One day on a drive, Bill and Karen Nottelmann saw a sign for Croton Dam and decided they should check it out. They had never heard of Croton before then, but they have now called it their full-time home for more than a decade. “We love the natural beauty and the low-key neighborhood,” said Bill.

“I love living rural,” added Karen. “We’re so impressed with this area and the quality of people here.”

The Nottelmanns wasted no time getting involved in their new community. Bill has served on the township board and as a reserve police officer in Newaygo. Karen is a founder of Hope 101, which provides housing and other services to those experiencing homelessness. “The staff and volunteers work so hard,” said Bill. “They have had some great success stories.”

Their involvement with Hope 101 also introduced them to the Community Foundation. They are now two of the newest members of Our Next 75.

Why is giving important to you?
Karen: Giving is what Jesus taught us to do and to be, to care for others. We think it’s biblical that you give, but to us it’s more than that too. It’s in your heart.

Why give through the Community Foundation?
Karen: I have been so impressed with the Community Foundation. It’s such a good way to give because someone manages it and does it so well. We trust them and we love what they do.

With a history stretching back 151 years, Horizon Bank has long understood the importance of community. “We see ourselves as a local community bank,” said Tom Rowland, Horizon Bank’s market president of the north region. “We have all the programs of a big bank but with a small-town feel.”

A commitment to local involvement and a desire to get to know customers enhances that community feel. Lynette Goodin-Belknap, Fremont branch manager, grew up in Newaygo County. “We genuinely care about our customers,” she said. “We like getting to know them. Here they can come in and know we’re going to take care of them.”

Founded in Indiana in 1873, Horizon Bank expanded into Michigan in 2003 and now has branches as far north as Charlevoix. They have had a branch in Fremont for two years, and for two years they have made generous donations to the Newaygo County Economic Development Fund at the Community Foundation.

Supporting economic development felt like a natural fit for the bank. “We want to see businesses and the economy grow,” said Tom. “That goes hand-in-hand with banking. A healthy economy makes a community grow. Economic
growth and development is what we’re about.”

Making giving a priority is a point of pride for the bank but also for individual staff members.

“The people who work here are very proud of giving back to the community,” said Lynette. Last year on Veterans Day, the bank closed and staff chose local volunteer projects that everyone could participate in for the day.

“We want to give back to the community,” said Tom. “That’s why we give to organizations like the Community Foundation. It’s important to us because giving is in our blood.”

The Eagle Fund grew out of an idea Cathy Obits first mentioned on an evening walk with her mother, Joan Obits. Joan moved to the area in 1954, and Cathy has lived here her whole life outside of her military service. They love the people, the open country, and the light traffic, and they both believe strongly in giving back. Creating a fund together was a way to help meet needs and care for their community.

“It’s not that we have much to give,” Joan explained. “We just give little by little, and the fund keeps growing.”

Because their fund was created near both of their birthdays, “It was like our birthday present,” said Joan. “It makes me happy. And if I can make someone else happy, or ease their life a little, I want to. I like happy, for myself and for others.”

“It’s fun to give and to know that you’re helping,” said Cathy. “You may not even know the people who benefit, but you know you’re helping. If we can give someone a leg up or help them have a life that’s a little better than they had before, we want to do that.”

Creating the fund at the Community Foundation was a way “for our gift to go on in perpetuity,” said Cathy, and a way to invest in the future of their community.

“It was a good place to start,” added Joan. “It’s investing in humanity. I’m leaving a little sunshine for someone down the road.”

Dorsey and Sally Leckrone were farmers, teachers, and parents of eight. They made sure there were always magazines, books, and other reading material available at home and instilled a strong belief in
the importance of education in their children.

Their son Donald Leckrone noted that education was something of a family calling. At least four of his father’s siblings were teachers, as were several of Donald’s siblings. From teaching and seminary to nursing, philanthropy, and entrepreneurship, the Leckrone siblings “did not lack for get up and go,” said Donald. “Keeping the 85 billion neurons in your cranium active is healthy. Your mind needs stimulation—your spirit as well—and that gray matter has to be exercised.”

