Blandford Plus A Golf Course: A Gift To The Future

An historic real-estate transaction for Grand Rapids was announced in early 2017 when Blandford Nature Center teamed with the Land Conservancy of West Michigan to acquire the 121-acre former Highlands Golf Course next door to Blandford. Adding the golf course’s 18 golf holes to Blandford brings the Nature Center’s permanently preserved green space to 264 acres all open to the public and within the city of Grand Rapids..

Instead of being developed into homes and condos, the century-old golf course will be converted back to a natural state that includes thriving wetlands and natural wildlife habitats. The new land will allow Blandford to expand its outdoor educational programs that now host two Grand Rapids Public Schools, Blandford School and the C.A. Frost Environmental Science Academy.

Brad Rosely, the real estate developer who orchestrated the sale, summarized the significance of the deed transfer. “Developments come and go, but this will be there forever.”

The Wege Foundation, the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, the Ken and Judy Betz family, and the Cook Foundation made the lead gifts toward buying the Highlands. Now Blandford is reaching out to the community to support this once-in- a-lifetime opportunity with donations of their own to help pay off the remaining debt on the property. Jason Meyer, Blandford’s president and CEO, hopes the citizens of Grand Rapids, like the lead donors, will recognize the long-term benefits of this land acquisition.

Jason Meyer noted that while the groomed golf course will soon return to nature, the habitat and wildlife restoration will happen over years. “What people are investing today, they might not even see what it becomes. But they’re caring for a place for future generations.”

For The Wege Foundation, this property has special meaning as it is physically connected to Saint Anthony of Padua Catholic School headed by Father Mark Przybysz, the late Peter Wege’s priest and close friend. Peter Wege took pride in rebuilding Father Mark’s rectory as a pioneering LEED certified smart home, building LEED classrooms for the school, and installing solar panels and a wind turbine. Now two of Peter’s good causes are next-door neighbors.

Blandford’s New CEO: a Story of Friendship and Mentoring

In 2009 Blandford Nature Center had to reinvent itself from a tax-payer funded organization into an independent non-profit with Annoesjka Steinman as the first president. Annoesjka proved up to the new challenge by successfully carrying on the Center’s long-time mission as an educational wildlife mecca, but on a whole new financial basis.

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The new president of Blandford in the wildlife-rescue room shows visitors the owls and the turtle in the aquarium.

Five years later, Annoesjka has handed off the Blandford presidency to Jason Meyer whom she mentored in his previous job as the Executive Director of the Fenner Conservancy in Lansing. Jason is already on the job with his three children in school next door at Frost Elementary.

The new Blandford president–an Eagle Scout among other impressive resume details–gives his friend and predecessor Annoesjka full credit for her leadership in converting Grand Rapids’ beloved Nature Center from city-school support into a non-profit. “We have new challenges,” Jason Meyer says, “but Annoesjka has paved the way.”

When Jason Meyer graduated from Purdue in 1999, he won the trifecta of top awards from the University’s Department of Forestry and Natural Resources. Meyer was named the Department’s Outstanding Senior, the Outstanding Wildlife senior, and given the Stanley Coulter Leadership Award.

Meyer went on to earn his Masters in Purdue’s School of Forestry & Natural Resources. And this year the Association of Nature Center Administrators, a national organization, named Jason Meyer the ANCA’s Outstanding New Leader in 2014.

In the fifteen years between those prestigious honors, at Purdue Meyer taught migrant farm workers science and social studies to prepare for their GEDs; he worked with land owners and foresters in California to prevent wildfires. And as the program manager for the San Bernardino National Forest’s Children’s Forest, Meyer ran a youth program on forest management, restoration, and trail maintenance.

Blandford’s new CEO has also published articles in national magazines, including the Journal of Environmental Education. Over his four years in Lansing at the Fenner Conservancy from 2010 to 2014, Meyer increased private funding to the nature center by 539%.

This spring when Annoesjka Steinman needed a change after five years of long commutes from her Muskegon home to Blandford Nature Center, she called her friend and protégé in Lansing. The timing was right for Jason Meyer too, and the rest is history.

