Renewed Emphasis on Old Values

Photo: The Wege Foundation’s newest program staff, Leslie Young and Emily Aleman-McAlpine, in The Foundation office at 99 Monroe with the Wege Foundation glass logo between them.

The Wege Foundation is moving into 2017 with a new focus on their longstanding philosophy that respects each individual for who that person is. Called Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the proposed Policy carries on Peter M. Wege’s legacy of reaching out to all humans affirming and supporting their very diversity.

Two of the six Es Wege wrote about in his book ECONOMICOLOGY summarize his belief. “Ethics” is about “doing the right thing for all the reasons,” as he put it. “Empathy” is about walking in another person’s shoes to see the world through their life experiences.

The Wege Foundation’s two new program staff both embody and embrace the reenergizing of what has always been at the heart of the Foundation’s missions. Leslie Young, who joined the staff in has been an active volunteer for Schools of Hope, a program helping first- and third-graders in the Grand Rapids Public Schools who are behind in reading raise their skills to reach grade level.

Leslie has also worked with LINC, a local non-profit with missions of diversity and sustainability that are in lock step with The Wege Foundation’s. LINC works to achieve affordable housing, to rehab homes, and to connect neighborhood residents and businesses in mutually supportive activities.

Emily Aleman-McAlpine teamed up with Leslie in November to join the program staff for The Foundation. Her professional background is a study in diversity and inclusion, starting with her work for Blue Cross addressing the health needs of the Latino community. For three years with the Fennville Public Schools, Emily ran educational programs for the migrant, bilingual, and immigrant students. She also took US teachers to Mexico to participate in a Bi-National Teacher Exchange Program.

Emily summarized how The Foundation’s renewed push for inclusiveness carries on Peter Wege’s faith in equality and fairness. “Peter believed that if Grand Rapids is not good for one person,” Emily said, “then it’s not good for anyone.”

The Wege Foundation’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion commitment echoes Peter’s words, noting that West Michigan draws its spirit, vitality, and character from the increasingly diverse mix of people who live and work in our community. The Wege Foundation recognizes that the future strength of our organization and this community rests firmly on its commitment to value, respect, and embrace the richness of a diverse citizenry.

This policy statement is a direct descendant of Peter Wege’s two ECONOMICOLOGY E principles: Ethics and Empathy.

Father and Son Embedded in Steelcase’s New Report

When Peter Martin Wege moved to Grand Rapids to open his own metal-furniture business in 1912, he could not have imagined Metal Office Furniture—started on a $75,000 bank loan—would become Steelcase, the world’s largest office-furniture company. Wege’s experience as a metal fabricator himself created the workplace culture that continues a century later. Peter Martin knew the success of his new business depended on his employees, and he made sure to treat them well and pay them well. If his company was to prosper, he wanted his employees to do so as well.

When his son Peter M. Wege went to work for Steelcase, he, too, left a permanent mark on the company’s culture based on an airplane ride. During World War II Peter M. Wege flew for the Army Air Force; one sunny day trying to land in Pittsburgh, the smog was so thick he couldn’t see the ground. From that day in the cockpit on, for the rest of his life Peter M. Wege devoted his time, energy, and financial resources to cleaning up and protecting the environment.

And he started at his father’s company. Peter M. Wege’s influence on Steelcase led to the company’s becoming a pioneer in environmental manufacturing from biodegradable paints to ergonomically clean air to protecting furniture with reusable blankets instead of boxes. In 2001, Steelcase built the world’s first industrial manufacturing plant to receive LEED Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Peter Martin Wege died in 1947 and Peter M. Wege in 2014. But Steelcase’s attached report confirms that their legacies live on. Titled appropriately Sustainability, it highlights the company’s triple-bottom-line mission to make profits, protect the environment, and promote positive social change. Peter Martin and his son Peter M. Wege had a lot to do with this

Steelcase document.

A Fitting Tribute To a Quietly Amazing Leader


Ellen Satterlee leaves the role she has played for 25 years as CEO of The Wege Foundation and now takes a seat as a Trustee of The Foundation. This in-depth interview with Rachel Hood, Executive Director of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council, eloquently shares some of what this soft-spoken woman and Peter Wege accomplished as a team doing “all the good” they could just “as often” as they could.


