When Bill and Judy Johnson designed their scholarship, they got creative. Instead of helping a student with just the first semester or year of college, they worked with the Community Foundation to set up a scholarship that follows one student all the way through.

“We thought it would be better if the student could have that help for all four years,” said Bill. “We’re so glad the Community Foundation was willing to do this with us.”

“It was such a joy to us,” added Judy. “And a joy for David as well.”

David Grodus—the scholarship’s first recipient—is a Newaygo graduate now attending Ferris State University. He has stayed in touch with the Johnsons, sending them photos from move-in day and a note when he made the Dean’s List. Bill and Judy have no doubt he’ll be successful in whatever career he chooses.

“We hope he’ll see the value of investing in other students someday too,” said Judy. “I really think he will.”

“We think higher education is transformative,” Bill said. “Judy and I are both from what I would call humble beginnings. Our lives were transformed by a higher education opportunity. It’s important to us to try to help others have the same opportunities we’ve had.”

Don and Sue Farmer believe in the power of scholarships. Sue, a retired Hesperia Middle School teacher, is grateful they helped her complete her post-secondary education. The Farmers’ two children also utilized scholarships to keep their student debt down, something that Don—a banker—does not take for granted.

“In my work, I see so many people with debt,” Don said. “It’s not uncommon to see people with $60,000 to $100,000 in student loan debt. They can’t even afford to pay it back with the jobs that they have.”

“You don’t want to see kids have to struggle so much,” said Sue. “They should be able to concentrate on important things like their family, not having to juggle three jobs just to get by.”

Wanting to do something to help, the couple created the Don and Sue Farmer Family Fund scholarship. They crafted the scholarship with criteria that reflects the passions of their family. It will be awarded to Fremont and Hesperia graduates with preference to those planning to attend Central Michigan University— Don and Sue’s alma mater—and study business or education. The scholarship also reflects the couple’s gratitude for the ways the Newaygo County community has impacted their lives.

“If it helps someone to go on, to go a little further, that’s where the satisfaction comes from,” said Don. “It takes the support of the community to be successful. We’re giving back to the community that’s given to us.”

The loss of his son Tyler four years ago was awful, said Mike Slaughter, “but then it becomes about what you choose to do with that grief. You have to find a way to redeem it.”

Mike, along with family and friends, created a scholarship at the Community Foundation for adults studying social work. Tyler had gone back to school for his master’s degree as an adult and was working at Newaygo County Mental Health when he passed away in 2015.

The Tyler Patrick Slaughter Memorial Scholarship was awarded for the first time this year to Nicole Klomp, a local social worker.

“I had been thinking about going back to school for a while. I thought it would give me even more opportunities to help my community,” said Nicole. “The scholarship relieves a lot of financial stress, but it’s also a huge motivation. You know there are people who care and desire to see others prosper.”

Mike and Nicole had a chance to meet recently to talk about Tyler and their shared mission to be advocates for people in crisis.

“Knowing I’m able to make a difference in somebody’s life is very rewarding. I hope I represent Tyler well and carry on his passion for helping people,” Nicole told Mike.

“Every time I see your name, it will be like a dream taking visual form. Like the abstract becoming real. This is as much a gift to us as it is to you,” said Mike. “We need more people like you.”

Angie Bradley got a well-paying job at a factory right out of high school. She took college classes on and off over the years, but didn’t really see the need for a degree. Later, as her children grew, she felt guilty taking the time.

But when Angie was passed over for her dream job because it required a bachelor’s degree, she knew she needed to make a change.

“I decided never again would I not be able to have what I want in my career because of this,” Angie said. “Options and opportunities—that’s what I tell my kids that education provides. It’s easy to go to the quick money, but you have no idea what you’re going to come across down the road.”

Angie received an adult student scholarship from the Community Foundation after a coworker urged her to check into it. “Not having that financial burden up front is super nice. I could not have done my classes the last two years without the scholarship,” she said.

Now working toward a degree in psychology, Angie enjoys applying what she learns in class to her work in training and organizational development. She gets lots of support from her husband and children too. “They’re really proud of me,” she said. “I want to be able to tell my kids I did it.”

“You worry there will be a stigma to going back to school as an adult, but there’s not. People think it’s cool,” Angie said. “My advice to others? Start. Take one class. You don’t need to take six classes right now or have a career path planned out. Just start.”

Mighty Lube Systematic Lubrication is a family business that originated in the early 1980s by Pat and Kim Brown. The business includes three of their four children—daughter Jamie is a nurse—along with dedicated employees, many of whom have been with the company for a decade or longer.