Blandford Nature Center volunteer Joan Coates holds one of the herbs from the Center’s garden for her small visitors to smell.  Last year volunteers like Joan, who was pruning the garden, contributed 12,000 hours to Blandford.
Blandford Nature Center volunteer Joan Coates holds one of the herbs from the Center’s garden for her small visitors to smell. Last year volunteers like Joan, who was pruning the garden, contributed 12,000 hours to Blandford.
Pictured here on one of Blandford Nature Center’s trails is a group of students and teachers from Alllendale Christian Elementary School with a Blandford volunteer as their guide.  Last year nine thousand school children toured the Center’s 143 acres of woods inside the city of Grand Rapids.
Pictured here on one of Blandford Nature Center’s trails is a group of students and teachers from Alllendale Christian Elementary School with a Blandford volunteer as their guide. Last year nine thousand school children toured the Center’s 143 acres of woods inside the city of Grand Rapids.

Wonder, Blandford Nature Center’s Goat, Steals the Show

The October invitation to “See you under the stars for a bedazzling evening” happened under a tent with  200 nature lovers wearing Jeans and Jewelry. The FUNdraiser for Blandford Nature Center began by naming Peter M. Wege the first winner of its Crown Jewel Award.

In 2006 when Blandford lost its G.R. Public Museum tax base, Wege partnered with Grand Rapids Public Schools’ Superintendent Bert Bleke to support it as an independent non-profit.  Saving Blandford was one more opportunity for Peter to “do all the good” he could. This year’s ‘second annual fundraiser affirmed Wege’s faith in collaboration as last year’s one sponsor, The Wege Foundation, was joined by 13 new sponsors this year.


The “bedazzled” donors in bling and jeans mixed with the wildlife during cocktail hour as volunteers told the stories of how the birds and animals had come to live at Blandford.  Guests were guided through the woods by candle light to meet “Bob” the bobcat.

The West Catholic High School Jazz Band played for the Blandford supporters as they dined on a harvest buffet ending with homemade warm apple crisp. The after-dinner live and silent auctions raised $15,000 bidding on donations that included a “Hawk” print from Mr. Wege’s private collection; a Summer Meadow Tour and Trail Exploration by Dr. Mary Jane Dockeray, the founder of Blandford; a week of Blandford summer camp; a brunch for six in Blandford’s 150-year old cabin.

The above video features six spirited Blandford 6th-graders wearing their prized BEEP (Blandford Environmental Education Program) sweatshirts as they rap to an original song written by Josh Patterson. That rousing planned entertainment was soon followed by a perfect Blandford Nature Center moment!

Above Photo – During the video put together by Klaas Kwant, Wonder, Blandford’s resident goat, broke loose from the barn and came running to join the party.  With the audience collapsed in laughter, Wonder led the pursuing Beeps ion a merry chase around the tent before he was caught.

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Holding Baby, the Barred Owl, is Kristin Tindall, one of our Educators at Blandford Nature Center.
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Attending “Jeans and Jewels Gala” is Terry McCarthy, Programs Officer, at the Wege Foundation and Annoesjka Steinman Executive Director, President and CEO of Blandford Nature Center.
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The “beeps” rapping about Blandford Nature Center. Left to Right – Grace Heemstra, William Rabon, Grace Rellinger, Daniel Nethercott, Rose Gerson, Benjamin Garretson

Peter Wege’s Granddaughters Tour Blandford School

Caitlin Wege and her sister Jessica Wege McClear stand by the hand-carved basswood doors leading into one of two sixth-grade classroom in the new LEED-certified school building. Jeff Lende, one of the two Blandford teachers, did the carving of nature themes highlighting the outdoor school’s focus on the environment.

If there was any doubt that neither cold nor snow nor pouring rain can keep the 60 Blandford sixth-graders indoors, these muddy boots tell the true story!
If there was any doubt that neither cold nor snow nor pouring rain can keep the 60 Blandford sixth-graders indoors, these muddy boots tell the true story!
One of the two sixth-grade classrooms at Blandford School filled by students who proudly call themselves BEEPs. It stands for Blandford Environmental Education Program and includes all the students raising their own chicken for the year and selling the eggs, learning Peter M. Wege's principle of economicology. By taking care of the ecology, the chicken, the students understand the need to balance nature with the economy.
One of the two sixth-grade classrooms at Blandford School filled by students who proudly call themselves BEEPs. It stands for Blandford Environmental Education Program and includes all the students raising their own chicken for the year and selling the eggs, learning Peter M. Wege’s principle of economicology. By taking care of the ecology, the chicken, the students understand the need to balance nature with the economy.