Dear Friends,

And I do consider you friends—of mine and certainly of Peter’s and of The Wege Foundation’s!  Some of you know I am retiring as CEO of The Foundation Peter started in 1967 and where my career and heart have been ever since.  For those who don’t, I am writing to tell you myself so you don’t find out in the newspaper.  Each of you reading this has done what Peter so believed in: collaborated with The Foundation and with me personally. I don’t think I can fully express what your involvement has meant to me as it did to Peter.  Who hasn’t heard me say, “How did I get so lucky to have this job?”

What a privilege it was for me to work as Peter’s right hand for 21 years until he died last summer.  In an interview for the book being written for the 50th anniversary of The Wege Foundation, I was asked to reflect on those years.

It is overwhelming when you see how very generous Peter Wege has been over the years.  For a long time I have said that I was probably the only one who really had any idea because I saw both sides—Foundation and personal. I don’t even think he realizes the extent because he really doesn’t keep track—he just does the next right thing.

What I said then is just what I’d say again today—except, sadly, in the past tense. But now The Wege Foundation carries on for Peter ‘doing all the good it can.’

Finally, it is my honor to tell you that the Foundation Trustees have invited me to join them on the board! So I am not really going anywhere.  Now my only question is, “How did I get so lucky to be named a Trustee?”

All the Best,


In Photo: Ellen Satterlee on the right with Dr. Miranda, University of Michigan’s Dean of the School of Natural Resources & Environment, following Dr. Miranda’s delivery of the annual Peter M. Wege Lecture on the environment at U of M.

Wege Foundation announces retirement of CEO


September 3, 2015; Grand Rapids, MI – The Wege Foundation announced today the retirement of Ellen Satterlee as President and CEO, effective October 30, 2015. Satterlee will continue to serve as a member of the Foundation’s Board of Trustees.

“Ellen has provided stellar service to the Wege Foundation since 1988, including as CEO in leading the generational succession from our founder, Peter M. Wege,” said Peter Wege II, Chair of the Board of Trustees. “We wish her well in her retirement and are grateful we will continue to benefit from her knowledge and wisdom as a Foundation Trustee.”

A graduate of Aquinas College, Ellen Satterlee served ten years on the Aquinas College Board of Trustees. “Ellen’s dedication to service embodies all that Aquinas College stands for,” said Aquinas College President, Juan Olivarez, Ph.D. “Aquinas was proud to recognize Ellen’s leadership with an Honorary Doctor of Public Policy degree in 2013.”

Satterlee also served on several other boards and committees, including on the Grand Rapid Symphony Board and as a member of the Grand Rapids Economic Club. “Ellen is a close colleague and has been a key partner in many important philanthropic projects,” said Diana Sieger, President of Grand Rapids Community Foundation.

“Ellen’s work with Peter M. Wege over so many years has helped make Grand Rapids a global leader in sustainability – or, in ‘Economicology,’ to use a word coined by Peter Wege,” said Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell.

“Working for Peter Wege, The Wege Foundation and the Wege family has been an amazing journey,” said Satterlee. “To watch the Foundation evolve to fulfill Peter’s vision for a better world has been a blessing and an honor.”

The Wege Foundation was launched in 1967 and for nearly 50 years has supported worthy organizations working in five thematic areas, or “pillars:” Education, Environment, Arts & Culture, Health Care, and Human Services. Focused on the Grand Rapids metropolitan area, the

Foundation embodies Peter M. Wege’s life-long philosophy: “Do all the good you can, in all the ways you can, for all the people you can, for as long as you can.”

In Photo: Mark Van Putten, Ellen Satterlee, and Congressman Vern Ehlers are shown in Washington D.C. in 2008 when the late Peter M. Wege and The Wege Foundation launched Healing Our Waters to save the Great Lakes.  Congressman Ehlers sponsored the bill that led to $20 billion in federal funding to preserve and protect the Lakes.  Mark Van Putten, a longtime consultant to The Foundation, will succeed Ellen Satterlee as the Foundation’s CEO October 31 when she retires after 21 years.