“We’re a big family,” said Kim. “A business isn’t one person. It’s like a puzzle. It takes many pieces and many people to make it up. There is always somebody bringing something forward.”

In 2009, Pat and Kim acquired OPCO Lubrication and created a joint alliance with Mighty Lube. Both businesses have grown internationally, with auto manufacturers and other companies using their products and their Next Generation conveyor monitoring systems. As the business has grown, they’ve added space and employees at their headquarters in Fremont and opened a new sales office in Nashville run by their son, Anthony. Everything is assembled here in Michigan, with many of the parts and materials used coming from West Michigan businesses.

“We’ve been very blessed,” said Kim. “So we wanted to help someone else like us.”

Wanting to give back and encourage others to consider careers in fields like theirs, Pat and Kim created the Mighty Lube/OPCO Scholarship for local graduates going into skilled and vocational trades.

“We need to push those hands-on abilities,” said Pat. “It’s kind of a dying art. But I don’t care how far into the future you go, someone needs to build these things. It’s all important.”

“We hope to see some of the scholarship recipients start their own businesses,” added Kim. “If we can help them get that start, that’s huge. We don’t want kids to give up. So many kids think they’re stuck, and they’re not. If you work hard, you can get ahead. Don’t be afraid to dream.”

When Stuart Stone was in eighth grade, he transferred from a country school to Grant Public Schools in town. He wanted to be in band but found himself behind other students who already had a year or two of experience.

“My eighth-grade band teacher took me under his wing,” said Stuart. “He spent his prep hour first semester teaching me to play so I could join the band.”

The teacher—later a founder of Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp—had a profound impact on Stuart. He helped foster a love of the arts that Stuart shares with his wife Kay and their children and grandchildren.

When Stuart and Kay created a scholarship, they decided it should be awarded to Grant graduates who had been involved in the arts in high school. It was a way to celebrate a shared family interest while also helping local students achieve their post-secondary goals.

The Stones chose the Community Foundation for their scholarship because, after years of working and volunteering in Newaygo County, they were familiar with its work and reputation.

“They spend money to the best advantage of the community,” said Stuart. “From the time we knew about it, we never had any doubts that was the best place to do it.”

It was also one more way for them to give back to the community they have called home their whole lives.

“We give because we’ve been given so much,” said Kay. “We’ve been blessed. The community has given so much to us so now we can give back. We can make a difference.”

Gary Woods loved maps. He began each year in his Hesperia classroom by drawing colorful world maps across the blackboard. Former students who went abroad often wrote to say that, thanks to him, they always knew exactly where they were in the world.

“Many wrote to him from the military,” said Gary’s wife Marcia. “Around the time of the Iranian embassy attack, a former student was sitting off the coast of Iran. He wrote, ‘I know where I am. Most of these guys have no idea.'”

After Gary passed away, Marcia and family created a scholarship in his honor. It will be awarded to Hesperia students studying secondary education and a portion of the fund will support social studies education.

“He meant so much to kids, touched so many lives,” said Marcia. “I don’t think even he realized the impact he had.”

Marcia started the Gary Woods Memorial Scholarship to support Hesperia graduates. It will be awarded for the first time in 2018.

When Tyler Slaughter was 10, he and his father Mike volunteered as bell ringers during the holidays. At the end of their shift, Tyler observed, “It seems like the people who needed it most were the people who gave the most.”

Tyler’s life was marked by that kind of grace and empathy. After getting a degree in health studies, he changed direction in his late 20s and started a Master of Social Work program. To Mike, the move was in keeping with his son’s passion for helping others.

“I told him, ‘you’ve always been a walk-alongside kind of guy,’” said Mike. “Tyler was an encourager of world-class stature.”

After completing his MSW, Tyler went to work for Newaygo County Mental Health as an adult case worker. Just a year later, in April 2015, Tyler unexpectedly passed away, but “he died doing work he relished and deeply valued,” said Mike. “I needed to find a way to pay his life forward.”

Mike created the Tyler Patrick Slaughter Memorial Scholarship with support from family and friends, including Tyler’s coworkers at NCMH who organized fundraisers. The scholarship is for adult students, like Tyler, studying social work.

“We want to give them a jump start,” said Mike.

Connected by a shared desire to honor Tyler’s legacy, Mike stayed in contact with the people at NCMH. Last summer, he accepted a job there as a supported employment coordinator.

“This gives me a chance to make my own contribution,” he said. “I can best honor Tyler’s life by serving others as well as I possibly can. He is why I’m here.”

Brian and Diane Karsten may live in Grand Rapids now, but Fremont still holds a special place in their hearts.

