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Faces Of Our Future

You’ll find them in boardrooms and classrooms. They are cultivating the arts, healing racism and revitalizing neighborhoods.

Some were born here, while others were drawn here. These 20 individuals have numerous differences but at least two similarities: They are young and have the potential to help Grand Rapids evolve.

 

 

 

By Myrna Anderson and Lauren Befus
Photography by Michael Buck

 


Not long ago, we began searching for them, the “energetic, forward-thinking, creative and generous” persons younger than 40 who are building the Grand Rapids of the future. These 20 remarkable individuals were culled from the suggestions that came in, representing businesses, volunteer and faith-based organizations, and civic groups. Some of them are familiar names, some aren’t. Given the accomplishments of this group, however, there may be time in the not-too-distant future when you see one of these names on a ballot, a company masthead or introduced from a stage. Or quietly spoken ahead of the words: “is really making a difference in Grand Rapids.”

Certainly, there are more than 20 individuals who embody these characteristics, and Grand Rapids Magazine would like to continue to share their stories. Those with profile suggestions may contact our offices: (616) 459-4545 or grminfo@grmag.com.

 

Les Allen, 34
Executive Director, Neighborhood Revitalization Corp.

Les Allen takes risks in uncharted territories. McDonald’s, Church’s Chicken, Burger King, and Quick and Clean line the streets of South Division Avenue thanks to Allen’s entrepreneurial spirit and his eagerness to improve the city.

“I take risks that benefit the normal citizenry of Grand Rapids. I do things that most people wouldn’t think about doing,“ Allen said. “I am helping to improve areas that have been forgotten about.”
Allen said his former company, L.H. Allen, was the first minority-owned construction company to build a McDonald’s in Michigan. Allen’s other business ventures include The Lenox Room, a downtown club, and Spin City Laundry Center.

“Les knows the inner city; he grew up in Grand Rapids,” said Sharon Evoy, executive director of the Neighborhood Business Specialists Program. The program is an economic development partnership between Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce to provide support and services to the city’s 20 neighborhood business associations. “He’s one of the people who realizes that the inner city can be economically viable. … Les has been able to tap into that.”

With the Neighborhood Revitalization Corp. (NRC), Allen is working to establish quality homes for low-income residents. He builds houses and works to rehabilitate existing homes to meet city codes. The goal is to create safe and comfortable places for residents to live.

“My hope is to make the NRC a well-respected and successful organization that will last for years to come, leaving a legacy in the nonprofit arena in the Grand Rapids community,” Allen said.
What you don’t know about Allen: His ultimate business goal is to purchase the Oakland Raiders.


Brigid Avery, 24
Admissions Representative, Aquinas College

After spending a college semester in inner-city Chicago, Brigid Avery’s life was changed forever. Her eyes were opened to a world different from her own, and when she returned home to Grand Rapids, she was determined to make a difference.

Known as a woman of character who “walks the talk” and holds strong to her convictions, Avery is on a mission to increase diversity at Aquinas College and in the Greater Grand Rapids community. She developed a summer program for Detroit public high school students called “Detroit Rewarding Youth Achievement,” inviting them to experience college life at Aquinas.

“I wanted to stop talking about diversity and decided to actually do something to help Aquinas,” said Avery, who added that incoming freshmen students of color at Aquinas increased 6 percent in the 2002-2003 school year.

Avery is involved in the Racial Justice Institute of the Grand Rapids Area Center for Ecumenism. She and other members are advocating the name change of Franklin Street to Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

Ultimately, Avery hopes to become the dean of students at Aquinas, while also managing her own restaurant that is “friendly” to those who are on a diet.

What you don’t know about Avery: “I confess! I am such a mess! My car, my house, my office - all of them are messy. I am relatively disorganized, yet I somehow find order in the midst of my chaos.”


Mark Davis, 38
Partner, Varnum, Riddering, Schmidt & Howlett, LLP

In any environmental case Mark Davis takes on, his client is always the same: the environment.
Davis, a 1990 graduate of Vermont Law School who also specializes in intellectual property law, began his career in environmental law as a prosecutor for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “I do like to go after those who fail to recognize their responsibility for the problem,” he said. These days, he is just as likely to help corporations achieve sound environmental standards. “I think one of my goals in representing clients is if they’re out of compliance to get them back in compliance and to stay in compliance. Any company who wants to stay around in today’s market needs to stay out of environmental trouble.” Davis also represents families whose health has been impaired by negligent corporations.