Terri McCarthy Bids a Loving Farewell

After 20 years with the Wege Foundation, Terri McCarthy, Vice President of Programs, retired at the end of May, 2015. Over the course of her career with the foundation, Terri played an integral role in many successful philanthropic efforts. Now Terri wants to thank the people who allowed so many programs and funding partners to grow and prosper during her tenure. As she puts it, “It is difficult for me to leave behind the great work, relationships, and achievements The Wege Foundation has allowed me to be a part of over the last two decades.

Before Terri retired, The Wege Foundation trustees implemented a matching gift program for Wege Foundation team members. Terri was honored to take part in the new program with The Foundation matching donations she made before she left.

One of Terri’s farewell gifts matched by The Wege Foundation went to the Guanacaste Dry Forest Conservation Fund to convert an old farmhouse into a biological station on newly acquired property being added to the ACG, Area of Concervacion de Guanacaste in Costa Rica. Fluttering nearby are the three species of butterflies Dan Janzen discovered and named for Peter Wege, Ellen Satterlee, and Terri: the Porphyrogenes peterwegei, the Anacrusis ellensatterleeae, and the Anacrusis terrimccarthya.

Terri is deeply grateful to Dan Janzen, his wife Winnie Hallwachs, and the faithful supporters of the GDFCF for conserving the wildlands where these namesake butterflies now live. Terri, however, worries about their future because global climate change is heating the lowlands forcing all species, including insects, to move to higher elevations seeking cooler and wetter territory. But at the mountain tops, they can’t go any higher and will cease to exist as many species already have.

Even more than usual, Terri is looking forward to her next visit to the home she and her husband Steve have in Costa Rica because she can visit the renovated research station and the newly acquired property.

Other programs Terri took to heart were the Blandford Nature Center, Grand Rapids Public Schools Blandford School, the Center for Economicology and City High/Middle School. As a former high school science teacher, Terri understood the importance of environmental education and global-resource awareness. She subscribed to the same belief that Mr. Wege repeated often, “Get them outside when they are little so they understand the planet that supports us.” For Terri, another matching contribution to the construction for a new Blandford Nature Center Visitors Building was a natural.

Terri wishes she could list every single one of the wonderful people who have supported her over the years. She especially wants to thank Ellen Satterlee – CEO, the heart and soul of the foundation since 1987; there are not enough words to thank Ellen for her patience and confidence in our team including CFO Jody Price, Editor Susan Lovell, Administrative Assistant Kati Furtado. She also thanks Mark Van Putten for his national water-policy expertise and relationships that put the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative on the national agenda. And, of course, the board of trustees and next generation of the Wege Foundation who will breathe new life into their father’s and grandfather’s mission to “save the planet.”

But above all, Terri thanks and honors Mr. Wege,who had the vision, strength and humor to lead the way by planting the seeds of Economicology around the world!

*Pictured above: Ellen and Terri with Peter M. Wege at the University of Michigan in 2007 where he was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

Jack Hanna, Director Emeritus Columbus Zoo and TV star as Jungle Jack, with Terri at a National Wildlife Federation meeting.
Jack Hanna, Director Emeritus Columbus Zoo and TV star as Jungle Jack, with Terri at a National Wildlife Federation meeting.
Terri with Jody Price, CFO of the Wege Foundation.
Terri with Jody Price, CFO of the Wege Foundation.
Working partners and close friends, Ellen and Terri.
Working partners and close friends, Ellen and Terri.


Community remembers favorite son, Peter Wege

footer-logo-mlive-incGRAND RAPIDS, MI – Peter M. Wege lived to see his hopes and dreams come true.

The Grand Rapids philanthropist lived to be 94 years old, so he had the time. The retired chairman of Steelcase, Inc., also had the money.

The Wege Foundation’s $20 million gift – the largest, single gift he ever gave – launched the $75 million Grand Rapids Art Museum, which opened in 2007.

Most of all, Wege, who died Monday, July 7, had the passion and interest in things both great and small, such as bankrolling the world’s first art museum to win LEED Gold certification for environmental sustainability as well as for donating works of art by Frederic Remington, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Jasper Johns and supporting temporary exhibitions such as “Masterpieces of American Landscape Painting” from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

“Grand Rapids was very lucky to have him here,” said Dana Friis-Hansen, president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Art Museum.