The couple moved to the area in 1990 and became active members of the community. They were youth leaders at their church, where Diane was also instrumental in starting a youth mentoring program. Brian, a financial advisor, served on the school board and still works in Fremont for part of the week.

“Fremont has always been very good to us,” he said. “We’ve been blessed beyond our wildest dreams by being there.”

“And we believe you’re blessed to be a blessing,” said Diane.

In addition to their volunteerism, the Karstens decided to give back by starting a fund at the Community Foundation. They created the Karsten Family Fund scholarship through a stock gift, with a focus on supporting students who are deserving but may not be at the top of their class or receiving other awards.

“These are kids who worked just as hard or maybe even harder,” said Diane. “It shows them that somebody cares, even though they may not be in the top 10.”

“And the fund will live forever,” said Brian. “After we’re gone, our kids and grandkids can choose to give to it if they want. It will go on.”

“It was important to us that the money would stay in the community,” he continued. “Fremont supported us and our business. It’s a great community.”

On the day before her graduation from Central Michigan University, Alyssa Greene reflected on the 2013 Possibility! Scholarship that instantly changed her life.

“I don’t even know how to express my gratitude,” Alyssa said. “It took so much stress off my shoulders. It allowed me to be successful. It motivates too, knowing there was someone out there who believed in me.”

Alyssa was a senior at Hesperia High School when she was awarded the special full, four-year scholarship. The Community Foundation created this one-time opportunity as part of the 2013 launch of its Goal 2025 initiative to increase the proportion of Newaygo County residents with high-quality degrees, certificates, or other credentials to 60 percent by the year 2025. Alyssa used her scholarship to go to CMU, where she majored in sociology with a concentration in youth studies. Alyssa excelled academically and was involved on and around campus, focusing much of her time on mentoring area youth.

“I really love mentoring,” said Alyssa. “It helped me solidify that I’m in the right field. I hate the mindset that someone is a lost cause. You can show them they have what it takes to be successful.”

Last year, Alyssa was chosen for the McNair Scholars Program, which supports first generation, low income, or underrepresented students pursuing doctoral studies. With a faculty mentor, Alyssa researched how school atmosphere affects student performance.

Her research sparked an interest in educational policy, an area Alyssa is considering studying further for her PhD. Pursuing an MSW is another possibility, but before deciding she plans to spend a year getting experience in a job with DHHS or Child Protective Services.

No matter what path she chooses, Alyssa believes it will lead her back to West Michigan.

“I don’t see myself leaving West Michigan,” she said. “People here have put so much into me, and I’m going to put some back.”

Lois Brookhouse passed away on March 24, 2017, her 91st birthday. We were honored to spend time talking with her in late 2014 for this story.

Lois Brookhouse remembered the hospital guild meetings that her mother held at their farm between Fremont and Newaygo and the strong smell of disinfectant that would linger in the air long after. Guild members would gather to cut bandages of all shapes and sizes for use at the hospital. “Since they met at our house, all us kids had to help, too,” said Lois. By fifth grade, Lois was heading to the hospital to volunteer, a habit that she continued for more than 60 years.

Being involved in the community was as natural as breathing. “It was important to us,” said Lois. “This is where we live.”

That belief in the importance of community and generosity has become part of a family legacy. Lois’ grandson Jason Brookhouse grew up watching his parents and grandparents serve in their church, volunteer in the community, and help others. He and his wife, Kristin, started a donor advised fund at the Community Foundation as a way to give back.

They felt comfortable giving through the Community Foundation because of its reputation as a leader in the community but also because Lois had already paved the way.

In honor of her parents, Lois created the Nicholas and Pauline Boeskool Memorial Scholarship. Education has always been important to the family. Pauline was secretary and treasurer for the old Butler School board, and Nicholas taught woodworking for years. Six of Lois’ own children attended college, and the scholarship she started in her parents’ names will help other youth people have the same opportunity.

“We were brought up to help one another,” said Lois. “It’s the right thing to do.”

“She was little but fierce,” said KC Kelley with a smile, remembering her mother, Helen Myers. “She was a good role model. She inspired everybody.”

In particular, Helen inspired a love of the arts. She taught her children to play the piano and knit, saw them off to art camps, and was a behind-the-scenes fixture of many productions.

“She supported us in every single crazy endeavor,” said KC, who also remembers her parents supporting organizations like Interlochen Center for the Arts.

Helen grew up playing piano in church and studied art at Western Michigan University. And though she made a career in business, her love for art always bubbled up to the surface.

“Her artistry showed through in everything she did,” said Craig Myers, Helen’s son.

“After all,” added KC, “art isn’t a thing, it’s a way.”