In his off hours, Davis serves on the boards of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and Alternatives in Motion, which furnishes wheelchairs to people who can’t afford them, and he coaches youth travel hockey. In 1999 he worked as the chairman, manager and treasurer for Judith Frey’s successful bid for the mayoralty of East Grand Rapids. “It wasn’t necessarily an interest in politics but more an interest in community,” said the native East Grand Rapidian.

“He certainly cares about his community and gets involved,” Mayor Frey affirmed.

What you don’t know about Davis: “I don’t like going to sleep.”


Iliana Ordaz Jeffries, 37
Executive Director, Arts Council of Greater Grand Rapids

Iliana Ordaz Jeffries spent her career in arts management pingponging from Miami to Toronto to Boise, Idaho, before landing atop the Arts Council of Greater Grand Rapids in January 2002. “So far, so good,” she said.

Carol Black, the council’s development director, is more effusive. “It’s really wonderful to see her in the role she was meant to play. It took her very little time to understand the arts community. She really has the potential to take us, as the arts council, to the next level: collaborating with other groups.”
“Our mission overall is to make sure the community sees art as a core value,” Jeffries said, who also prioritizes arts advocacy on a legislative level.

Her husband, John Peter Jeffries (“Everybody knows him as Jeep. Jeep, like the car.”), serves as executive director of Opera Grand Rapids. “It was his position with the opera company that brought us here,” she said. “It’s a metropolis compared to Boise.”

The thing you don’t know about Jeffries: “I sing ‘The Queen of the Night’ when I vacuum. And I can’t sing. So you don’t want to be within earshot.”


Joe Jones, 32
Partner/Senior Consultant, Jones & Gavan, LLC

Recognized by Woodrick Institute Director Steve Robbins as “a dynamic thinker who has the community in mind in everything he does,” Jones is making moves in Grand Rapids. The first African American to serve on the Kent County Aeronautics Board, Jones deems wooing his wife Jessie and creating a family of four as his ultimate accomplishment.

Jones, serving on a total of five local committees/boards, is vice chairman of the Grand Rapids Urban League and second vice president of the Grand Rapids NAACP Executive Committee.

“I want to continue to give of my time, talents and treasures for the benefit of Grand Rapids,” said Jones, who provides public relations counsel through Jones & Gavan. “This is my home and I want to be a part of Grand Rapids growing into an example of what cities across America can emulate when community, business, church, government and philanthropy come together and work collaboratively.”

Jones has hopes of becoming an ordained minister and holding public office.

What you don’t know about Jones: He is one of nine children, five boys and four girls. Whenever he calls his mother, she always has to guess who she’s talking to because his siblings all sound alike. So he calls his mother “Mooken Jones” to distinguish himself.


Rock Kauffman, 39
Owner of Rock Kauffman’s Urbanhouse

At his Ionia Avenue emporium, Rock Kauffman is widening the concept of retail furniture sales and celebrating the renaissance of downtown Grand Rapids all at the same time. A lot of design insight goes along with the couch you buy at Rock Kauffman’s Urbanhouse because the store’s on-staff interior designers stand ready to lend their expertise.

Kauffman’s envelope-stretching furniture store has existed in the area adjacent to the Van Andel Arena since 1996, and its owner is enjoying downtown’s new era: “We’ve survived the first wave,” he said. “With the new convention center coming, that will be the next wave of success downtown. We’re in a good position to help that.”

Sam Cummings, president of Second Story Properties and the developer of Ionia, said of the Urbanhouse team: “It took quite an amount of vision to participate in what we’ve created around here. It’s certainly a tribute to their creativity, vision and hard work that they’re doing so well. At times it’s been a challenge for them, and they’ve risen to that challenge.”

Kauffman started his career in design and related fields at Klingman’s Furniture Co. in 1983 at the tender age of 21. In 1988, he and partner Kevin Einfeld began BDR Builders, pioneering the design-build concept of home construction in this area. The company designed and built eight houses featured in the Parade of Homes in a five-year span. Kauffman sold his interest in BDR by 1993 and concentrated solely on interior design.

In all his ventures, Kauffman’s goal has been to establish good design within the city. “The next five years … downtown is going to be the place to be. It’s going to be so huge that downtown Grand Rapids isn’t going to be the same for 50 or 60 years.”

What you don’t know about Kauffman: “I’ve been known to be caught at Target having lunch.”


Liz Keegan, 26
Partner, Program Management, Community Leadership Institute

Liz Keegan organizes dialogues on contemporary issues. She has worked to educate and equip neighborhood associations. She has planned fund-raisers for the Fair Housing Center. She manages grants. Liz Keegan makes community involvement a priority.