Related: Retired Steelcase chairman, philanthropist Peter Wege dies at 94

Wege’s legacy of support for education, environmentalism, health care, human services, and arts and culture, spanning some 50 years, can be seen most anywhere in Grand Rapids, in West Michigan and beyond.

Aquinas College officials estimate Wege’s contributions to the private, Roman Catholic college in Grand Rapids surpassed $46.5 million over the years. He launched the Healing Our Waters Coalition with a $2.5 million gift a decade ago to help protect the Great Lakes.

Wege wrote books, organized seminars and coined the word “Economicology,” combining the words “economy” and “ecology.”

“He really cared about the inner city, where they didn’t have fresh vegetables, where they didn’t have land, where they didn’t have enough vegetation,” said Juan Olivarez, president of Aquinas College. “He really made us think about sustainability in new ways.

Related: Peter Wege’s ‘profound influence’ pushed Mercy Health Saint Mary’s development

Co-chairman of the sculpture committee formed in the 1960s to commission a major work of public art for Grand Rapids’ new city-county complex downtown, Wege was a major player in bringing Alexander Calder’s stabile, “La Grande Vitesse,” to Grand Rapids in 1969.

Nearly 30 years later, the amateur painter and photographer was a major benefactor of the Grand Rapids Art Museum’s landmark exhibition, “Perugino: Master of the Italian Renaissance,” in 1997 which drew the attention of such publications as the New York Times and put the museum and the city on the cultural map of the United States.

“His interest and passion for the arts was both inspired and inspiring,” said Joseph Becherer, chief curator and vice president of Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, who was curator of the exhibition of work by Pietro di Perugino that brought 15th and 16th century paintings to the United States that had never before left Italy.

At Meijer Gardens, named for benefactor Fred Meijer, founder of Meijer, Inc., you’ll also find the Wege Nature Trail outdoors and the Wege Library indoors.

One of the oldest images in Meijer Gardens’ archives is a 1993 photo of Wege and Meijer, standing in a grassy field of what would become Michigan’s second largest-drawing cultural destination.

“Fred was sharing his early vision for the organization, and Peter, supportively, is smiling in admiration,” said David Hooker, president and CEO of Meijer Gardens. “Early on, Peter Wege believed in dreams – Fred Meijer’s dreams – of what would become this great institution, and his support never diminished.”

Wege’s support of causes and organizations was deep as well as long lasting. Aquinas College will remember Wege as its “guardian angel,” in the words of Olivarez.

Wege helped Aquinas College acquire its current campus and served on its board of trustees for 13 years. In 1959, he took a year’s leave of absence from Steelcase to consult and lead the campaign to build Albertus Magnus Hall of Science at college.

The Steelcase executive launched the Wege Foundation in 1967, giving its first gift to Aquinas College. A $5 million gift in 1995 for the college’s endowment remains the largest, single gift in the college’s history.

“He has been here all these many years, and he has helped Aquinas grow and prosper in good times and bad times,” Olivarez said.

Related: Peter Wege: West Michigan’s dreamer was ahead of his time, Catholic leaders say

Grand Rapids Public School benefited from his commitment for environmental education.

A $1.5 million contribution from the Wege Foundation got kids out of portable classrooms and into “a beautiful, green-built building” to serve as Blandford School, according to Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal.

“His legacy will live on through the students who learned to value the environment at City High Middle School, Blandford, and the Center for Economicology, which was named after him and the term he coined,” Neal said.

Environmentalism and sustainability were lifelong passions.

Rachel Carson’s 1962 book “Silent Spring” helped launch the modern environmental movement, and Wege wasn’t far behind.

“What was so unique about Peter was that he was a voice from the business community,” said Rachel Hood, executive director of West Michigan Environmental Action Council. “If you think about the context of that movement, it was largely about pesticides, and that was largely about business versus environment.”

“Peter’s voice was unique in saying that business and environment can work together,” Hood said.