The Leckrone family has also had connections to the Community Foundation since its earliest years. Donald’s younger siblings received scholarships to attend Interlochen Center for the Arts. Donald also received financial help to attend college and seminary, and his first job in 1955 was to run the projector on Wednesdays for a Bessie Slautterback-inspired program at the Community Foundation.

“All eight of us kids benefitted from the Community Foundation in one way or another,” said Donald.

Those connections remained over the decades as Donald began to donate to the Community Foundation whenever he was able. Later, a story about a scholarship created in memory of his classmate Richard Crandell sparked a new idea. “The thought occurred to me that we could do the same to memorialize our parents,” he said.

Together, the Leckrone family created the Dorsey and Sally Leckrone Family Scholarship to support local graduates, particularly from Fremont Public Schools where Dorsey and Sally taught. The scholarship was awarded for the first time this spring, with several family members making the trip back to Newaygo County for the ceremony.

“We want to help a student who may not have the means otherwise to further their education,” said Donald. “We’re paying it forward.”

As part of Dr. Gerald VanWieren’s commitment to the National Health Service Corps, he had to work in a high-need community after medical school. He and his wife Suzanne, a family nurse practitioner, chose Grant. Used to high doctor turnover, patients often asked how long they planned to stay.

“I was obligated to two years, but we’ve stayed 40,” said Gerald.

“We like small town life,” said Suzanne. “We like having those connections with people, and we’re rural but not very far from the city.”

The VanWierens raised their children here, love local trails and rivers, and are active volunteers. Suzanne served on Grant’s school board for 10 years and Gerald is a trustee of the Bridging Generations Fund at the Community Foundation.

As members of Our Next 75, the VanWierens have also given to the Maynard and Lavina DeKryger Scholarship. Their support honors the DeKrygers, who were mentors to them, and helps local graduates attending medical school.

“We’re not just here to amass material goods,” said Gerald. “We would like to leave the world a better place. We’re grateful for what we’ve received and want to return it.”

After Tim Rossler volunteered in his mother’s Head Start classroom in college—where he was studying business—he began picking up education electives and ultimately became a teacher and superintendent. For Peggy Rossler, a love of education started even earlier with a kindergarten teacher she adored. “Teaching was my dream from then on,” she said. “And I got to live my dream. It wasn’t always easy, but it was wonderful.”

Tim and Peggy are retired now, but they are still just as passionate about education. Their three sons are educators, Tim serves on the Promise Zone board, and Peggy, a Community Foundation trustee, is chair of our Education Committee. The couple also used our build-a-fund program to create the Tim and Peggy Rossler Fund for Early Literacy.

“Kids who are read to, talked to, and sung to when they’re young have a better chance of success,” said Peggy. Their hope is that the fund can provide books and learning materials for the area’s youngest residents. It’s also part of a long-standing Rossler family goal: Leave the world around you a little better.

“If you’re going to be part of the community, you have to contribute to the community,” said Tim. “You have to try to make it a better place.”

Where some saw an eyesore, Newaygo County Compassion Home saw potential. While the hospice home began serving guests in 2018 at a donated house in White Cloud, they also began renovating a larger building in Fremont that had been empty for years. Today, it is a spacious, comfortable home where guests can complete their lives with dignity, surrounded by care.

“The end of life is part of living,” said Diane Rudholm, executive director. “We want to help people transition peacefully and gracefully. We want it to feel like home.”

Thanks to a devoted board and staff—including support dog Darla—the Compassion Home has served over 245 people, including more than 155 since moving to their new location in 2021. All services are free to guests and families, so the organization relies on donations and local support. “It’s a gift from the community to the community,” said Dr. Douglas Johnson, board president.

To provide additional long-term support, the Compassion Home created an endowment fund at the Community Foundation last year. “It will provide sustainability in the future,” said Diane. “It also provides another way for people to give. We are so grateful for the support of the community.”

Four of six Gorsky siblings moved to Newaygo County in the early 1970s with their parents, Al and Loretta. They graduated from high school, then spread out across the country for college, military service, and careers. Yet this area kept drawing them back.

