Street Talk

Street Talk: Lots of achievement — Junior and otherwise

WMCAT’s meow.

May 9, 2014
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An aspect of the business community that doesn’t always receive abundant attention is getting its due.

Junior Achievement of the Michigan Great Lakes’ Business Hall of Fame 2014 ceremony is set for Thursday, May 29, at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. While JA often flies under the radar, its supporters do not.

In fact, banking icon and business stalwart Edward Frey Sr. founded Junior Achievement, and the organization’s top honor, the Distinguished Achievement Award, is named for him.

This year’s winners of the award are Wilbur and Sharon Lettinga, who have contributed their time, talent and money to such organizations as Davenport University, Spectrum Health, Hope Network and Gilda’s Club. Wilbur Lettinga is chairman and CEO of the development company Kentland Corp., founder and past president the CPA firm Lettinga & Associates, and co-founder, chairman and CEO of Laser Alignment. Sharon Lettinga is the former owner of a motel and mobile home park in Holland, as well as former assistant vice president and corporate secretary of Ottawa Savings Bank.

JA’s Volunteer of the Year 2014 is Renee Williams, vice president of community development and Michigan market manager for Huntington Bank. She also oversees community development for the state. She launched “JA in a Day” education sessions for Huntington in Grand Rapids, and the program has been implemented across the bank’s six-state footprint. More than 350 Huntington employees have provided an estimated 3,000 volunteer hours centered on financial education for West Michigan youth.

This year’s Hall of Fame inductees also have made their mark on West Michigan’s business community. Donald Heeringa, chairman of Trendway Corp., and Kevin Kabat, vice chairman and CEO of Fifth Third Bancorp., comprise this year’s class. Mark Bissell, president of Bissell Corp. and a 2013 inductee, will receive the Crystal Medallion award.

Grass is greener

Friends of Grand Rapids Parks recognized three community leaders last week with the 2014 Charles Garfield Awards at its 5th annual membership event. This is the inaugural year for the awards, named for Charles W. Garfield, an early 20th century advocate for urban green space in Grand Rapids and founder of what was then the Parks & Boulevard Association.

Picking up the Garfields were Sam Cummings, for civic and community leadership; Denise Coykendall, for volunteer of the year; and Ron Staal for going above and beyond the call of duty.

“These three individuals have demonstrated outstanding commitment to enhancing, expanding and protecting parks, the urban forest and public spaces throughout Grand Rapids,” said Steve Faber, Friends of Grand Rapids Parks executive director. “Their distinct gifts of time, advocacy, passion, expertise and dollars have been invaluable to our mission and have made a tremendous positive impact on our community.”

The Civic and Community Leadership Award recognizes an individual or group that has shown exceptional leadership in ensuring parks and public spaces are guaranteed for future generations. Cummings was selected for the 2014 award because of his strong commitment to ensuring cities and neighborhoods include parks and public spaces for all to enjoy.

“Sam has been hands-on with this issue at both the local and state level,” said Faber. “In his work on the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, he’s been at the forefront of discussions about how state recreation resources can be used in an urban context, and locally he's implemented great projects that enhance quality of life.”

Cummings was a pioneer in Grand Rapids’ adopt-a-park initiative, adopting Veterans Park in 2004 in conjunction with the renovation of The Fitzgerald, formerly the Grand Rapids YMCA building, on Library Street NE.

“I am extremely honored by this award and grateful to Friends of Grand Rapids Parks for their enthusiasm for our city and passionate pursuit of public space preservation and enhancement,” said Cummings, managing partner at CWD Real Estate. “As our city continues to grow, it is essential that we pay attention to the relationship between private and public space and their equally important contributions to placemaking.”

The Volunteer of the Year Award recognizes a dedicated volunteer who has given back to the community through Friends of Grand Rapids Parks. The 2014 award went to Coykendall for her many hours of service to Grand Rapids’ urban forest and neighborhood parks through the FGRP Citizen Forester program.

“Denise is an extremely dedicated volunteer,” said Faber. “She’s always willing to lend a hand for tree plantings and park spruce-ups, and she has made an outstanding impact on our urban forest.”

The Above and Beyond Award recognizes an individual who has demonstrated a strong commitment and is an ambassador for community parks and urban forest. Staal was honored for 28 years of service to Grand Rapids’ Parks and Recreation Department and his commitment to helping people connect with and enjoy our city parks. He will be retiring next season.

Staal’s Parks and Recreation colleague, Steve Krogman, said, “What I will miss most about Ron is his dedication to the parks and the pride with which he performs his job each day.”

"All three award recipients typify the spirit of Charles Garfield, who’s been described as Grand Rapids’ ‘First Citizen,’” said Faber. “We owe so much of our current park system, playgrounds, open space and urban forest to Mr. Garfield. He is a testament to why engaged citizens, like the three we are honoring today, are so critical to the success of our parks system in the future.”

Founded in 2008, Friends of Grand Rapids Parks is an independent, citizen-led nonprofit enterprise dedicated to enhancing, expanding and protecting Grand Rapids parks and public spaces. Through its Grand Rapids Urban Forest Project and Parks Alive program, Faber said Friends of Grand Rapids Parks mobilized more than 10,000 volunteer hours in 2013 in support of its mission, an 800 percent increase in volunteerism in support of area parks and public spaces since the organization’s founding.

Cool WMCAT

The West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology was named a 2014 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award finalist by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.

Through a competitive process that included 360 nominations, 50 finalists were chosen from 47 states as exemplary arts and humanities-based programs for young people. The WMCAT Teen Arts + Tech Program was recognized for providing an engaging after-school program to high school students from Grand Rapids Public Schools that is grounded in arts, technology and civic engagement.

“We are extremely proud to be named a finalist for this prestigious national award,” said Kim Dabbs, WMCAT executive director. “Our teaching artists and talented teens deserve this recognition for their innovative work in affecting social change in our community through the arts. We look forward to sharing their work with the whole country.”

WMCAT will be listed in the 2014 NAHYP national publication and on its website. In June, winners will be invited to a White House ceremony hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama.

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