Two of Peter Wege’s granddaughters, Jennifer Wege from North Carolina and Caitlin Wege from California, came to Grand Rapids in March to attend LaughFest, a fundraiser for the cancer-support group Gilda’s Club. The Wege Foundation has been a major LaughFest sponsor since the 10-day comedy festival kicked off in 2011.

While in town, Jennifer and Caitlin – whose father Peter Wege II is President of The Wege Foundation Board – wanted to see some of their family foundation’s work in action. High on their list was the Kroc Family Center they knew about, but wanted to see for themselves.

To build the center named for the founder of McDonald’s, the Kroc Trust gave the Salvation Army $45M – $30M for construction and $15M for endowment. But the gift was conditional: the Army had to raise a one-third match in local gifts. Grand Rapids’ collective generosity – typified by the Wege family – came through with $15 million to make the Kroc Center happen.

On a sunny spring morning, Captain Peter Mount, Kroc’s  Congregational Life Officer, and Operations Director Manager Kraig Smottlach gave the Wege sisters and two Wege Foundation executives the full tour. They walked them through the two-story, 105,000 square-foot building, from the chapel to the pool. The visitors saw how the facilities were designed to meet the Center’s mission of worship, education, recreation, and the arts.

Outdoors they viewed the 20 acres of playing fields, amphitheatre, fish pond, sliding hill, and 2010 ArtPrize  winning sculpture, Table and Chairs. Kraig knew Jennifer and Caitlin were particularly interested in the geo-thermal heating/cooling system their grandfather was responsible for. Pointing oa;;ut the system’s location under a green field, Kraig was happy to report that while they’d found some glitches in other mechanics, the Wege-inspired geo-thermal system worked like a charm.

The extra expense to install geo-thermal, Kraig explained, would be paid off in a few years. After that, the system will be paying the Kroc back through its huge savings in heating and cooling costs.

Throughout the tour, all four Wege Foundation visitors shared their enthusiasm for what they were seeing. Among other things, they were impressed by the numbers – 250,000 people through the doors a year, 4,500 weekly; 5,500 members; 761 different classes and 11 weeks of summer camp.