“We have kept these connections for the 50 years since,” said Therese Gorsky Cosan.

“We could go anywhere in the world, but we choose to be here because it’s special,” said Alex Gorsky.

Older brother Jim Gorsky used to visit but never lived here until several years ago. “I realized I had only scratched the surface before,” he said. “There are so many people to meet here, really goodhearted people.”

Several family members live here full-time now, and the others love to visit regularly. They all follow Al and Loretta’s example of seeking out ways to give back and get involved.

The Gorskys have been instrumental in the resurrection of Waters Edge Golf Course, inspired by their father’s vision and the prospect of creating jobs and recreational opportunities. They also created an endowment fund together at the Community Foundation as part of the family’s ongoing commitment to the area.

“We are so fortunate in this community,” said Alex. “But it’s because people have made the effort to get involved. Giving back is our responsibility.”

Family and community are deeply important to Christie Pollock. She is a hands-on grandma, a book club member, one of the founders of the local pickleball movement, a beloved former teacher, and even a member of our Bridging Generations Fund board. “It’s a very full life,” she said.

Christie has always been actively involved in community work. “There are a lot of opportunities in this community to give in different ways,” she said. “I’ve been lucky, and I feel a lot of gratitude. That’s why you give back, to pass it on. It’s brought me a lot of joy.”

Christie has also created a fund at the Community Foundation that combines her love of family and community with a lifelong desire to give back. The fund will help local people who want to adopt children. Christie was adopted at birth and always knew she wanted to adopt. “It was always on my roadmap,” she said. “I adopted my two children, and they’re everything to me. They’re my whole life.”

While there are many children who need loving homes, adoption can also be an expensive process. “With this fund, I want to help people who are adopting in any way I can,” said Christie.

The Community Foundation felt like a good fit with Christie’s goals. She was also familiar with the organization because her mother, Vyvyan Pollock, created a fund here years ago and her children received scholarships.

“I’m very proud that we have the Community Foundation here,” said Christie. “It says a lot that so many people have wanted to support it, and I wanted to be one of them.”

Over 55 years ago, Gladys Hindes heard a simple message from her pastor about a family in Hesperia who could use a friend. Her immediate, whole-hearted response created an enduring bond between two families.

Rhonda Davenport Johnson is one of eight children in the family that Gladys befriended. “We became a part of her family,” said Rhonda. “When she said, ‘Call me Aunt Glad,’ she meant it and it was for a lifetime.”

Gladys knitted mittens for everyone at Christmas, attended high school and college graduations and weddings, and became one of Rhonda’s mother’s best friends. “She was always a part of our big moments, but she also just did life with us,” said Rhonda.

Gladys also embodied a welcoming spirit of inclusion that provided an indelible example for those around her. “For my brother and I, her legacy was inclusiveness,” said Laska Creagh, Gladys’ daughter. “She believed everyone deserves love.”

“Growing up as one of very few African American families in the area, we were made to feel different by some, but that was never part of Aunt Glad,” said Rhonda. “She wanted the best for everyone.”

At Gladys’ 100th birthday party in 2019, not only were many Davenports in attendance, but they also donated in her honor to the Community Foundation. “We wanted to help families who needed encouragement and support,” said Rhonda, who is now an executive vice president with Comerica Bank. “We wanted to acknowledge how significant such support had been in our lives and to bless someone else.”

When Gladys passed away in 2021, the Davenports gave again in honor of Aunt Glad’s legacy of love, joy, and generosity. Rhonda and her family continue to look for ways to carry on that example.

“I hope someday people will say that we did some of those things for others,” said Rhonda. “That we were kind, that we were loving, that we were accepting, the way Aunt Glad was with us. I, like the rest of my family, adored her!”

 

Pictured above (l-r) are Laska Creagh, Morris Davenport, Annie Davenport, and Rhonda Davenport Johnson. Photo by Rich Wheater.

Jack and Mary Butterick were high school sweethearts in the Grand Ledge area. “Well, it actually started around age 10,” Jack clarified with a laugh. “But we took a few years off in there.” They have been married for 56 years and, as part of Jack’s job with Gerber, spent some of those years traveling and living in Indianapolis and even Puerto Rico. But it was always West Michigan that captured their hearts.

