BILLFORDSIDEPHOTOWilliam Clay Ford, Jr., Executive Chairman of Ford Motor Company, delivered the Seventh Annual Peter M. Wege Lecture at the University of Michigan November 13, 2007. Henry Ford’s great-grandson, who goes by the name “Bill Ford,” called his speech, The Road to Sustainable Transportation.

Bill Clay Ford has been known for his environmentalism since he joined Ford Motor’s board in 1988. From the beginning, the graduate of Princeton with a masters degree from MIT pushed Ford to design more fuel-efficient vehicles. But with gas relatively cheap at the time, and with SUVs and trucks Ford Motor’s money makers, his green message didn’t resonate with the management. Twenty years later, with gas over $3.00 a gallon, Ford’s fellow executives are thinking green as well.

Bill Ford chose the occasion of a full house for the Wege Lecture in Rackham’s Auditorium to announce Ford Motor’s formation of a national energy panel to be called the Transformation Advisory Council (TAC). Council members will include senior executives from Ford who are the innovative thinkers, environmental scientists and engineers from major universities, representatives from national environmental organizations, members of the private sector, government officials, and people from non-profit world.

The Chairman of the Ford third of the Big Three sees the TAC as the first step to developing a national energy policy, something he says “has to happen.” Ford spoke to the environmental necessity of a national policy by citing statistics that emissions from this nation’s car and trucks are leading contributors to global warming. In terms of national security and the economy, Ford said, until we can produce American vehicles that consume less fuel, we will continue to be dependent on—and vulnerable to—foreign oil-producing countries.

With proposed alternative-energy solutions varying from ethanol to electricity to hydrogen, Bill Ford called for a federal policy that will help direct America’s auto industry to build the right engines. To solve the oil crisis, our current gas stations will ultimately need to be replaced by a new fuel infrastructure. For the auto makers, the sooner there’s a national energy policy directing the fuel of the future, the sooner the Big Three can tool up to provide the engines.

Two environmental leaders Bill Ford has invited to sit on the TAC are also two of the authors Peter Wege drew on in his 1998 book ECONOMICOLOGY: The Eleventh Commandment. One is Amory Lovins, chairman and chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute; the other is Paul Hawken, a nationally recognized environmental pioneer.


In the fall of 2007, United Growth for Kent County gave Peter M. Wege its Land Use Stewardship Award. The environmental land-use organization recognized Wege and the Foundation for supporting farmland preservation, public transit, water quality, green-building initiatives, and energy conservation.

In making the presentation, Paul Haan, President of the United Growth for Kent County Board of Directors, said this: Mr. Wege is being honored today for his commitment to positive land use in Kent County and throughout the state. With Mr. Wege’s leadership, Grand Rapids has the most LEED certified buildings (square footage per capita) of any other city in the country and now the first art museum in the world to be LEED certified.

United Growth was created in 1999 to bring together people and organizations committed to promoting positive land use in the county and West Michigan. Originally a program of the Michigan State University Extension in Kent County, United Growth became its own non-profit in 2007.

To recognize Peter M. Wege’s Stewardship Award, United Growth has placed a brick in the Grand Ideas Garden of the MSU Extension center with his name on it. The purpose of the brick, according to Paul Haan, is “so visitors will be reminded of Mr. Wege’s commitments to our community.”

Through The Wege Foundation, Peter has been a pioneer in preserving Kent County farms by matching funds to buy the Property Development Rights from farmers we want to keep their land a working farm, not a new subdivision. One farm The Wege Foundation helped save is a 74.5 acre parcel in Vergennes Township. By leveraging funds from the USDA Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, The Wege Foundation was able to honor the farm owner’s wishes to keep the family farm from development as well as to make the best use of the land.

The Wege Foundation donated the signs posted on all the  preserved farms around Grand Rapids.  The design was created by The Wege Foundation's artist, Mark Heckman.
The Wege Foundation donated the signs posted on all the preserved farms around Grand Rapids. The design was created by The Wege Foundation’s artist, Mark Heckman.

GUARDIAN ANGEL HOMES Names Peter M. Wege its first Grand Angel

On November 27, the Guardian Angel Homes of Grand Rapids honored Peter M. Wege by giving him their first Grand Angel Award. Grand Angel Homes was started in 1992 by a group of Catholic families who wanted to provide care and housing for adults who are physically or mentally disabled. Because Peter Wege supported their cause from the beginning, they named him their first Grand Angel.

The program described the new award and why Peter was the first recipient:

The Grand Angel Award recognizes individuals whose genuine and profound love of humanity, as well as all of God’s Creation, excel in protecting, promoting, and uplifting it through their extraordinary vision, leadership, compassion, understanding, and generosity to all of mankind, but most especially for the Least of These

Some founders of Guardian Angel Homes, including philanthropists Ralph and Grace Hauenstein, have disabled children themselves. They wanted to make sure their children, and others like them, had good homes as they became adults and their older parents could no longer take care of them. Guardian Angel Homes now has several residences providing homes for almost 50 adults with varying degrees of disabilities.

