Reges touched many with expertise, caring approach

December 22, 2008
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Grand Rapids Business Journal, like dozens of city institutions, owes some debt to Tom Reges, who died Tuesday, Dec. 16, at his home. The architect, hired away from Philadelphia by Daverman & Associates, was instrumental in the city's 1960’s urban renewal along with Old Kent Bank CEO Richard Gillette, in Grand Rapids’ conversion of its main downtown street to a pedestrian mall in the '70s, in preservation of Heritage Hill when it was targeted for development, and in spearheading the Indian Village complex in the Burton Street/Breton Road area.

Reges trained West Michigan's hockey players (and curlers) long before Grand Rapids Amateur Hockey Association existed, building the Jolly Roger ice rink and swimming pool.

The architect, planner and regional developer and World War II Navy veteran also was credited by immediate past superintendent of Forest Hills Public Schools Mike Washburn as the "mind" behind its financial success and expansions.

“I know that if he thought you were honest, hardworking and cared for others less fortunate, he called you his family,” said Grand Rapids Comptroller Stan Milanowski. “He took no money for providing real estate advice or anything else he would do for you. I am privileged to be part of his family.”

This column — Street Talk — was Reges' idea 25 years ago.

A memorial service is planned for 11 a.m. today at Metcalf & Jonkhoff Chapel, 4291 Cascade Road SE.

MSU effort used West Michigan help

The Spartan community was overjoyed this month when the U.S. Department of Energy chose Michigan State University as the home for its $550 million Facility for Rare Isotope Beams. The device, explained Calvin College physics department chair Steven Steenwyk, forms unusual atoms that may exist for as little as one-millionth of second, but can create enough of them to allow researchers to study them. The DOE said the project is a high priority, and $7 million for research and development is included in its fiscal year 2009 budget request to Congress.

Peter Secchia, businessman, GOP operative and consummate Spartan, praised MSU President Lou Anna Simon for shepherding the proposal through the political process in Washington. But as late as the night before the announcement, Secchia said, Simon still wasn’t certain MSU could triumph over its rival, Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago, with its ties to both the DOE and President-Elect Barack Obama’s adopted hometown.

The FRIB Leadership Advisory Committee encompassed a string of state heavyweights, including Secchia, Doug DeVos, Richard DeVos and Steve Van Andel of Alticor/Amway, Steelcase Inc. President & CEO James P. Hackett, Bridge Street Capital Partners’ Michael Jandernoa, Perrigo Co. Chairman & CEO Joseph C. Papa and Compatico CEO Dick Posthumus. The East Side was well represented, including Crain’s Detroit Business Publisher Mary Kramer and — in proof that the universities leave their rivalries on the football field — University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman.

Even Michigan Chamber of Commerce President-elect Richard K. Studley and Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney put down the gloves long enough to support MSU’s bid.

Geoff Koch, communications manager for MSU’s National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory, said the FRIB’s purpose is “core science.” The FRIB will replace the NSCL. The pertinent parts are underground on campus: If you’ve ever visited the Wharton Center, you’ve probably driven right over the atom-mashing NSCL without ever noticing.

The FRIB is expected to draw 1,000 university and laboratory scientists, postdoctoral associates and graduate students from around the world for research. Koch said the NSCL employs 300, while the FRIB is expected to employ 400, he said. Years of research and development will precede construction, expected to begin in 2013 and take four years. Some 5,000 construction jobs are anticipated. Koch said the construction firms are likely to be national or even international, with experience in nuclear research facilities.

Steenwyk said interest in nuclear physics dropped off with the pull-back on nuclear power plants. But, he said, in West Michigan, it remains an active field at Western Michigan University and Hope College.

The DOE said the bids were judged based on scientific and technical merit; appropriateness; personnel competency; and financial resources and a reasonable budget. The agency “included a program policy regarding the magnitude, robustness and impact of cost sharing, which was a consideration in the selection decision inasmuch as MSU offered a direct cost share to the project, potentially reducing the overall cost of FRIB to the Federal Government.”

Neither the DOE nor MSU would reveal the amount of that cost-share.

Sculpting community tributes

The Peter F. Secchia family kicked off its Grand Rapids Community Legends Project Wednesday with the unveiling of a sculpture (see photo) of Lucius Lyon, a land surveyor who moved to Grand Rapids in 1821 and went on to become a town developer and one of Michigan’s first U.S. Senators.

The life-sized statue was placed at the corner of Lyon and Monroe, next to the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. It is the first in a series of planned sculptures honoring legendary citizens of Grand Rapids. The Secchia family is single-handedly funding and endowing the project.

The unveiling is a significant event for Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, said philanthropist and Amway co-founder Rich DeVos: “I hope it brings a lot of people in to stay at the hotel,” he joked. DeVos said the sculpture of Lyons is “one more reminder of the great history of our city and our great work ethic.”

Secchia said the inspiration for the project was “to remember who it was that gave us what we have.

“The best part of the story is that the guy (Lyon) was a Democrat, he was on the University of Michigan Board of Regents, and he was also a temperance advocate — and I still wanted to put up a statue honoring him,” quipped Secchia, a long-time Republican.

Mayor George Heartwell said the sculpture fits perfectly into the larger vision of Grand Rapids as a great place to live and work: “This sculpture will give us one more reason to bring our kids and our grandkids downtown.”

Other historical figures who will be commemorated in sculpture as part of the project include: Chief Nawquageezhig, also known as Chief Noonday, who was instrumental in the negotiations that opened up much of Michigan to settlement; Right Rev. Frederick Baraga, now known as Bishop Baraga, who was the first of the Slovenian missionaries to come to the U.S. and Grand Rapids to build the Catholic Church; Stanley Ketchel, “The Michigan Assassin,” a Polish-born boxer who became one of  the greatest American middleweight boxing champions; and Helen Claytor, who championed a number of equality issues in Grand Rapids and was the first African American to become national president of the YWCA.

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