“The connections you make are necessary for you to feel you belong here,” said Keegan, who moved to West Michigan from Detroit.

After graduating from Aquinas College in 1998 with a major in Spanish and a minor in Japanese, Keegan was hired to provide administrative support for both the college’s Community Leadership Institute (CLI) and its Woodrick Institute for the Study of Racism and Diversity. “They split me,” is how she puts it. In January 2001, she moved full time to the CLI.

Keegan has spent her years since graduation working on healing racism and promoting diversity, attending several Institutes for Healing Racism. She is a member of the Summit on Racism: Community Action Team and serves on the board of directors of Hispanics Against AIDS.

“Liz is one of these incredibly bright and dedicated young leaders who is, I think, breaking the mold or helping to break the mold of traditional leadership. Traditional leadership is white guys. Here’s a young woman taking significant leadership roles in the community,” said CLI’s lead partner and mayoral candidate, the Rev. George Heartwell.

What you don’t know about Keegan: She has a Star Wars calendar on her desk and confesses a partiality for Han Solo. Or is it a passion? “Not so much anymore. It’s admiration,” she said.


Belen Ledezma, 33
Supervisor of Translation and Interpretation Services, Spectrum Health

The daughter of migrant workers, Belen Ledezma remembers translating for her Mexican grandmother in the emergency room when she was a mere 7 years old. Now she makes her living doing the same thing for myriad Spanish-speaking patients at Spectrum Health.

Ledezma, whose family settled permanently in the Fremont area (“I’m a Gerber baby!”) when their house in Mexico burned down, pursued a triple major in political science, Latin and Spanish with a minor in history at Western Michigan University. “I stayed in school for five years because I didn’t know what to do,” she confessed. In March 2000, a friend directed Ledezma to the job she now holds. “She just thought it would be a natural fit for me because I did translation for Catholic Social Services.”

“Belen is wonderful. She is an expert in the field of interpretation and translation services. She really exudes a passion to patients and their families. She has lived with a foot in two different societies. She comes from a place of knowing rather than just a skill she’s learned,” said Kris White, Spectrum Health’s director of patient relations and translation and interpretation services.

While working her way to a master’s degree in public administration, Ledezma teaches in migrant camps and volunteers at Gilda’s Club. She is married to Hesham Sanour. “I serve the Lord by serving others,” is her credo.

What you don’t know about Ledezma: “I talk a lot with my hands, even when I talk on the telephone. It’s like I’m guiding an airplane. I feel like I need my hands to communicate everything I want to say.”


Jeffrey Meeuwsen, 34
Director, Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts

It’s a career change most wouldn’t expect: from Amway to the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA). Yet Jeffrey Meeuwsen has recently found his niche.

He began his work at the UICA on Aug. 1 and is making strides. “I think it would be to help West Michigan to realize what a gem they have in UICA,” Meeuwsen said of his mission. “We’re not only the largest contemporary multidisciplinary arts center in Michigan, but we’re 25 years old and primarily volunteer-run for all those years. And that is extremely rare in the U.S. for that to exist.”

Meeuwsen, pursuing a second degree in fine arts from Kendall College of Art and Design, has been affiliated with the UICA for 10 years, working on the board and several committees.

Sarah Joseph, Kendall College director of exhibitions, is sure that UICA has the right man for the job. “I think he has a lot of great ideas to continue the great tradition of the UICA, to take it in new directions. … I think he’s really going to be reaching out to the community.”

Odd fact from Mr. Meeuwsen: He eats his cake by flipping it upside down. The too-sweet frosting sticks to the plate and he can then enjoy hassle-free cakey-goodness from the bottom up.


Rusty Merchant, 30
Vice President of Public Policy and Government Affairs, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce

When the state divvied up its arts money, he ensured that Kent County received its fair share. He prevented the building of a casino in Wayland. Now he’s working to get U.S. 131 finished to the Indiana border. Yet Rusty Merchant calls himself “just another boring white guy.”

The chamber is the only organization west of Lansing that has a full-time lobbyist in that capital every session, and Merchant is the man. “He (Rusty) has worked to bring the Grand Rapids area chamber’s advocacy to the ‘next level’ in Lansing. With Rusty’s help, the chamber has become one of the major players in the state Legislature,” chamber President John Brown said.