The adults in two Guardian Angel Homes on Alten Street can function well enough to live on their own, with a social worker checking on them regularly. Many of the Alten residents hold jobs. The Guardian Angel group homes for those more disabled offer the same safe, nurturing home atmosphere, but with a full-time caretaker.

Although Guardian Angel Homes began with Catholic families, they have broadened their outreach to people of all faiths. Part of their mission from the beginning was to make sure their disabled children could continue practicing their faith. Staff and volunteers make sure that happens by driving the Guardian Angel residents to where ever their religious services are held.

Guardian Angel Homes has discovered how great the need is to provide good homes for disabled adults. There are 20,000 disabled people in Kent County alone. Guardian Angel Homes has 50 of them on its waiting list to move in , but there’s no more room to house them. At the November event honoring Peter Wege, Guardian Angel Board President Paul Solberg announced a campaign titled “Building Lives” to raise money for more homes.

Underneath Peter M. Wege’s full-page photograph in the program is this line from one of Peter’s own prayers: O Lord God, give us compassion and understanding of why we are here on this dot in the Universe.

TEXT FOR THE PHOTO Peter M. Wege sits beside the first Grand Angel Award statue by Mic Carlson. The statue depicts Brother Bernardo kneeling in prayer a the feet of St. Francis.


On October 22, 2007, Peter Wege realized every man’s dream. He became the Chief of the Grand Rapids Fire Department, complete with his name on the shiny white helmet! This honorary title made local history as it is the first time the GRFD has ever given such an award.

But, then, Peter Wege’s long-time support for the good men and women of the GRPD is in a class by itself as well. Peter and The Wege Foundation are well known for their generosity to a spectrum of West Michigan civic causes. But few people know of Peter’s quiet contributions to both the fire and police departments of Grand Rapids. Even though Peter lives in, and pay taxes to, East Grand Rapids, he has always understood that maintaining a healthy community requires a safe and prosperous core city.

One of Peter’s early gifts to the GRFD came on the heels of 9/11. That tragedy made the GRFD realize that they needed a better communications system if Grand Rapids was ever to experience a large-scale emergency. Peter donated two Battalion Chief mobile-command and radio systems that allow the GRFD to stay in close touch with other emergency responders in a major disaster. Peter added to that donation his own three-wheeled All-Terrain-Vehicle, allowing fire fighters to move quickly into areas without roads.

Most recently, and probably the most important of all, Peter Wege spearheaded a collaboration with other foundations and donors to buy ten life-saving
thermal-imaging cameras. These state-of-the art cameras, like night-vision glasses, allow firefighters to see into burning buildings for people trapped inside.

Grand Rapids firefighters might not see Chief Peter Wege sliding down the fire pole to jump on a fire truck with them. But they know their first honorary Chief holds them in high respect—and is always their friend.


frontofGRchildrensmuseumIn the early 1990s, four women, mothers and grandmothers, realized Grand Rapids, Michigan, needed a place for children to play in creative and hands-on ways. Georgia Woodrick Gietzen, Alyce Greeson, Carla Morris, and Aleicia Woodrick decided to do something about it.

In 1993, they opened two successful exhibits for children in a local shopping center. Over 30,000 children got the chance to do play-work by making things in a Funstruction and to fool around with bubbles in the other exhibit. This launch of what would become the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum moved on to donated space in a public library and then the public museum in Grand Rapids.

But the founders knew they needed their own permanent location, and they finally found it at 11 Sheldon Avenue in downtown Grand Rapids. That’s when The Wege Foundation came aboard. Knowing of Peter’s generosity, his support for downtown Grand Rapids, and, above all, his love of young people and education, the women knew it wouldn’t’ be a hard sell.

It wasn’t. In October 2007, Peter was honored by the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum for being one of “The Ten Who Made A Difference.” As the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum celebrated the tenth anniversary in its permanent two-story, play-learn facility on Sheldon, they said this about Peter Wege:

Peter’s support for the Children’s Museum comes from his deep love of
children and his profound faith in Education as the single most important
cause running through all the Foundation’s other four missions
(Environment, Arts & Culture, Health Care, and Human Services.)

Anybody who knows Peter sense of humor and love of jokes knows that for him to support a place where children go just to have fun is a natural.

Peter Wege is pictured here with Teresa L. Thome, Executive Director of the GRCM. Find out more about the Children’s Museum by clicking


GildasignElizabeth Edwards met with members of The Wege Foundation, Ellen Satterlee, Executive Director on the left and Terri McCarthy, VP of Programs on the right, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on September 22, 2007. This private, non-media event was held at a most appropriate site: Gilda’s House Grand Rapids, a cancer-support home. Created in memory of comedienne Gilda Radner, the 20 Gilda’s Clubs around the country are places where cancer patients and their families gather for support, education, fellowship, and fun.

Elizabeth Edwards has breast cancer, first diagnosed in 2004. In March 2007, her husband and she announced on national TV that her cancer had returned. They both spoke about their mutual decision that he would stay in the race for the Democratic nomination.

