GRAND RAPIDS’ FIRST HONORARY FIRE CHIEF: PETER M. WEGE

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.

THE GRAND RAPIDS CHILDREN’S MUSEUM: Ten Years Later

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 http://www.grcm.org

ELIZABETH EDWARDS VISITS GILDA’S CLUB

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.