THE FIRST PILLAR – EDUCATION

worldinhandbigECONOMICOLOGY Enters a Global Curriculum at City High

In the 1990s, Peter Wege coined the word “economicology” to define the balance the world must find between “economics” and “ecology.” His 1998 book ECONOMICOLOGY: The Eleventh Commandment documents Peter’s philosophy that a prosperous economy requires a healthy environment. Now the premier high school in the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan, is exploring how to incorporate economicology into a new degree program called an International Baccalaureate.

Since Peter has always said that solving environmental problems has to be done on a global scale, the proposed IB degree for City High School is a natural fit. This rigorous, two-year curriculum is already being taught in over 80 countries around the world. The IB program started in 1968 in Geneva, Switzerland, with the goal of having this diploma accepted in nations around the globe.

econ1v1This mission statement from the IB program could have come right out of Peter’s book ECONOMICOLOGY. The goal of the IB curriculum is to “develop the ability to communicate with and understand people from other countries and cultures.”

One of Peter’s environmental heroes was the English author and visionary H.G. Wells. In 1939, seven years before he died, Wells in fact anticipated the IB’s goal in his book, The Fate Of Man. In ECONOMICOLOGY, Peter wrote about Well’s foresight in calling on mankind to think in global, rather than national, terms. Wege’s book explained Wells’ advocacy for what the British writer called a “World Brain.”

Foreshadowing the aims of the International Baccalaureate, Wells’ World Brain would transcend political borders and educate people on what has to be done if civilization is to survive. Peter Wege shared H.G. Wells’ wisdom that only such global thinking could end wars and save civilization. Peter considers this one sentence from The Fate of Man the most important in Wells’ book:

Nonetheless, it is only through the attainment of a real world democracy that there is any hope for the ultimate survival of our species.

Thanks to Peter’s collaborative support with the Grand Rapids Public School’s City High School, the year-long application process for joining the IB program has started. Whether City High is accepted or not and just how economicology will be implemented are open questions for now. But what is clear already is how compatible Peter Wege’s global thinking and writings are with this international curriculum.

THE SECOND PILLAR: THE ENVIRONMENT

HEALING OUR WATERS

What began as Peter M. Wege’s vision to save the Great Lakes by inviting 70 environmentalists to a Grand Rapids conference in May 2004 turned into and unprecedented federal commitment within five years. Also supported by the Beldon, Frey, and Mott Foundations, the original meeting Wege convened at Steelcase University has made environmental history in record time. In February 2009, President Obama signed the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a plan to restore the Great Lakes with an estimated $20 billion price tag.

In 2010 alone, the federal government has provided $475 million for Great Lakes restoration, including grants to address the three most serious threats to the Great Lakes: invasive species, non-point source pollution, and contaminated sediments.

These three primary targets came almost verbatim from the report –Wege called it the Great Lakes’ “Magna Carta” – issued by the original Healing Our Waters conference attendees in 2004. At the time Peter Wege told his invited guests that he wanted the Lakes restored in five years as, “I’m not getting any younger.”

Eyes rolled. Can’t be done. Federal funding? Politics? Elections? Monstrous endeavors like restoring the Lakes take decades to happen! But Peter M. Wege proved, once again, that he has a knack for making his impossible visions come true.

The Sixth Great Lakes Restoration Conference took place in September 2010 in Buffalo, New York, the sixth of the eight Great Lakes states to host the yearly gathering. From the original 30 environmental groups who met at Steelcase in 2004, over 120 organizations representing millions of Americans are now active members of the HOW-Great Lakes Coalition.

Andy Buchsbaum, National Wildlife Federation, and Lynn McClure, National Parks Conservation Association, co-chair the coalition with Mark Van Putten serving as The Wege Foundation’s consultant on the GLRI. In his newly published book, ECONOMICOLOGY II, Peter Wege says that restoring the Great Lakes is the single most important work he’s done in his life.

Wege’s good friend, the late President Gerald R. Ford, agreed. In congratulating Peter for his leadership on the Lakes, President Ford spoke for all Americans when he wrote in July 2006, “The Great Lakes have enriched my life as they have so many others, and I share your commitment to restoring them for our children’s and grandchildren’s future.”

THE THIRD PILLAR: ARTS & CULTURE

The Wege Foundation’s signature gift in the Arts & Culture area of interest is the new Grand Rapids Art Museum. Even before the ribbon was cut in October 2007, GRAM was making national news as the first “green” art museum in the world. The New York Times headlined its article: From Michigan, a Clean-Running Museum. When the Times asked Peter what his future dreams were for this history-making building, the answer was classic Wege. “I hope it inspires other cultural organizations to follow.”

