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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

Tom and Char TenBrink love a good adventure. It started with a belated honeymoon trip to Niagara Falls. When Char mentioned on the trip that she had never been to Washington DC, they got back in the car and kept driving until they got there. They’ve since visited almost every state and love heading “down the road less traveled,” said Char. “You run into the most unexpected things. It’s so much fun.”

“We get to a stop sign and I say, ‘Right or left?’” said Tom.

Wherever they venture, Newaygo County still always lures them home. Both grew up here and spent most of their careers with Gerber. Their love of the area prompted them to begin thinking about other ways to give back. They started talking about creating a scholarship at the Community Foundation someday through their estate plan. However, after learning about the Community Foundation’s build-a-fund program, they decided to use it to start their scholarship now.

“We could set it up the way we want and see how it works,” said Char. “Having grown up in the area seeing the good things the Community Foundation has done, how it has grown, and the outreach it has—it seemed like a good place to give back and it keeps it local.”

They ultimately hope their scholarship will help a wide range of students train for good jobs and achieve their dreams.

“I’m excited to get it started,” said Tom. “I’m looking forward to being able to help somebody.”

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.

Last year, as Dr. Lori Tubbergen Clark talked about the Promise Zone at a parent meeting, she noticed a woman in the front row who seemed concerned. Lori paused for questions and the woman raised her hand.

“It sounds too good to be true,” she said, struggling to believe someone was simply going to pay for her child’s college education. Assured there was no catch, the mother in the front row began to cry.

“Just the relief for that parent,” said Lori, NC RESA superintendent and chair of the Promise Zone Authority Board, describing the moment. “This really is a game-changer. It’s a huge shift in thinking. It used to be ‘If I go to college.’ Now it’s ‘When I go.’”

Promise Zones are a nationwide effort to create a tuition-free path to an associate degree for students living and graduating within their geographic boundaries. Zones can capture half the growth in state education property taxes to help fund the scholarships, but they must first prove they can pay for the initial years on their own.

While still working toward their goal, the Newaygo County Area Promise Zone has already raised $1.3 million and was able to award the first scholarships to the class of 2017.

“This is a generous community,” said Lori. “We were able to fund 104 kids in less than one year. People are looking to us as an example.”

The Community Foundation joined the push by awarding more than $650,000 in grants to the Promise Zone. Staff have also provided fundraising and marketing assistance.

“None of this would be possible without that support,” said Lori.

Moving forward, Lori is excited to see the impact continue to spread. She has heard from employers who now see a path to finding qualified local employees and hopes it will encourage more young people to stay in the area. And of the long list of exciting moments to come, one rises to the top.

“I just want to see that first group of graduates,” said Lori. “I want to see them be completers and I’m excited to see some of those completers stay here. I’m looking forward to seeing their dreams come true.”

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.”