant we gave for the Great Lakes restoration work, $5 million over five years to the National Wildlife Federation and the National Parks to effect Great Lakes restoration. It’s been very successful. It was Peter’s leadership that brought environmental groups together to do this work with one voice.”

AFP’s West Michigan chapter is sponsoring National Philanthropy Day at Western Michigan University’s Fetzer Center starting at 8 a.m. Thursday. After a morning of meetings, speeches and workshops, the awards luncheon features a keynote address by Anne Drummond, communications director for the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo.

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