Related: As last direct descendant of Steelcase’s founding families, Peter Wege focused on environment

A poet, a college athlete at the University of Michigan, and a World War II Army Air Corps pilot, Wege had a charm and a personal touch.

The Wege Foundation spearheaded Grand Rapids Ballet’s $6.2 million, 300-seat Peter Martin Wege Theatre, named not for himself, but for his father. But he also took a personal interest in the company’s dancers.

“One of my fondest memories of him is his love and enthusiasm for the company’s ballet, ‘Flickers,’ recalled retired dancer Attila Mosolygo, who danced the ballet inspired by the silent films of Charlie Chaplin at a birthday celebration of Wege.

“I remember that he loved it and was very appreciative,” said Mosolygo, who today is artistic director of Grand Rapids Ballet’s Junior Company. “Afterward, he gave me a handshake and said how much he always enjoyed Chaplin and his movies.”

The Wege Foundation underwrote the Grand Rapids Symphony’s associate conductor position for more than 15 years, which inspired associate conductor John Varineau jokingly to call Wege, “Dad,” and led Wege, in turn, to call Varineau, “Son.”

“Peter Wege was a lot of fun to be around,” Varineau said.

At a Grand Rapids Symphony BRAVO! Awards dinner honoring contributors and patrons of the orchestra, Varineau conducted the orchestra in a performance of Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” with Wege narrating.

“It was a hoot because Peter was going to do it his way,” Varineau recalled. “No matter what the conductor – me – said.”

Grand Rapids Press and MLive reporters Brian McVicar, Monica Scott and Jonathan Van Zytveld contributed to this report.

Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk covers arts and entertainment for MLive/Grand Rapids Press. Email him at or follow him on Twitter, Facebook orGoogle+.

Retired Steelcase chairman, philanthropist Peter Wege dies at 94

footer-logo-mlive-incGRAND RAPIDS, MI — Peter Melvin Wege loved giving away his money.

And give it away he did — millions of dollars in grants large and small — a fortune he had amassed as the former chairman and largest stockholder of Steelcase, Inc., the office furniture company his father founded.

Wege, of East Grand Rapids, died Monday, July 7, at the age of 94, having made an indelible mark on Grand Rapids and much of the world.

Wege (pronounced Weg-ee) was an unconventional industrialist, sometimes at odds with the area’s other prominent business leaders. He wrote poetry and supported liberal, as well as conservative, candidates and causes. Saving the environment was his greatest passion.

“I want to be remembered as one of the people who tried to wake up the country on the environmental problems,” he said in November 2004, after sponsoring a nationwide conference of environmental leaders aimed at restoring the Great Lakes.

“I’m doing it for my children and my grandchildren,” he said. “It’s got to be taken seriously this time.”

Related: As last direct descendant of Steelcase’s founding families, Peter Wege focused on environment

His gifts ranged from $60,000 to renovate and stock a library in Chase, a tiny Lake County community, to more than $20 million for the new Grand Rapids Art Museum, which opened in 2007.

“He gets more pleasure out of the small gifts he gives than the great big ones,” Ellen Satterlee, the Wege Foundation’s CEO, once said.

When the art museum’s board offered to name the new museum after him in exchange for his gift, Wege declined, although it later christened the area outside the building the Peter M. Wege plaza.

“That’s not his way of doing things,” Kate Pew Wolters, co-chair of the museum’s fundraising campaign, said at the time. Mr. Wege was motivated by “having a quiet impact,” she said, “of using his resources to make change, not with the thought that he’s going to get a lot of recognition for it.”

After giving millions to Saint Mary’s Health Care (now Mercy Health Saint Mary’s) he reluctantly agreed a new building could be named The Peter M. Wege Health and Learning Center, but privately said it was named not for him but for his late father, Peter Martin Wege.

Related: Peter Wege’s ‘profound influence’ pushed Mercy Health Saint Mary’s development

Peter Melvin Wege was born into privilege Feb. 19, 1920, in Grand Rapids eight years after his father co-founded the Metal Office Furniture Co., forerunner of Steelcase Inc.

During the difficult pregnancy before his birth, his mother, Sophia Louise, a devout Catholic, prayed, “Oh, Lord, if you help me out, I’ll devote my child to the Blessed Mary.”