“I traveled the world and have been to 65 countries, but this is where our hearts are,” said Jack. “This is where we always came back to.”

For part of the year, Jack and Mary divide their time between their home in Fremont and a cottage on White Lake that Jack’s parents bought years ago. They stay there until the cold drives them out, but even at the height of summer, the Buttericks still make regular trips back to Fremont for laundry, church, and volunteer commitments. Service has been a hallmark of their life together.

“I was in the Jaycees and their slogan was, ‘service to humanity is the best work of life,’” said Jack. “We’ve believed that and practiced it.”

From volunteering at local food pantries to shifts in the Friends of the Library room at Fremont Area District Library, Jack and Mary take their commitment to being good neighbors seriously. “We’ve been blessed in so many ways so we can share,” said Mary.

Another avenue for getting involved has been their partnership with the Community Foundation. The Buttericks created a scholarship nearly 30 years ago and will create an unrestricted fund through their estate plan.

“The Community Foundation was the obvious place,” said Jack. “Newaygo County has been a wonderful place for us to live, work, socialize, and worship. We want to leave a legacy and share in the Community Foundation’s ongoing role in our community.”

On a bright morning at the end of July, a line of cars looped around the parking lot at Grant Middle School. One by one they drove past a stretch of colorful tents and tables, greeted by smiles and a mix of Spanish and English. Families in each car received groceries, back-to-school supplies, information on local services, and more as part of Farmworker Appreciation Day.

Organized by the Sparta Area Migrant Resource Council, the day is an annual opportunity to recognize those who play a critical role in our local economy and community. Each year in Michigan, the food and agriculture industry brings in more than $100 billion and includes 94,000 migrant farmworkers and family members.

“I wish more people realized how important these workers are to farmers and to you and I,” said event organizer Mary Rangel, who also serves on the Community Foundation board. “We need them, and it’s important they know how much we appreciate them.”

This year, more than 150 families participated in the event, which is funded in part by a grant from the Community Foundation. It also brings together a network of partner agencies and enthusiastic volunteers. “Everybody is pitching in and helping,” said Mary. “The community is coming together, whether they’re on the receiving end or the giving end.”

Mary has led Farmworker Appreciation Day for 18 years and is still excited about the opportunity to share resources, help kids feel more ready for school, and show support for these local families.

“I’ve always wanted to leave a person, a community better than when I found it,” said Mary. “This is the best thing I can do for my community. We are taking care of each other.”

Greg and Christy Zerlaut are Holton graduates and high school sweethearts who returned to the area after college. Christy had trained as a teacher and was quickly hired as a long-term substitute. “We got to town on Saturday and I got the call on Monday,” she said. “I was eventually hired in and never left.”

Greg, an accountant, worked first in banking and then in the community foundation field. After several years in Muskegon, he was hired as the first vice president of finance at our Community Foundation. “In the corporate world, it can be cutthroat,” he said. “But in community foundations, people helped each other.”

The Zerlauts’ up-close experience with the Community Foundation made it a natural fit as a place to give. With their donor advised fund, the couple supports the causes most important to them, from education to food pantries and more. They’ve also included the Community Foundation in their estate plan, making them the latest members of Our Next 75.

“We wanted to compliment the work of the Community Foundation,” said Greg. “From working there, I know personally the process they go through to make decisions. We feel comfortable following their direction. Their focus areas follow what we want to do.”

Hope College has always been an important part of David and Rhonda Byrne’s story. They met there and both of their sons chose to attend there. David and Rhonda were even married by the school’s chaplain, who offered advice the Byrnes have followed ever since.

“He told us as soon as we got married to start giving and to make it a habit,” said David. “That’s what we’ve tried to do.”

The couple has found plenty of ways to give. Even their careers—David is a lawyer and Rhonda is a social worker—are a way for them to help others.

They have also partnered with the Community Foundation in their giving. They like that it is an easy, locally-focused way to make an impact. “Every day we can see people who have benefitted from others giving and from the Community Foundation,” said Rhonda. “We know it’s well-managed and the Community Foundation makes it easy for us.”

