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.



What began as Peter M. Wege’s vision to save the Great Lakes by inviting 70 environmentalists to a Grand Rapids conference in May 2004 turned into and unprecedented federal commitment within five years. Also supported by the Beldon, Frey, and Mott Foundations, the original meeting Wege convened at Steelcase University has made environmental history in record time. In February 2009, President Obama signed the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a plan to restore the Great Lakes with an estimated $20 billion price tag.

In 2010 alone, the federal government has provided $475 million for Great Lakes restoration, including grants to address the three most serious threats to the Great Lakes: invasive species, non-point source pollution, and contaminated sediments.

These three primary targets came almost verbatim from the report –Wege called it the Great Lakes’ “Magna Carta” – issued by the original Healing Our Waters conference attendees in 2004. At the time Peter Wege told his invited guests that he wanted the Lakes restored in five years as, “I’m not getting any younger.”

Eyes rolled. Can’t be done. Federal funding? Politics? Elections? Monstrous endeavors like restoring the Lakes take decades to happen! But Peter M. Wege proved, once again, that he has a knack for making his impossible visions come true.

The Sixth Great Lakes Restoration Conference took place in September 2010 in Buffalo, New York, the sixth of the eight Great Lakes states to host the yearly gathering. From the original 30 environmental groups who met at Steelcase in 2004, over 120 organizations representing millions of Americans are now active members of the HOW-Great Lakes Coalition.

Andy Buchsbaum, National Wildlife Federation, and Lynn McClure, National Parks Conservation Association, co-chair the coalition with Mark Van Putten serving as The Wege Foundation’s consultant on the GLRI. In his newly published book, ECONOMICOLOGY II, Peter Wege says that restoring the Great Lakes is the single most important work he’s done in his life.

Wege’s good friend, the late President Gerald R. Ford, agreed. In congratulating Peter for his leadership on the Lakes, President Ford spoke for all Americans when he wrote in July 2006, “The Great Lakes have enriched my life as they have so many others, and I share your commitment to restoring them for our children’s and grandchildren’s future.”


The Wege Foundation’s signature gift in the Arts & Culture area of interest is the new Grand Rapids Art Museum. Even before the ribbon was cut in October 2007, GRAM was making national news as the first “green” art museum in the world. The New York Times headlined its article: From Michigan, a Clean-Running Museum. When the Times asked Peter what his future dreams were for this history-making building, the answer was classic Wege. “I hope it inspires other cultural organizations to follow.”

In its September 2007 in-flight magazine, United Airlines published a feature article by Charles Lockwood singling out the green museum in the greenest city in the United States: the new GRAM in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Lockwood wrote that GRAM will be the first art museum to receive a LEED rating (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) from the U.S. Green Building Council. GRAM’s adherence to LEED standards qualified it not for just Certification, but for a GOLD rating, the second highest level the Council can award a building.

Lockwood writes of the 18,000-square-foot GRAM, Green features include glazed skylights that bring natural light into the galleries, tanks that collect rainwater used to flush toilets, and an HVAC system that collects and stores fresh air under the building where the earth cools it.

While this stunning green museum, designed by architect Kulapat Yantrasast, is Peter’s largest gift to GRAM, it’s certainly not his first. For some forty years, The Wege Foundation has supported the Grand Rapids Art Museum. Starting with his first recorded gift of $1,000 in 1969 when GRAM was in a renovated house near downtown, Wege has been the Art Museum’s single most generous patron.

From relatively small donations—like redoing GRAM’s kitchen, to major gifts—like funding the Frank Lloyd Wright exhibit, Wege has made sure the Art Museum gets whatever it needs. From 1969 onward, GRAM’s annual donations under the name “Wege,” both personal and from the Foundation, have a repetitive ring. “Annual fund.” “Endowment.” “Underwriting.” “Capital improvements.”

Yet those are only the non-specific gifts. He also created an internship named for the woman he often called “my sainted mother,” the Sophia Dubridge Scholarship. College students who win the Dubridge Scholarship study in the curatorial and education departments of the Art Museum.

Peter Wege regularly backs art exhibits, especially of local artists like the late Mathias Alten and Jon MacDonald, a distinguished painter. Years before political correctness kicked in, Peter Wege was promoting MacDonald not because he is an African American, but because of his artistic talent.

While the Arts and Environment are the central Pillars of the Foundation’s Mission, this $60 million LEED-Gold art museum in the heart of Grand Rapids incorporates the other three areas of interest for Peter as well. Enhancing the downtown with a magnet like the new GRAM contributes to Human Services as it revitalizes the people of the inner city who live in nearby neighborhoods.

With Peter’s strong faith that the arts as necessary to the health and elevation of the human spirit, the new GRAM fits into his Health Care model of Mind, Body, & Spirit. And with GRAM Director Celeste Adams already scheduling a variety of art classes—plus children’s art camps in the summer of 2008—the new Museum supports the Foundation’s number-one area of interest area: Education

Peter’s quote in the New York Times is right on. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if GRAM inspired “other cultural organizations to follow” its example!

Visit the Grand Rapids Art Museum at


Saint Mary’s Health Care

In the 1950s, Peter M. Wege gave his first gift to Saint Mary’s by printing the hospital’s bulletin. Wege was 36 when he was elected Chairman of Saint Mary’s Board of Trustees in 1958. The Trustee next closest in age was 62. Over the next half century, he would become Saint Mary’s most generous donor.

After The Wege Foundation helped fund the third major building campaign between 1998 and 2009, Saint Mary’s CEO Phil McCorkle could not help asking a serious question. “For all you’ve done for us, Peter, could we have the hospital renamed for you and your family?”

According to McCorkle, Peter Wege turned him down with this explanation. “My mother prayed to Mary to protect me when I was born at Saint Mary’s. That’s why Saint Mary has always been dear to me and her name should remain the hospital’s name.” And it did.

In 1998 The Wege Foundation was behind a new 80,000 square-foot Peter M Wege Institute for holistic medicine at Saint Mary’s; Wege was a major donor to the Richard J. Lacks Cancer Center that became the second LEED-certified hospital building in the country because of Peter’s influence.

In 2009 the $60 million Hauenstein Center for Neuroscience opened, again with a major donation coming from the Wege Foundation. And again LEED-certified coming from Peter M. Wege’s environmental vision.