[Note: This article was first published on September 19, 2005. It goes to show that genuine philanthropy does exist in Grand Rapids, even if it has not packed the wallop of the last week's anonymous gift to pay for the college tuition of the children of the citizens of Kalamazoo.]
Here in River City we're pretty good on slapping ourselves on the back about what a generous community we are. We like to point out the Van Andel this or the DeVos that as examples. But you know, the generosity of the pyramid-builders' philanthropy is a bit strained, as I noted in last week's article on the CAA. With the G.R. Press and the Amway P.R. team bragging up DeVos or Van Andel participation in a so-called public-private venture like the arena, we forget what genuine philanthrophy looks like.
Fortunately we have Fred Meijer's $5 million donation to the $9.9 million renovation of the Civic Theater downtown to remind us. Meijer's gift is in the same league as Amway founder Rich DeVos's donation to the DeVos Place Convention Center and his late partner Jay Van Andel's donation to the Van Andel Arena. However, Meijer is neither buying an ersatz legacy by getting his name plastered on the renovated theater. Nor will he or his business partners profit from the operations of the theater or any other relationship with it. Nor is his gift contingent upon further financing that sticks the taxpayers with a big bill. In short, Meijer's donation to the Civic Theater is philanthropy done right.