GRPS’s Blandford School Raises the Bar

Pictured above, the new 7,000 square-foot LEED-certified Blandford School sets a precedent for the Grand Rapids Public Schools. Not only does it feature the latest advancements in green building, Blandford also sets a new financing standard.  With the lead $1.5 million gift from The Wege Foundation and other private donors added to GRPS’ funds, the $2.3 million school serves as a template for private-public funding in education.

The mosaic in the upper left corner was created by last year’s BEEPs, (Blandford students’ nickname) to honor Blandford Nature Center and School founder Mary Jane Dockery.  In January, the Dockery mosaic welcomed this year’s 60 sixth graders as they left their leaky portable classrooms to enter the almost doubled space of their new school.

Shown in the center photo is Bert Bleke, a former GRPS superintendent and long-time supporter of Blandford School and Nature Center. He greets GRPS Superintendent Teresa Neal on the school’s opening day.

And the bottom picture is a classroom door that was hand carved out of basswood by BEEP teacher, Cheri McKay.  Jeff Lende, the other BEEP teacher, carved his own door leading into his classroom.

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Blandford School: A GRPS Gamechanger

An historic groundbreaking took place in May marking the first public school in Grand Rapids  to be built with 90% of the $2 million-plus  cost coming from the private sector. The new Blandford School will open early in 2013 welcoming 60 GRPS sixth-graders to the nature school’s first permanent home.

The Wege Foundation spearheaded the campaign with a lead-off $1.5 million joined by the Steelcase Foundation, $150,000, and the Meijer and Frey foundations each giving $100,000. The only tax dollars spent were the $250,000 that came out of the GRPS’s food service money.

As with every capital project Peter Wege has supported for the past decade, the new Blandford School will be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified. With solar panels, wind turbines, and eight geo-thermal wells providing the heat and cooling, Blandford hopes to earn a Gold Leed rating when it’s done.

Blandford will be the 9th GRPS LEED-certified school. As Senita Lenear, president of the Board of Education told the audience, children getting educated in Grand Rapids’ LEED schools are “the sustainable leaders of the future.”

The 7,000 square-foot school will be used by Blandford’s two classes of  6th-graders during school hours while the Blandford Nature Center next door and the community will have access to it year around.

Ellen Satterlee, CEO of The Wege Foundation said Blandford “carries on Mr. Wege’s passion for education and for the environment.”

***Above picture – The current sixth graders at Blandford School were all part of the ground breaking ceremony. By Jeffrey Cunningham

 

For additional information please visit – http://grpublicschools.org/blandford

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Blandford BEEP Mackenzie Schliem shows her chicken to the legendary Mary Jane Dockeray who is the founder and moving spirit behind both Blandford Nature Center and Blandford School. A mural in the new school will pay tribute to Mary Jane for her forty-plus years of leadership and commitment to both the Center and the School.
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The current Blandford School has been using this portable building since 1990. By Jeffrey Cunningham
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Artist rendering of the new Blandford School. By Jeffrey Cunningham

‘Renew Blandford School’ a First for GRPS

The $2.3 million campaign to put up a permanent school building for 60 sixth-graders in the Grand Rapids Public Schools will break ground in two ways next spring. Literally it will move turf for the LEED certified classroom building. Figuratively it makes history as the first public school in Grand Rapids to be paid for mostly by private funds.

The donors include $1.5 million from The Wege Foundation, $250,000 from GRPS Nutrition Services, $150,000 from the Steelcase Foundation, and $50,000 each from Bissell, Inc., and the Peter C. & Emajean Cook Foundation.

Since the 1970s, sixty GRPS students go to the Blandford School, named after the Blandford Nature Center next door, for their sixth-grade year. The expansive Nature Center is the outdoor classroom where they learn everything from botany to biology. The 60 students in two classes spend most of their time outside, including lunch, and complain when dangerously cold temperatures force them to stay indoors!

Blandford’s sixth-graders are known as BEEPS – Blandford Environmental Education Program. But they are also famous for the chicken each student gets to pick out in September and care for until school’s out in the spring. BEEPS use these chickens to practice Peter Wege’s vision of economicology by selling the eggs while protecting the environment in how they raise the hens. Economicology means balancing the economy with the ecology.

Blandford Nature Center’s director Annoesjka Steinman and Dr. Bill Laidlaw, grandfather of a BEEP, are pictured in front of the portable classroom that will be replaced by the new school.
Blandford Nature Center’s director Annoesjka Steinman and Dr. Bill Laidlaw, grandfather of a BEEP, are pictured in front of the portable classroom that will be replaced by the new school.