In its September 2007 in-flight magazine, United Airlines published a feature article by Charles Lockwood singling out the green museum in the greenest city in the United States: the new GRAM in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Lockwood wrote that GRAM will be the first art museum to receive a LEED rating (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) from the U.S. Green Building Council. GRAM’s adherence to LEED standards qualified it not for just Certification, but for a GOLD rating, the second highest level the Council can award a building.

Lockwood writes of the 18,000-square-foot GRAM, Green features include glazed skylights that bring natural light into the galleries, tanks that collect rainwater used to flush toilets, and an HVAC system that collects and stores fresh air under the building where the earth cools it.

While this stunning green museum, designed by architect Kulapat Yantrasast, is Peter’s largest gift to GRAM, it’s certainly not his first. For some forty years, The Wege Foundation has supported the Grand Rapids Art Museum. Starting with his first recorded gift of $1,000 in 1969 when GRAM was in a renovated house near downtown, Wege has been the Art Museum’s single most generous patron.

From relatively small donations—like redoing GRAM’s kitchen, to major gifts—like funding the Frank Lloyd Wright exhibit, Wege has made sure the Art Museum gets whatever it needs. From 1969 onward, GRAM’s annual donations under the name “Wege,” both personal and from the Foundation, have a repetitive ring. “Annual fund.” “Endowment.” “Underwriting.” “Capital improvements.”

Yet those are only the non-specific gifts. He also created an internship named for the woman he often called “my sainted mother,” the Sophia Dubridge Scholarship. College students who win the Dubridge Scholarship study in the curatorial and education departments of the Art Museum.

Peter Wege regularly backs art exhibits, especially of local artists like the late Mathias Alten and Jon MacDonald, a distinguished painter. Years before political correctness kicked in, Peter Wege was promoting MacDonald not because he is an African American, but because of his artistic talent.

While the Arts and Environment are the central Pillars of the Foundation’s Mission, this $60 million LEED-Gold art museum in the heart of Grand Rapids incorporates the other three areas of interest for Peter as well. Enhancing the downtown with a magnet like the new GRAM contributes to Human Services as it revitalizes the people of the inner city who live in nearby neighborhoods.

With Peter’s strong faith that the arts as necessary to the health and elevation of the human spirit, the new GRAM fits into his Health Care model of Mind, Body, & Spirit. And with GRAM Director Celeste Adams already scheduling a variety of art classes—plus children’s art camps in the summer of 2008—the new Museum supports the Foundation’s number-one area of interest area: Education

Peter’s quote in the New York Times is right on. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if GRAM inspired “other cultural organizations to follow” its example!

Visit the Grand Rapids Art Museum at www.gramonline.org

THE FOURTH PILLAR: HEALTH CARE

Saint Mary’s Health Care

In the 1950s, Peter M. Wege gave his first gift to Saint Mary’s by printing the hospital’s bulletin. Wege was 36 when he was elected Chairman of Saint Mary’s Board of Trustees in 1958. The Trustee next closest in age was 62. Over the next half century, he would become Saint Mary’s most generous donor.

After The Wege Foundation helped fund the third major building campaign between 1998 and 2009, Saint Mary’s CEO Phil McCorkle could not help asking a serious question. “For all you’ve done for us, Peter, could we have the hospital renamed for you and your family?”

According to McCorkle, Peter Wege turned him down with this explanation. “My mother prayed to Mary to protect me when I was born at Saint Mary’s. That’s why Saint Mary has always been dear to me and her name should remain the hospital’s name.” And it did.

In 1998 The Wege Foundation was behind a new 80,000 square-foot Peter M Wege Institute for holistic medicine at Saint Mary’s; Wege was a major donor to the Richard J. Lacks Cancer Center that became the second LEED-certified hospital building in the country because of Peter’s influence.

In 2009 the $60 million Hauenstein Center for Neuroscience opened, again with a major donation coming from the Wege Foundation. And again LEED-certified coming from Peter M. Wege’s environmental vision.

THE FIFTH PILLAR: COMMUNITY SERVICE

THE FIFTH PILLAR: COMMUNITY SERVICE

The Wege Foundation’s Fifth Pillar is Community Service. Peter Wege’s name is well known in the inner city of Grand Rapids as a man who cares about all the residents of his home town, especially those in greatest need. Two of Grand Rapids’ declining areas are newly thriving as a result of The Wege Foundation’s gifts to rehabilitate several buildings in those neighborhoods.