“I got stigmatized right there,” Wege once joked.

His mother instilled in him a deep religious faith, which in later years would guide his philanthropy.

As a teenager, he attended the San Diego Army and Navy Academy, then in 1940 enrolled at the University of Michigan, where he set a record for the javelin throw, which stood for 32 years. He interrupted his education to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Corps in December 1941 following the attack on Pearl Harbor. He became a transport pilot, ferrying aircraft from one place to another during World War II.

It was in that capacity that he became concerned about the damage pollution was inflicting on people and their planet. He often told about piloting an airplane into Pittsburgh in 1943. The smog was so thick, he could not see to land.

After the war, Mr. Wege spent six years as a salesman for the company his father founded, loading his station wagon with Steelcase chairs and other supplies and heading across the country. As the founder’s only son, he was the company’s largest shareholder, and he rose through the management ranks to become chairman.

But he never forgot the smog that shrouded Pittsburgh, a sign of prosperity in those years before the environmental movement.

“Pittsburgh’s smog was my introduction to environmental pollution,” he once wrote.

In 1967, Wege created The Wege Foundation and built its mission on five pillars: education, environment, arts and culture, health care, and human services. He gave its first gift to Aquinas College and remained closely tied to the Catholic college until his death. In 1969, he founded the Center for Environmental Study in Grand Rapids.

At his urging, Steelcase went public, allowing him in 1998 to sell $214 million of his stock, most of which he gave to his foundation. In 2000, he resigned as the company’s vice chairman to work full-time on his foundation. But he continued to use his economic leverage to push Steelcase and other companies to recycle and take other environmentally responsible steps.

Many of his gifts, even those not directly tied to environmental causes, came with the requirement that they be environmentally responsible. He insisted that the buildings his money helped construct be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified, meaning they were energy efficient and met other green standards.

Related: Peter Wege: West Michigan’s dreamer was ahead of his time, Catholic leaders say

“He was on to green building when nobody knew what LEED meant,” Satterlee said in 2010.

Inspired by his example, the Grand Rapids Art Museum, which opened its $75 million building in 2007, became the first newly-built art museum in the world to achieve the top gold-level LEED certification.

“The gold standard was always our goal,” Wege said afterward.

He coined the word “economicology,” combining the words “economy” and “ecology.”

“There’s no doubt you can make money and prevent pollution,” he explained.

In 1998, he published a book, “Economicology: The Eleventh Commandment,” offering his premise that a healthy economy and healthy ecology are compatible.

In 2010, he published a sequel, “Economicology II,” coinciding with his 90th birthday in February.

In between, in the spring of 2004, he sponsored the “Healing Our Waters” conference in Grand Rapids, a meeting of some 70 environmentalists and scientists to develop a plan for dealing with what they saw as the three primary threats to the Great Lakes: invasive species, declining water quality and concentrations of toxic sediment.

“The lakes,” Wege said at the time, “are our life support system, and we’ve got to treat them that way. People take it for granted. We have to protect them.”

The result was a report, “Healing Our Waters: An Agenda for Great Lakes Restoration” — a “Magna Carta for Great Lakes restoration,” Wege called it — urging the federal government to take the lead on a massive, $30 billion dollar restoration of the big lakes.

Robert Kennedy Jr., senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, called Wege “One of my heroes. I just treasure his wisdom and his advice.”

Carl Pope, former executive director of the Sierra Club, said: “Mr. Wege’s doing his part. I think this is a test of whether we’re as committed to this as Mr. Wege is.”

As it turned out, the rest of the country wasn’t as committed. Wege didn’t live to see his beloved lakes restored to their natural state.

Undeterred, he continued his activism. Over the years, he donated numerous tracts of land to nature conservancies, gave the National Wildlife Federation $1 million to create a national schoolyard habitat program to teach young children about nature, more than $1 million to protect the Muskegon River watershed and an estimated $1.5 million to buy ecologically sensitive forest in Costa Rica.

He gave millions to the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources, including a $1.5 million gift in 2011 for a graduate student fellowship and a professorship in sustainability. He gave millions more to Michigan State University, Grand Valley State University and other colleges for environmental programs. At his urging, Aquinas College created a degree in sustainable business.