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Peter Wege’s Farm Hosts Friends of Blandford

maryjaneblandford annoejamon burtblekeJamon Alexander, a former BEEP – or “Blandford Environmental Education Program” graduate – stands with Annoesjka Steinman (top left), Blandford Nature Center’s director, at Peter Wege’s Lowell farm on a perfect September evening. Jamon told the friends of Blandford that spending his sixth-grade at Blandford changed his life.

While Jamon was thriving in his outdoor classroom, his classmates back in his home school were heading in destructive directions. Jamon returned to his neighborhood Grand Rapids Public School for seventh grade, but by then he had higher educational aspirations and bigger visions for his own life than his old friends did.

Today Jamon Alexander is the Development Coordinator for the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital Foundation.

Mary Jane Dockeray (center photo), the visionary who founded Blandford Nature Center in the early 1960s and went on to start Blandford Environmental Education Program, a GRP School a decade later, stands by a poster of the Nature Center during the Wege farm party. The energetic natural scientist, who’s been Blandford’s driving force for half a century, still volunteers at the Center on Leonard in northwest Grand Rapids.

Former Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Bert Bleke (bottom left) is the man who kept Blandford Nature Center open when vanishing funds threatened to close it down. As one of West Michigan’s most respected school administrators, Bert knew where to go for help.

Knowing about Peter Wege’s passion for education, it wasn’t a hard sell! Wege and Bleke teamed up to rescue Blandford Nature Center and convert it into its own independent non-profit. The Wege farm party was an outreach to friends of Blandford whose support is needed to continue changing the lives of BEEPs like Jamon Alexander.

NEW BLANDFORD LEADER HITS THE GROUND RUNNING

Come see Brian Goblik's Top 75  Art Prize Piece: "Drawing of the Sun"
Come see Brian Goblik’s Top 75
Art Prize Piece:
“Drawing of the Sun”

Blandford Nature Center is an environmental, wildlife nature center and school in northwest Grand Rapids created in the 1960s. Several years ago Blandford’s chief funder, the Grand Rapids Public Museum Board, realized they could no longer afford to pay the bills. They turned to the Grand Rapids Public Schools, but the city’s schools were already fighting their own cash crisis.

With no other source of income, GRPS superintendent at the time, Bert Bleke, knew closing Blandford would be a huge loss to kids and the community. No longer could the thousands of visitors and school children come through to learn about wildlife, tap maple trees for syrup, learn zoology, study botany, and walk the nature trails.

Superintendent Bleke knew of only one person he could turn to. Today the staff and volunteers at the Nature Center are quick to tell you their doors would have closed without Peter Wege and The Wege Foundation. As Bleke put it, “In my mind, no Peter Wege—no Blandford Nature Center.”

Because Wege refused to let the nature school close down, every year all the 3rd, 6th, and 9th-grade students in the GRPS get to spend a school day at Blandford. “For many of these urban children,” Bleke said, “they never have the opportunity to be in nature.” In 2008, over 40,000 students from area school districts participated in field days and programs at Blandford.

In 2009, the 143-acre Blandford Nature Center went from being a city-county entity to becoming a non-profit supported by private donations. Peter Wege made a five-year commitment to help fund Blandford until 2014.

Annoesjka Steinman became the first executive director of Blandford in its non-profit status in the fall of 2009. Her background perfectly fits the newly evolved Blandford as a premier nature center that is paid for by community donations. With a background in environmental science and a history working for the Community Foundation of Muskegon County, Steinman understands both the natural science of Blandford Nature Center and the need to raise money for its ongoing support.

Steinman is already hard at work bringing in sixth-graders to help solve erosion problems on a stream bed near the Center’s main building. She also is moving forward with Blandford’s long-time leader Mary Jane Dockeray to fulfill Dockeray’s dream of creating an Ameuasian Meadow. The blooming meadow would be grown on Blandford land that was once a working farm.

Steinman is also pursuing an assessment of the former farm’s water quality hoping the ground water is clean enough to use if they expand the farm in the future. That would allow them to use their own free water.

By collaborating with the Center for Sustainability at Aquinas College and the Mixed Greens area gardeners and students, Steinman is continuing to keep Blandford, in its new non-profit status, the thriving community asset that Mary Jane Dockeray helped create.