An exemplary record of community efforts
GRAND HAVEN — Jeff Beswick says he likes to read, but it’s hard to imagine where he would find the time.
In addition to his day job as a partner at the Varnum law office in Grand Haven, Beswick puts in a lot of time and effort on various community service organizations, so much so that he was recently honored by the Greater Ottawa County United Way with its G.W. Haworth Strength of the Community Award.
The award is presented to an individual who most embodies and exemplifies United Way's leadership spirit of volunteering, philanthropy and community decision-making.
"In everything he has done, with quiet determination, wise leadership, and infinite kindness, he has given his very best for this community, and this community tonight honors him and thanks him," said Grand Haven Area Public Schools Superintendent Keith Konarska, who presented the award.
Beswick's record of community involvement is indeed exemplary. He has been active in United Way since 1996, serving as director of the Tri-Cities United Way from 1996 to 2001, board president in 1998, chairman in 1999 and campaign chair in 2001-2002. He chaired Greater Ottawa County United Way's Community Campaign last year and this year served as leadership chair for the north county campaign.
A member of the Loutit District Library board of trustees from 2003 to 2009, Beswick chaired a library capital campaign and bond proposal campaign that raised funds for an $11 million renovation and expansion of the Loutit District Library in downtown Grand Haven. Beswick also served as board president from 2006-2009, throughout the renovation project and the grand re-opening of the new library in the summer of 2009.
Beswick was an officer and director of Hospice of North Ottawa Community from 1995-1998, a director of Grand Haven Bank from 2004-2008, and a director of Grand Haven Area Community Foundation since 2006. In late May he was named chair of the foundation board. He is active in and a past president of Grand Haven Rotary and has been an active member of St. Patrick’s Church in Grand Haven.
Beswick, 48, and his wife, Tammy, have four children, ages 13 through 19. Attending their sports and school events has long been one of his main leisure activities — but there, too, Beswick has gone the extra mile. He served as a youth baseball and soccer coach and was a director and officer of the Tri-Cities Soccer Association from 1997-2004. He has also been a volunteer teacher for Junior Achievement since 1997, and he was a 1999 graduate of the Grand Haven Chamber of Commerce Leadership Academy.
He recently accepted the role and responsibilities of capital campaign chair for the Love in the Name of Christ Ministry Center, a building in Grand Haven that will soon be renovated to provide transitional housing, counseling and health care to the underprivileged. The organization is supported by 42 churches in the area, plus some businesses, and works to help families and individuals become self-supporting.
A native of Jenison and graduate of Hope College, Beswick has worked for Varnum since he received his law degree from the University of Michigan in 1987. In 1992, he moved to Grand Haven to work in the firm’s office there, where he worked closely with John Carlyle, now a senior partner with Varnum.
Beswick gives Carlyle credit for serving as his mentor and helping to shape his role in community service.
“He gave me good advice,” said Beswick. “He said, ‘Don’t do what everyone else does. Seek out and embrace the opportunities you’re passionate about.’” Carlyle told him that if he threw himself into the type of community service he enjoyed, then he wouldn’t get burned out. “That’s been good advice for me,” Beswick said.
Beswick frequently uses the word “opportunities”; it appears he started recognizing opportunities at an early age. When he was in high school, for example, he wanted to get a pilot’s license. Then he heard somebody say that life gets awfully busy after high school. He figured that if he was going to get even busier, the time to get that pilot’s license was now. So with his father’s help, he got his license while still in high school.
Today, flying is one of Beswick’s great interests.
“I got lucky,” he said. “I talk to an awful lot of people nowadays who say, ‘I always wanted to get my pilot’s license.’ But now, they don’t ever seem to be able to find the time,” he said.
Beswick likes to read books but only nonfiction. His wife likes fiction and she thinks he’s missing out.
“I tell her, as soon as I’ve read everything that’s true, I’ll start with the stuff that’s not,” he joked.
As a bibliophile, Beswick appreciates when people in the community express appreciation for the new Loutit Library. “Now that it’s open, it’s a real gem — much larger.”
Then he mentioned that nearby in downtown Grand Haven is the new Ottawa County Court House. “We’ve got a couple of diamonds,” he added.
Beswick’s law practice focuses on business law, real estate and estate planning. He works with many small- and medium-sized companies handling business transactions, financing, contracts, licensing matters, real estate transactions and more. He has special expertise in commercial real estate development and financing, and in the ownership, management and transfer of family cottages, farms and vacation properties.
Beswick also works in estate planning by assisting clients with wills, trusts and giving estate taxation counsel.
The recession reduced the workload at his law office in some areas but expanded others, with no net change overall, he said. However, the recession has been troubling to him, although it appears a recovery may be underway.
“It’s really troubling, just on a personal level, to have friends and neighbors out of work, going through financial difficulties — very, very capable, skilled people losing jobs and trying to hold it all together. That’s personally difficult to watch.”
“I have not, in my lifetime, seen anything like it,” he said, regarding the severity of the recession.
“I see clients who have banks squeezing them — not to make the banks necessarily the bad guys. But I have seen very much, at the Main Street level, what happens to businesses that can’t get credit, that can’t continue their banking relationships they have counted on for years, the banks changing rules — and I recognize sometimes the regulators are making the banks change the rules. But it’s distressing to see banks receive TARP funds and funds from the government, and not be willing to put those back into the businesses and make things run. I have definitely seen that.”
His volunteer work with all those various community services undoubtedly gives him the sense that he’s at least trying to make things easier for others in a difficult period in American history.
“Sometimes people ask me, ‘Well, how do you get involved in these things and move from one activity to another?’” he said.
“I guess I’ve always found there’s a mix of opportunities that you create, and there are opportunities that are set before you by others. I found that if you embrace the opportunities you’re given or created, and you do your job well and competently, then you are invited to participate in other activities and opportunities in even greater ways.”
Many people have learned that good referrals from others are the way to advance in a profession or business, he said.
“I just found the same to be true in the area of community service. If you thoughtfully approach the smaller tasks you are given, then you’re asked to do bigger ones, and the next thing you know, you’re leading things that you really wouldn’t have imagined you’d have a chance to be part of.”