But Wege didn’t limit his giving to environmental causes. The many organizations that benefited from his generosity include: The Grand Rapids Symphony, the Grand Rapids Ballet Company, the American Cancer Society, Saint Mary’s Health Care and countless schools, elementary through college.

In 2008, at the dedication of the new Cathedral Square Center, the headquarters of the Grand Rapids Catholic Diocese at 360 S. Division Ave. downtown, Wege stood and pointed across the street to the building at 359 S. Division Ave.

“I was born and raised in that third floor 88 years ago,” he said.

Then he stunned the crowd by pledging to give whatever was needed to complete the $22 million project, a promise that could have totaled close to $4 million on that day.

Despite all of that, he tended to keep a lower profile than some of the area’s other philanthropists. He preferred to keep his personal life private, including the fact that he was married and divorced seven times. He had a sensitive, literary side, as seen in his poems many drawn from nature:

If mankind could only realize
That we all are a small part of the whole,
And we fit in the overall plan
Like a glove fits the hand.

He professed that his personal wealth was only as good as what it could accomplish, a sentiment he learned from his father, who “felt that the accumulation of wealth was not in the interest of anybody,” Mr. Wege said in a 1999 interview. “When you had enough for your retirement, you certainly should be generous with the community.”

Some years ago, he made it clear he planned to leave his entire estate to his foundation so it could continue functioning after his death.

“I’m going to give away a lot,” he once said, “and there will be a lot left over.”

Despite his advancing age, he continued running his foundation well into his 80s. He once said he wanted the foundation’s board, composed mainly of his children, to become more active in the decision making, but it soon became clear he wasn’t interested in relinquishing control.

“It was obvious that wasn’t what he wanted,” his oldest son, Peter Martin Wege II once said. “All we do is say, ‘Great job, Dad. Keep it up.’ He keeps saying he’s going to retire, but he never does. We don’t believe him anyway. This is what keeps him alive and keeps him going.”

But age eventually forced him to slow down. In 2004, he considered moving the foundation offices to a farmhouse he had restored near Lowell, but decided it would be better, given his age, if he kept it in his rambling East Grand Rapids home overlooking Reeds Lake.

That same year, he was hospitalized briefly due to an irregular heartbeat.

Still, he kept the foundation’s small staff busy, leaving them stacks of material to read when they arrived at the office each morning, assigning them projects to look into, almost as if he was driven to make a difference before he died.

Terri McCarthy, the foundation’s vice president in charge of programs, once told him: “If you stopped today, you could look back and say, ‘I don’t need to do one more thing,’”

Mr. Wege responded: “Oh, my goodness. I still have so much to do.”

Wege is survived by seven children: Mary Goodwillie Nelson, Susan Carter, Peter Martin Wege II, Christopher Henry Wege, Diana Wege Sherogan, Johanna Osman, Jonathan Michael Wege. He also is survived by 17 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

Pat Shellenbarger contributed to this report.

Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk covers arts and entertainment for MLive/Grand Rapids Press. Email him at or follow him on Twitter, Facebook orGoogle+.