In Helen’s honor, her family created a Build-a-Fund at the Community Foundation, growing a scholarship in Helen’s name over time. Now the Helen Myers Memorial Scholarship is awarded to young women who plan to study art and design, just like Helen did.

“It was a natural decision,” said Tracy Streichhirsch, Helen’s granddaughter, of creating the scholarship. “And I like that it’s in her name. She deserves that recognition.”

“She always wanted to support us in whatever we were doing,” said KC. “We wanted to do this so other kids could benefit the same way we did.”

When Randi Koogler’s job was downsized, instead of focusing on the problem, she recognized a chance for a new start.

“It was the perfect opportunity to go back to school,” said Randi. “So often you think that it’s just not the right time, but this was it.”

Randi applied for and received an adult student scholarship from the Community Foundation, which helped her take the next step. Now she is completing her associate degree at Davenport University and plans to obtain a bachelor’s in finance. She has discovered a passion for training and development and is active in Business Professionals of America. In 2015, Randi was part of the first-place financial analyst team at their national conference.

“When you’re excited and passionate about
 what you’re doing at work it carries over to 
your home life,” said Randi, who has also seen her journey positively impact the way her family views education.

“No one else in my family has a degree,” she said. “This helps them see the value in education. I’ve seen the impact on my oldest daughter, and my second daughter is already talking about where she wants to go to college.”

“People are afraid to go for their dreams because it doesn’t seem practical,” Randi continued. “But if you have the passion, the rest will follow. Keep taking the next step.”

Sisters Sarah Coville and Emily Zoulek know firsthand the impact a scholarship can have. Both graduated from Newaygo High School and received scholarships from the Community Foundation.

“It’s great to have that help and support from the community,” said Emily. “It helped me a ton.”

Emily is now a doctor in Minnesota. Sarah is a psychologist who works with children and young adults in Grand Rapids and Newaygo County. As they built their careers, the sisters remembered the support they received as they started out.

“I called my sister and said, ‘what do you think about creating a scholarship?’” said Sarah. “It wasn’t even a big discussion. We just decided to do it. We could have spent the money elsewhere I guess, but we’re simple people, we’re not extravagant. We’re happy in our professions, we like what we do, and we’re in a position to give back, so why not help?”

“Scholarships helped me get where I am,” added Emily. “And now we can help others.”

Using the Community Foundation’s Build-A-Fund program, Sarah and Emily created the Coville Scholarship. With the fund minimum now met, the first scholarship will be awarded in 2017 to a Newaygo graduate pursuing a career in mental or physical health.

“We wanted it to go to someone from our high school going into a similar field,” explained Sarah.

“There are always going to be jobs in the medical field,” said Emily. “I hope the scholarship truly helps someone achieve what they want and gives them that extra push to keep going.”

“I’ve been here all my life,” said Doran Ditlow. And while he doesn’t care much for the cold winters in Newaygo County, he does have a special affinity for the rural area where he was born.

“I was born about as far out as you could get,” said Doran of his childhood home near White Cloud. “Our house was past where the blacktop ended, then past where the gravel ended.”

He graduated from White Cloud High School and served abroad with the Army. After returning home, Doran reconnected with Margaret–a high school classmate–and started a family. They were married for 51 years. Doran also worked hard to put himself and, later, his daughter through college.

“My parents were big on education,” said Doran. “College is important because, for most people, it’s one of their best shots at a good job and to make more money. Education gives you a common language and makes you more competitive.”

Wanting to find a permanent way to give other local young people a chance to continue their educations, he created the Doran and Margaret Stuthard Ditlow Scholarship for White Cloud graduates.

“My dad, brother, wife, and I all graduated from White Cloud,” explained Doran. “I’m helping kids like we were. I hope it helps them get their degree and find a good job.”

“It goes back to my parents,” Doran continued. Because in addition to a belief in the value of education, they instilled in him another important principle: “I wanted to leave things better than I found them.”

“You can’t go to college. Your parents don’t have the money.”

More than 70 years later, Jane Reath still remembers those words from her high school counselor. A year went by before the encouragement of another educator inspired her to go to college after all. Jane went on to become a high school counselor herself and has spent much of her life advocating for young people and education.

“Education has been important to me all my life,” said Jane. “If you don’t have the education, you can’t go anywhere.”

“Education helps you keep up with change,” added Norm Reath, Jane’s husband. According to Norm, Jane’s life has been characterized by her willingness to accept change, embrace innovation, and face challenges with positivity.

“She was always the optimist,” said Norm. “She accepts change. She says to me daily, ‘Norm, it’s all part of change.’”

Jane was an early advocate for the expansion of Fremont’s library and the first woman to serve on Fremont Public’s school board. She also wrote a grant for the high school’s first computer and helped other staff learn to use the new technology.