Even his name is commerce-friendly, the lobbyist observed. “Rusty Merchant is, like, the ultimate chamber name. The only thing better would be, like, ’Bill Enterprise.’”

Merchant earned his bachelor’s degree from Grand Valley State University and served as a legislative aide to state Sen. Doug Carl. Despite his frequent forays to the capital, he finds time to serve on the board of his church and the Grand Rapids Township Planning Commission. He, wife Jane and daughter Peyton are expecting a family addition.

“It’s a pleasure to go to Lansing and talk about Grand Rapids. We’re a flagship city for the Midwest. I really believe it.”

What you don’t know about Rusty Merchant: “I always eat my food in order and complete one item before moving on to the next. There’s no mixing.”


Marci Michmerhuizen, 30
Community Administrator of Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, Grand Rapids Medical Education and Research Center for Health Professions (MERC)

Some people have trouble keeping track of a cat. Marci Michmerhuizen tracks the academic progress and sundry needs of 60 third- and fourth-year Michigan State University medical students as they complete their clinical training in Grand Rapids hospitals and health facilities.

As community administrator, Michmerhuizen directs the medical student program for the Medical Education and Research Center for Health Professions (MERC). She is adept at finding creative solutions to unusual problems. “Just one example of Ms. Michmerhuizen’s style is that when we were told that most visiting medical students expected free housing, the budget presented a problem. Ms. Michmerhuizen’s solution was to solicit volunteer free housing from the medical staff and volunteer organizations. And now we … have a growing list of families in the Grand Rapids area who will be sponsoring visiting medical students who may well become the physician leaders of tomorrow in West Michigan,” said Kent Bottles, MERC’s president and CEO.

Michmerhuizen, who earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Hope College in 1994 and a master’s from GVSU in education in 2000, states her mission simply: “Do the best I can. Certainly we are aiming to become a world-renowned program for MERC and for the state.”

Holland is home for Michmerhuizen and Marshall, her husband of a year and a half. “It’s worth the commute,” she said.

The thing you don’t know about Michmerhuizen: “I love ketchup, salsa, French dressing and tomato soup, but I will not eat tomatoes!”


Tamber Moore, 32
Community Outreach Manager, The Delta Strategy

Tamber Moore is movin’ and shakin’ at The Delta Strategy. She is working on initiatives to reduce poverty in the Grand Rapids area and daily tackling the city’s toughest issues.

Moore also serves on the Minority Business Council, helping to ensure minorities of equal business opportunities in the area and to raise awareness of their presence. She is devoted to helping adults and children become more culturally aware.

“I am passionate about healing racism because I am multiracial,” Moore said. “My father was born in the Philippines and my mother is Polish. I have had the opportunity to see the world through several sets of eyes.”

Moore worked in television production for six years and served as a media relations consultant for the opening of the Van Andel Institute and the S-Curve.

“Tamber is a dynamic, passionate woman,” said Deb Bloom, Women’s Resource Center business and community liaison. “She strikes me as a strong woman with a great passion for what she does. She is young … and someone who will continue to have a growing impact in Grand Rapids.”

This is only the beginning for Tamber Moore. She looks forward to seeing the results of The Delta Strategy, “the Healing Racism Institute and all of the Institutes working together in Grand Rapids.”
What you really need to know about Moore: She loves Michigan basketball: “Go Blue!”


Mark Peters, 38
President/CEO, Butterball Farms Inc.

Whether it is his connections at The Potters House Christian School, his work at In the Image (an organization that gives away clothes, furniture and housewares to people in need) or his desire to help his own employees flourish at Butterball Farms Inc., Mark Peters is enriching lives in Grand Rapids.
“Peters is a very positive person. He encourages people to reach their highest potential,” Potters House Principal John Booy said. “Mark has the ability to speak life into people, especially in urban communities. He is very committed to the city; he doesn’t just give money, he gives his time as well.”

Peters and his human resources staff are devoting their time to the development of Southwest Organizations Unifying Resources for Community and Employees, known as SOURCE. SOURCE, which is scheduled to launch Jan. 1, consists of 10 companies working together with businesses, nonprofits and government agencies to provide services to its members’ employees. English as a Second Language and budget classes, Family Independence Agency caseworkers and emergency child care will be accessible for member companies. “We want to help move people from welfare to sustainability, to help promote people along a career path using these businesses,” Peters said.

Aside from Peters’ involvement in the Grand Rapids community, he is looking to his company’s future with anticipation of a new retail endeavor and the possibility of recycling all plastic waste at Butterball.
What you don’t know about Peters: “I had my white truck painted like my boat. It’s blue, yellow, orange and red! It is pretty wild!”


