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Food Network founder returns to Grand Rapids

April 29, 2016
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Jack Clifford
Jack Clifford. Courtesy Grand Rapids Community Foundation

Food Network founder and Grand Rapids native Jack Clifford will be in town this weekend promoting his book, “The Least Likely to Succeed,” which details how he went from a boy who was voted “least likely to succeed” in high school to founding a popular and successful television network.

Clifford will be signing copies of his book at Schuler Books & Music, at 2660 28th St. SE, beginning at 3 p.m. on Sunday.

In the book, Clifford shares how Elmo Wierenga, former principal of Ottawa Hills High School in Grand Rapids, impacted his life by simply taking an interest in him and believing in him when no one else did.

“He befriended me and would show up at my baseball games,” Clifford said. “After my senior classmates voted me ‘least likely to succeed,’ Elmo took me aside and said it was wrong and mean of those students to do that, but I had to go to college and prove them wrong. It was the only way to get ahead.”

Clifford was an awkward teenager and a C student, and he said his parents couldn’t afford to send him to college, so it wasn't something considered as an option.

With Wierenga’s encouragement, Clifford enrolled in Grand Rapids Junior College, now Grand Rapids Community College, and later transferred to Western Michigan University.

He became the first member of his family to receive a college degree, entirely paying his own way, and then went on to found Food Network.

Clifford has not forgotten his Grand Rapids roots and is committed to giving back to the community he came from.

In 2002, he partnered with the Grand Rapids Community Foundation on a scholarship fund for students with similar backgrounds to his.

The Grand Rapids Community Foundation said since it was launched, the endowed fund has awarded 53 scholarships.

Typically, five scholarships of $2,500 each are awarded in a cycle.

To qualify, a student must be a senior at Ottawa Hills High School and pursuing full-time undergraduate studies at any two- or four-year accredited school in the U.S. Students must also have a financial need and a minimum G.P.A. of 2.5.

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