The funds the Reaths created at the Community Foundation—a scholarship in Jane’s name and a fund to support Fremont Area District Library—are a reflection of a lifelong dedication to learning and preparing young people for the future. And by giving through the Community Foundation, Jane and Norm are also confident that their gifts will continue to grow and support the community no matter what the future holds.

“As a counselor, Jane always told things like it was,” said Norm. “She respected honesty. And that’s the Community Foundation’s strength. We gave through the Community Foundation because the trust was there. Times change, but we’ve got trust.”

Al and Marlene Karnemaat love what they do. To them Karnemaat Farms isn’t just their family business—it’s a family calling.

“We are a family of faith,” said Al. “It’s the most important part of our lives. And we believe we’ve been called to the greatest career there is: to produce good food in safe ways for a hungry world.”

Along with their sons, Kent and Tom, two grandsons have now joined the business. They focus primarily on growing vegetables that are sold locally and nationally.

“It’s a gift to be doing what you enjoy,” said Al. “You spend too many hours in your career not to love what you do.”

Al and Marlene’s enthusiasm for their work also shows through in the scholarship that they established at the Community Foundation. The Karnemaat Family Scholarship helps local young people train for their own rewarding careers in agriculture or other food-related fields, ministry, or conservation.

“Our hope is that it gets them off on the right foot so they can have a career they like and be successful,” said Marlene.

“We can all look back and find times when someone helped us,” said Al. “We have been blessed and are thankful there’s an opportunity to do things like this for local youth.”

Iris Davidson remembers her husband Charles as a man who was interested in everything. The couple co-owned a restaurant in Newaygo and enjoyed fishing together. Charles loved the outdoors, public speaking, and athletics. He ran sports conditioning camps and worked as a coach, teacher, and principal.

When Charles passed away in 2000, Iris wanted to find a meaningful, lasting way to honor his life and legacy.

“I wanted to do something more than just buy flowers that would be gone in a few days,” she said. “I would rather see that money help someone. I wanted it to do something for somebody.”

At the suggestion of one of Charles’ friends, Iris and family established the Charles William Davidson Memorial Scholarship Fund at the Community Foundation with gifts from friends, family, and community members.

“I think it is a wonderful thing to do,” said Iris. “It’s grown so much. Now all these young people have benefitted from it.”

The scholarship, awarded annually to a graduating student athlete from Newaygo High School and White Cloud High School, is a permanent way to remember Charles as well as a way to invest in the future.

“Helping students continue their education is important, especially in this changing world,” said Iris. “They can be more knowledgeable and they can discover things they can do to help make a difference in the world.”

Alyssa Greene, a graduate of Hesperia High School, received the Possibility! Scholarship from the Community Foundation in 2013. This special full, four-year scholarship served as a springboard to the rest of her life.

Now a sophomore at Central Michigan University, Alyssa has weathered homesickness and the adjustment to college life and is enthusiastically becoming more involved on campus. She has joined the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and is an initiate of an honors fraternity.

“It’s going great,” said Alyssa. “I have learned a lot about myself and who I am. I feel like I found my path.”

Alyssa credits her scholarship with helping to make it all possible. “It signified hope to me,” she said. “It meant I could do all the things I wanted to do with my life.”

With a major in criminal justice and a minor in psychology, Alyssa hopes to one day facilitate a juvenile rehabilitation center. She looks forward to mentoring at-risk youth next semester and plans to begin her career as a juvenile probation officer.

She is also determined to find a way to demonstrate what she calls her “undying gratitude” for the opportunities she has been given. “I want to give back to my grandma who raised me and to the community,” said Alyssa. “I want them to know how grateful I am. They helped me achieve my goals and dreams.”

Joe Berger is an offensive lineman for the Minnesota Vikings and in his tenth season in the NFL. But he’s also a Newaygo High School graduate who has not forgotten the important role his family and home community played in his success.

“I walked on in college, I didn’t have a football scholarship,” Joe said. “My whole family has a part in where I ended up. So does this community. I received three scholarships from the Community Foundation and I know how important they were to my future.”

In addition to his career in the NFL, Joe holds a degree in mechanical engineering from Michigan Tech.

Determined to give back and to demonstrate the importance of giving to their three young children, Joe and Abby (Murray) Berger created the Berger Family Scholarship at Fremont Area Community Foundation. It is awarded to two scholar-athletes each year—one from Newaygo High School and one from Grant High School, Abby’s alma mater.

“We set up this scholarship to give someone else a chance to get to school,” said Joe. “Since the Community Foundation helped me, I wanted to help someone else persevere and have a chance to succeed.”