In addition to joining Our Next 75, the Byrnes created a scholarship to help local graduates who want to attend their alma mater.

“I went to a scholarship luncheon while I was a student,” said David. “I remember meeting the people helping me go to college and I thought, ‘Someday I want to help someone else.’ We hope this scholarship encourages somebody to dream.”

The Crandell family has been a fixture in Newaygo County for 120 years. As owners of Crandell Funeral Homes in Fremont and White Cloud, they have helped friends and neighbors through some of the most trying moments of their lives.

“We’ve been caring for families in this community for four generations,” said Curt Crandell who, along with his brother Scott, owns and operates the business.

The Crandells have always made community a priority, through their work, volunteerism and with a scholarship they created for Fremont and White Cloud graduates. The whole family—including Curt, Scott, sister Julie, their spouses, and their children—contributed to the fund honoring their father Richard who passed away in 2018.

“It was a family decision to start the fund when Richard died,” said Phyllis, Richard’s wife. “We believe every bit of education you can get is important.”

Creating the scholarship through the Community Foundation helped the family continue a tradition of giving that is deeply local and long-lasting.

“It was important for it to be local and we like the sustainability of giving through the Community Foundation,” said Scott. “In the future, we hope recipients look back and realize that people cared about them and were interested in them being successful.”

Every summer since 1949, Bill Alsover’s family relocated from their East Grand Rapids home to a cottage on Pickerel Lake. The old cottage was beautiful “only in our hearts,” said Bill, but all the neighbors had children of similar ages who swam, fished, and explored together.

“It was idyllic,” he said. “It was a humble dwelling, but we loved it here.”

The house is different today but the pull of the lake remains strong. Bill—now a Community Foundation trustee—moved to the area full-time over a decade ago and his children and grandchildren are frequent visitors. However, as Bill spent even more time on the lake, he began to notice changes in it and in neighboring Kimball Lake. There were more weeds and the water seemed less clear. One of the problems, a neighbor told him, was that “people use the lake now, they don’t really love it.”

“I have learned a lot about lakes and how sensitive and fragile they are,” said Bill. “They’re not going to fix themselves.”

In addition to encouraging lake health studies and working with the Pickerel Kimball Lake Improvement Board, Bill decided to create a fund at the Community Foundation to support projects that can improve the lakes and watershed.

“It’s been ideal to work with the Community Foundation. It gave the fund credibility,” he said. “We want people to know the fund is here and it’s another way to contribute to the health of the lakes.”

Jeanne Leaver and her husband Bill created a donor advised fund at the Community Foundation because they wanted a sustainable way to support the area they were born in and returned to as adults. It was here they learned the importance of giving back through the example of their families and neighbors.

“Bill and I both had times when we needed help and people were there for us,” said Jeanne. “Others in the community set the example and you don’t forget that.”

The Leavers worked to become informed about local needs and thought hard about the kind of impact they wanted to have. After Bill passed away in 2020, their practice of carefully researching opportunities fell to Jeanne. “I’ve had to take the reins on our fund,” she said.

One thing enhancing Jeanne’s new process is the Community Foundation’s catalog of funding opportunities, which gives donors a chance to get involved in grantmaking. During each community grant round, request summaries from the grant applications are shared with donor advised fundholders. Donors like Jeanne can then recommend grants from their funds to help fill the needs of local nonprofit organizations.

“Looking through the funding opportunities is a really enjoyable time for me,” said Jeanne. “I enjoy reading about what’s going on in the county.”

Now, as she travels around the community, Jeanne finds herself noticing the progress of the different projects she read about in the catalog. “I see something every day that those grants are doing,” she said. “So many areas of our lives are touched by the work of the Community Foundation.”

A Hesperia-area cottage has been collecting memories for Diane Hazen’s family since it was built by her father and grandfather in 1935. Diane’s parents saved up gas rations during World War II to travel from their home in Wayne County to close up the cottage for the season. Diane took her first steps on the porch.