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Peter M. Wege – Obituary

WEGE, PETER Peter Melvin Wege fulfilled his life’s mantra by doing all the good he could for as many people as he could for as long as he could before he died July 7,2014 to join his revered parents Peter Martin and Sophia Louise Wege. Born in Grand Rapids on February 19, 1920, this unassuming philanthropist and environmental visionary lived ninety (plus) full years of loving his family, his friends, his country, and his fellow man. A business man, Wege coined the word economicology to define his advocacy for striking the right balance between a healthy ecology and a profitable economy. He wrote two books titled ECONOMICOLOGY, the first in 1998, the sequel in 2010. In both books Wege wrote his version of the Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not commit abuse against the environment, but rather honor it with respect for sustaining life…Wege was also a poet, photographer, painter, and accomplished athlete. He is survived by his children; Mary Goodwillie Nelson, Susan Carter, Peter Martin Wege II, Chistopher Henry Wege, Diana Wege Sherogan, Johanna Osman, Jonathan Michael Wege; 17 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. Peter Wege’s father co-founded Metal Office Furniture in 1912 today’s Steelcase, the world’s largest office-furniture manufacturer. As an only child, Peter M. Wege always made sure people knew it was his father’s innovative genius that provided the wealth that he gave away to make life better for countless people in his home town and beyond. When Peter Wege gave his largest single gift to build the new Grand Rapids Art Museum, the GRAM board asked to rename it the Wege Art Museum. Peter’s response was typical. “This art museum belongs to the people of Grand Rapids, not the Wege family, and that’s how the name will stay. Peter M. Wege graduated from Brown Military Academy in San Diego in 1938 and from Lake Forest Academy in 1940. He entered the University of Michigan in 1940 where he set a freshman track record in the javelin throw that held up for half a century. After Pearl Harbor, Wege enlisted in the Army Air Force and served his country as a First Lieutenant multi-engine pilot until 1946. Wege joined Steelcase in 1946, working in a series of executive posts including sales, research, design, and as an officer of the Board of Directors and the Steelcase Foundation Board. He retired as Vice Chairman of the Steelcase Board in 2000. Peter’s visionary influence on Steelcase put the manufacturer on the map as one of the world’s earliest environmental manufacturers. Peter’s prophetic view of preserving Earth’s finite resources led to Steelcase becoming renowned for its environmentalism long before “green” became mainstream. In 1967, he created The Wege Foundation with the first project to clean up the water, air, and land in West Michigan through his new Center for Environmental Study. While best known for his environmentalism, as CEO of The Wege Foundation Peter’s favorite dictum was to “Educate! Educate! Educate!” He gave generously to educational causes, both Catholic and public supporting the youth he cared so much about: Aquinas College, Grand Rapids Public Schools, University of Michigan, Blandford Nature Center and Earth University. His active community service began in 1958 as President of St. Mary’s Hospital Board; state President of the American Cancer Society; Co-chairman: Calder Sculpture: 1969; President Grand Rapids Art Museum; Advisory Board Chairman Franciscan Life Process Center; Chairman National Pollution & Prevention Center, University of Michigan; President: Michigan Botanic Garden Foundation; Trustee: South East Economic Development Association; Chairman Aquinas College Board of Trustees among his many honors, Peter was particularly proud of honorary doctoral degrees from the University of Michigan, Aquinas, and Saint Mary’s Hospital. National Wildlife Federation’s Conservation Achievement Award 2001: Honorary Doctoral Degrees from Aquinas College and St. Mary’s Hospital; Winner of Russell G. Mawby Award for Philanthropy 2006; National Wildlife Federation’s President’s Council; Founder: Economicology Collaboration University Conferences; Driving Force behind Muskegon River Watershed Partnership; Winner of the 2007 Paul G. Goebel Distinguished Alumni in Athletics Award; Grand Rapids First Honorary Fire Chief 2007; Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree: University of Michigan 2007; David Smith Humanitarian Award 2009, American Institute of Architects/ W. Michigan; Senior Neighbors 2009 Twilight Humanitarian Award Community Service: President Board of Trustees St. Mary’s Hospital: 1958 State President American Cancer Society: 1959 Founder (1969)/ Trustee: Center for Environmental Study Co-chairman: VandenBerg Center Calder Sculpture: 1969 President (1975)/ Honorary Board Member: Grand Rapids Art Museum President: Doran Foundation, St. Mary’s Hospital: 1984 Visitation will be on Thursday, July 10 from 6:00 – 9:00 PM at the Cathedral of St. Andrew. Funeral Mass will be celebrated on Friday, July 11 at 10:30 AM at the Cathedral of St. Andrew. Private internment to follow at Graceland Mausoleum. In lieu of flowers please make donations to you favorite charity. The family is being served by: Metcalf & Jonkhoff Funeral Service 4291 Cascade Rd SE at Kenmoor, E of I-96


Funeral Home

Metcalf & Jonkhoff Funeral Home
4291 Cascade Road SE Grand Rapids, MI 49546
(616) 940-7333

Published in Grand Rapids Press from July 7 to July 13, 2014