Baxter Community Center, pictured above, typifies The Wege Foundation’s Human Services outreach. An inner-city non-profit created to make life better for neighborhood families, Baxter Community Center grew out of the race riots of the late 1960s. That’s when the mostly white members of the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church in the Baxter neighborhood decided they had to do something to heal the racial tension.

What they did in 1967 was convert the former Baxter Christian School—around the corner from the church—into a safe and supportive haven for their neighbors. From the beginning, this Christian-based program welcomed people of every faith, color, and age with the same caring arms. (See accompanying photos.)

The Baxter Community Center began with church members offering recreation and tutoring. But the founders quickly realized the families coming to the Center needed more programs and support. They gradually added preschool classes, day care for children, adult literacy, and counseling.

More recently, the Baxter Center’s staff and board has added services that meet their families’ “human needs” in the most practical ways. A medical clinic. A dental clinic. Child care. Mental-health counseling. A market place with free clothing food and household goods. Tax preparation. Budget counseling.

By the early years of the 21st Century, it was clear that taking care of all these human needs called for more room than the old Baxter Christian School had. Baxter turned to the greater community for help. They launched a $2.4 million campaign to remodel the existing school and double Baxter Community Center’s space with a new addition.

The Wege Foundation’s name came up early as Peter was already beloved at Baxter for what he’d done to restore and renew their neighboring business district on Wealthy Street. The Baxter leaders knew about Peter’s strong loyalty to his native city—how he’d helped rejuvenate the inner-city’s Heartside neighborhood. They knew from his generosity to the core city that he cared deeply about underprivileged children and their families.

As always with Peter Wege, it did not hurt that his good friend Dick Becker from Steelcase was a member of the Baxter capital campaign. Not did it hurt when Dick brought Peter and Ellen Satterlee to visit Baxter Center so they could see for themselves the good work going on there.

However, in 2002, at the time Baxter approached The Wege Foundation, Peter had just added a new requirement to all capital gifts. The Foundation would not donate to any new construction unless it was certified as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Impressed as both Peter and Ellen were by what Baxter was doing, Peter stood firm on his green stipulation. On the spot, as he often does with a project he likes, Wege made Baxter Center’s Executive Director Melanie Beelen an offer. He would donate $250,000 for the new addition if it was constructed in accordance with the LEED program.

Melanie and the board members were understandably grateful for Peter’s generous offer; they wanted to do right by the environment as well. But they also knew the higher costs for building green weren’t in their budget. That’s when Melanie and her board got resourceful. Using Wege’s offer as part of Baxter’s new donor base for leverage, the Center applied for a Kresge Challenge grant. It worked, and Baxter won another $175,000 from the Kresge Foundation.

But that was just the start of what The Wege Foundation’s gift accomplished. His insistence on LEED building turned out to be far more valuable than he or anyone else could have dreamed of. Melanie found out that the Kresge Foundation had another kind of grant that promotes green building. In order to encourage more environmental construction, the Kresge Foundation offers an unrestricted “bonus grant” for non-profits like Baxter if they built green.

With Baxter already committed to LEED architecture because of Wege’s gift, the Center applied for and won a second Kresge grant of $150,000. This unrestricted bonus grant will be awarded in 2007 when the new addition passes the U.S. Green Building Council’s inspection. In gratitude for Wege’s visionary nudge into LEED building, the Baxter Center presented Peter Wege with the St. Francis Award in 2004. This honor is given to people who model the attitudes and character listed in the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi.

By the winter of 2005-06, Melanie Beelen and her staff were already earning a return on their green investment. When heat and electricity costs skyrocketed to historic highs that winter, the Baxter Center’s energy-efficient new addition helped them duck the higher utility bills, thanks to Peter Wege’s pushing them into LEED construction.

Melanie Beelen sees The Wege Foundation’s gift to the Baxter Community Center in far larger terms than financial. “The strongest gift Peter has brought us and taught us is that life comes full circle. It’s our belief that not one detail in life’s circumstances gets wasted. Peter is not wasting his later years but using them for the greater good.”

Baxter’s programs “are going full circle—from babies to seniors.” Lives are being restored at Baxter, their 2005 annual report says. “Young people are discovering their purpose. Children and families are finding a safe place to grow. Hope is being inspired.”

Education. Environment. The Arts. Health Care. All these other “areas of interest” for The Wege Foundation are honored at Baxter as well. But the number-one Pillar served in the building pictured above is that of Human Services