“I’ve been coming here all my life,” Diane said. “This place has been my refuge.”

She shared that refuge with her husband Charles, who enjoyed visiting as much as Diane did. They often made the trip from Romulus, where Charles worked as an industrial planner and consultant and Diane was a library director.

The Hazens planned to retire to the cottage and were looking forward to becoming more involved in the community. Local friends suggested organizations they could join, and Charles was particularly interested in helping young people in the area.

Sadly, Charles passed away before the couple could begin the retirement they were planning. Diane worked for several more years before relocating here full-time. Through it all, she remembered Charles’s desire to help local students.

“He wanted to do something for young people,” said Diane. “And when he died, that’s what came back to me.”

Diane created the Charles W. Hazen Memorial Scholarship to support Hesperia graduates, particularly those pursuing a business or art degree. These areas reflect Charles’s own interests. “His degree was in business and his love was art,” said Diane, who keeps several pieces Charles created on display around the cottage. “His career and work were fascinating for him too.” She remembers Charles often bringing home colleagues for dinner and conversation. “We made lots of good friends that way,” Diane said. “It was an interesting life we led.”

Over the last two decades, 17 Hesperia graduates have received the scholarship created in Charles’s
memory. Just as Charles always wanted, he and Diane are playing a part in helping local young people
plan for their futures and achieve their goals.

“Charles wanted to help young people here,” said Diane. “Through the scholarship he is.”

Lindsay and Vonda Hager moved to Newaygo County in the late 90s for work, “but we stayed because we loved the community,” said Vonda. Little moments like taking their daughters to the local hardware store on Saturdays for popcorn and stickers made the area feel like home.

Through Lindsay’s work in the nonprofit sector—he is now the Community Foundation’s vice president and chief philanthropy officer—the Hagers saw first-hand all the ways community members give back, from volunteerism to donating funds. They passed along that example to their daughters and live it out themselves.

“I used to think philanthropy was just for the wealthiest, but it’s for all of us,” said Lindsay. “It’s something everyone can do.”

The Hagers recently became two of the newest members of Our Next 75. Giving through the Community Foundation appealed to them, in part, because it is deeply local.

“The Community Foundation originated in Newaygo County by residents of Newaygo County giving back to Newaygo County—you can’t make a bigger impact than that in the community you love,” said Vonda. “So many things in the community are made possible because of the Community Foundation. It sets such a powerful example that these things can’t continue unless those who come after keep building it.”

“We want to see the good work of the Community Foundation continue,” said Lindsay. “We want to make sure it continues to benefit the community for another 75 years and beyond.”

Lou Deleguardia served in the Navy, studied culinary arts, and even owned a motorcycle shop. But an interest in financial management kept resurfacing and led Lou to a career as a financial advisor.

His interest in the field was inspired in part by the difficult experience of settling his father’s estate. He and his siblings were all young adults when their father passed away without a will or estate plan. “I thought, ‘There has to be a better way,’” said Lou.

Several years later, a job opening in investment and financial management piqued his interest and he took advantage of the opportunity.

“Sometimes there are roadblocks—you don’t see the path, then all of a sudden a door opens up,” Lou remarked. Of his now-career, he said, “I get to help people. It’s been pretty rewarding.”

Through his work, Lou was aware of the Community Foundation as a resource for local giving. He decided to get involved, first by naming the Community Foundation in his own estate plan and then by creating a fund through the Build-A-Fund program. With those two steps, Lou also became one of the newest members of Our Next 75.

Lou’s field of interest fund will support recreation programs in Newaygo County, especially those for youth. His own hometown in New York state had a robust recreation program and a large park that housed sports fields, a teen center, community gardens, and more. Knowing how important those programs were to him and others, Lou wants to help provide similar opportunities for his neighbors here.

“These programs are training for life,” he said, noting that sports and other activities help kids learn about teamwork, find mentors, and cultivate positive habits.

In addition to supporting valuable opportunities for others, Lou sees his fund as a way to thank the community that welcomed him.

“With a fund at the Community Foundation, I can touch a lot more people than I could on my own,” he said. “I’ve been blessed here, and I want to give back.”