Arts & Entertainment, Economic Development, and Government

Kentwood kicks off anniversary celebrations

City to hold ceremonial meeting, two-day street festival to celebrate 50th anniversary of being incorporated.

February 24, 2017
Text Size:
Peter Lamberts
Kentwood’s first mayor, Peter Lamberts, with shovel, and city officials participated in several groundbreaking ceremonies in Kentwood’s early days. Courtesy City of Kentwood

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) The Kentwood City Commission held its first meeting in the halls of Bowen Elementary School on Feb. 27, 1967. On Feb. 27, 2017, the city is coming full circle.

The Commission is holding a ceremonial meeting at the school to commemorate the city’s 50th anniversary of being incorporated, the kickoff event to a year of celebrating the city’s history. In the half-century of Kentwood’s existence, the city has jumped from 6,000 residents to more than 50,000, and Mayor Stephen Kepley said the city is now about 85 percent built out.

But as stark as the city’s population growth has been, it’s the change in Kentwood’s racial makeup that really sets the city apart, Kepley said. The city comprises 60.7 percent white residents and boasts the state’s most diverse public high school in East Kentwood High School, prompting Kepley to call the city “the UN of Michigan.”

“I think when you talk about folks moving from other parts of the country, they dream the American dream,” Kepley said. “And in Kentwood, they’re able to do it.

“If you look at the economic condition of Kentwood, we’re that much stronger because of the freedom America brings in allowing people to fulfill their dreams of owning their own businesses.”

The city will honor its diversity at its celebration events throughout the year, including music, art, food and entertainment from across the wide spectrum of citizens who call the city home. The city’s half-centennial celebration’s marquee event will be “Celebrate Kentwood,” a two-day street festival on the weekend of Aug. 11-12, featuring a farmers market, arts and crafts fair, music, and food from local restaurants.

“We tried really hard to capture the essence of the diversity of Kentwood in these events,” said City Treasurer Laurie Sheldon, who heads the committee on planning events for the year. “I think that’s an integral part of our city’s growth, it’s what makes us unique and special. The culture of all these different people makes us who we are.”

The city also is hosting a breakfast for businesses that have been in the city for all of its 50 years. Among those included is Woodland Shopping Center, which officially opened in 1968 but was under construction in 1967 and played a large role in the city’s incorporation.

When the mall was being built, an effort by the city of Grand Rapids to annex the property pushed for a vote to incorporate what was then Paris Township. The vote passed, and Kentwood was born.

“(It’s) pretty amazing that 50 years later, Woodland Mall is still a driving force for the city with so many changes to come in the near future,” Sheldon said.

As the city plans for the future, Kepley said he is looking forward to strengthening the city’s sense of community by seeking opportunities to centralize activities. These efforts are being realized, as Kentwood’s summer concert series, introduced last year, already has outgrown its venue.

Kepley praised the efforts of Kentwood’s parks and recreation department and said the city has hired a consultant to help explore the possibilities of further bringing about a sense of place making in Kentwood.

“We want to not just be a welcoming community, but to be one that has a sense of belonging,” he said. “You can welcome someone to your house, but I like them to belong here.”

And as Sheldon sees it, all the factors that make Kentwood special on its 50th anniversary will only continue to strengthen the city’s sense of community on its 51st and beyond.

“It’s exciting, not all communities make it successfully through these milestones,” she said. “But now we’ve done it, and we’re growing stronger than ever and unifying as a city.”


The city has invited 23 local businesses to attend a breakfast celebrating their longevity. They include:

  • Advantage Packaging Corp.
  • Animal Hospital of Kentwood
  • Born Clinic PC
  • Casa Villa Motel
  • Christian Schools International
  • Consumers Energy
  • DTE Energy
  • Henry A. Fox Sales
  • JCPenney
  • Kamminga and Roedvoets Inc.
  • Kentwood Plumbing and Heating
  • Kentwood Fun Spot
  • Knoll Inc.
  • Penning Plumbing
  • Plastic Mold Technology
  • Sears Roebuck & Co.
  • Siegel Jewelers
  • Spencer Gifts
  • Tubergen Cutting Tools Inc.
  • Turner Industries
  • Velting Contractors
  • Woodland Shopping Center
  • Zales Jewelry

Recent Articles by Jesse O'Brien

Editor's Picks

Comments powered by Disqus