Gilda’s House holds special significance for Peter Wege and The Wege Foundation as well. Both Peter’s parents Sophia Louise and Peter Martin Wege died of cancer. Their only child, Peter M. Wege made his first of many donations to cancer causes when he was flying airplanes in World War II. The women who started Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids in 1998 are the first to tell you that Peter Wege’s generous support has been pivotal to their Club’s becoming the busiest and most successful one in the United States.

When Elizabeth Edwards arrived at Gilda’s Grand Rapids, she was greeted by group of red-coated—for Gilda’s signature red doors—volunteers holding signs of welcome and praise. Elizabeth Edwards wept as she greeted each volunteer, most of them fellow cancer patients. “In all my travels,” she told them, “I have never been greeted like this.”

Speaking to a small gathering, including Gilda’s Club board members, the articulate Elizabeth talked openly about facing this new bout with cancer. She also spoke about the day her sixteen-year old son Wade was killed when his car got thrown off the road in a freak wind tunnel. A highly respected attorney herself, Elizabeth Edwards made no political comments at all. She talked about her husband only briefly when she was asked how he is handling her diagnosis.

This petite woman, who looks people straight in the eye, captured the small audience with her naturalness, sincerity, and personal outreach to her fellow cancer sufferers. Elizabeth Edwards was awed by the red-doored home on Bridge Street and all that Gilda’s Grand Rapids is doing for families with cancer. She took time before she left to sign copies of her new book with its self-defining title, Saving Graces: Finding Solace & Strength from Friends and Strangers.


balletsideThe September 14, 2007, Grand Rapids Press announced the opening of the Grand Rapids Ballet Company’s new 300-seat Peter Martin Wege Theatre, named for Peter Wege’s father and Steelcase founder. The $6.3 million new theater more than doubled the Grand Rapids Ballet Company’s space bringing it to 40,000 square feet.

Press reporter Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk described the area where the Grand Rapids Ballet Company had been rehearsing. Just seven years ago, the professional company of dancers rehearsed in the basement of Grand Rapids’ Masonic Temple downtown. Its ceiling was so low, ballerinas who were lifted into the air had to duck to avoid hitting air ducts. On Thursday, (September 13, 2007) Grand Rapids Ballet Company’s dancers stepped into the footlights of their own theater adjoining the headquarters the ballet as occupied since 2001

The Press article described the new theater as an “environmentally friendly addition.” Over 240 people attended the black-tie opening “named for the father of lead donor Peter M. Wege.” Peter Wege was quoted as saying, ‘It’s a gorgeous building, and it’s wonderful for Grand Rapids.”’

The Peter Martin Wege Theatre adjoins the newly named Meijer-Royce Center For Dance, named for Peter’s friends and fellow benefactors, Fred and Lena Meijer and Chuck and Stella Royce. At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, long-time ballet patron Stella Royce described the events leading up to the new Theatre and Center for Dance as “a real Cinderella story.”

The article notes that some 250 students take classes at the GRBC plus another 700 in the outreach program. Again, this gift of a ballet auditorium is not just about Arts & Culture, but about Education, with the GRBC students, and about Human Services, with the outreach classes. Of course, the Peter Martin Wege Theatre is green built making it touch the Environment Pillar as well.


grampeteratpodium (2)Wege Foundation Actively Fostering LEED-Certified Projects

(Grand Rapids Business Journal’s front-page headline August 20, 2007)

With a color photograph of the new Grand Rapids Art Museum covering most of the front page, the Business Journal article by Pete Daly begins:

GRAND RAPIDS – There is a wave of green construction sweeping through West Michigan, and riding the crest of that wave is the new Grand Rapids Art Museum. The $60 million art museum is scheduled to open on Oct. 5. When it does, may be the first completely new art museum to open with a silver Leadership in energy and Environmental Design rating from the U.S. Green Building Council. It may even achieve a gold LEED rating eventually.

Celeste Adams, director of GRAM, explained in the article that it takes six months after construction for the LEED rating to come through. The news story explains that the highest LEED ratings are platinum, gold, and silver in that order. The next level is “LEED Certified” rating.

While LEED’s final word on GRAM is not yet known, the article makes it clear that one historical first is for sure. Daly writes: It will be the first and only art museum in the world in which the entire facility is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified.

Kulapat Yantrasast, from the Los Angeles firm Workshop Hakomori Yantrasast, was the architect for the new GRAM. He’s pictured here with Celeste Adams the night of the gala ball that opened GRAM in October 2007. They are standing in the entrance to the gallery named for the Wege Family.

In the article, Yantrasast notes that one green feature is the “capture and use of rainwater, funneled from the roof to a storage tank.” The recapture is to prevent the problem of water runoffs from parking lots and rooftops that cause major flooding problems as cities have so with little open ground to absorb excess water. Yantrasast noted that Grand Rapids has periodic sewage overflows into the Grand River when rainstorm water floods the treatment system.

The windowed GRAM uses natural light to save energy, but Yantrasast points out that this is a challenge in an art museum because ultra-violet rays can damage the artwork. For that reason, the roof skylights and some of the glass walls have layers of glass louvers that filter the sun light.

Celeste Adams expects that a quarter of a million people will visit the new 125,000 square-foot GRAM the first year.


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.