Steve Robbins, 37
Director, Woodrick Institute for the Study of Racism and Diversity

His family’s background as Asian immigrants living sometimes uneasily in the United States equipped Steve Robbins to lead Aquinas College’s Woodrick Institute for the Study of Racism and Diversity.
Born in Saigon, Vietnam, Robbins came to America when he was 5. He graduated from Calvin College in 1988. Five months after his marriage to wife Donna in 1991 Robbins’ mother committed suicide. “From depression,” Robbins explained, “and from a lot of the way she was treated here as a Vietnamese person.” Robbins followed a short career as a news producer with graduate school, earning a Ph.D. in communications from Michigan State University. After four years as a marketing consultant for a Fortune 500 company, Robbins started looking for a more enriching means of earning a living. “I wanted my job to have life meaning,” he said.

Robbins began studying issues of diversity. “I became true to myself and realized I was an Asian person living in the United States. When my son was born in 1995, that was the final kick.” He resolved to work to heal racism and promote diversity. The institute was founded in 1999 with Robbins as its first director; it holds workshops works to foster sensitivity in matters of race and diversity. In 2001, Robbins founded the Multiracial Association of Professionals (MAP) to promote a more diverse working community in the city.

“Steve is doing a wonderful job,” Aquinas College President Harry Knopke said. “He is very creative. He has a broad perspective on the community - and not just Grand Rapids, but what a community means. He’s very creative and passionate about what he does.”

“When true understanding and communication take place, the issues we have around racism and exclusion will be greatly lessened,” Robbins said. The Robbinses have three sons and a daughter.
What you don’t know about Robbins: He always wears two pairs of socks because he has skinny feet.


Chrissy Rozelle, 28
Director of Administration, Camp Blodgett

She answered an ad and found her life’s work. Chrissy Rozelle, director of administration for Camp Blodgett, finds the money to keep the camp serving the area’s at-risk youths.

“Basically, what I want to do is raise a ton of money so that people can do the great things they’re doing,” she said.

After working as an accountant support coordinator for a public relations firm in East Lansing, Rozelle answered the fateful ad. Alongside her fund-raising duties, she is working on a marketing degree at Grand Rapids Community College.

Annette Guilfoyle, public information officer for the city of Grand Rapids, praised Rozelle’s “can do, will do, it’s done attitude,” and her willingness to tackle new tasks.

Rozelle explained her enthusiasm: “There’s a real energy to your work when you’re doing something for other people.”

What you don’t know about Rozelle: “I can’t type and talk at the same time.”


Suzanne Schultz, 31
City Planner and Project Manager for the Grand Rapids Master Plan

She was just trying to stay home nights. In 1999 Suzanne Schultz left her consulting gig as an urban planner to work in the Grand Rapids Planning Department. “To get away from meetings,” she said. Upon her arrival at her new job, Schultz learned that she would be helping to redraft the Grand Rapids master plan, which had not been updated in almost 40 years. Over 100 neighborhood meetings and community forums ensued. Schultz was undaunted: “Even though there were night meetings, I was only 10 minutes away from home anywhere in the city.”

Schultz and her colleagues on the Plan Grand Rapids project listened to the community as though it were a giant committee to determine how a future Grand Rapids would grow, build, live, navigate and prosper. “The feedback we’ve gotten back from the community has been very positive,” she said. “People feel that they’ve been heard.” The new master plan mixes the input from specific neighborhoods with that of hired consultants and city officials. Schultz’s job was to coordinate the entire whirl.

“Suzanne is terrific,” said Bill Hoyt, city planning director. “She is forward-thinking, organized and genuinely concerned about people and their views. She is largely responsible for the success of the master plan project.”

Schultz earned a bachelor’s degree with honors in urban and regional planning from Michigan State University. She has worked on a study of state land use trends and on an environmental impact statement on U.S. 23. “It’s been my history at work. I get these giant projects.” She is restoring a house in Heritage Hill, where she lives with her chef husband, Scott, and their two children.

What you don’t know about Schultz: “I sing my baby show tunes while shopping at Meijer. We like ’Porgy and Bess.’”


Dr. Bin Tean Teh, 37
Senior Principal Investigator, Van Andel Research Institute

Since his arrival at the Van Andel Research Institute (VARI) in January 2000, Dr. Bin Tean Teh and his research team have blazed a trail of discovery in the genetics and treatment of kidney cancer. The Malaysian-born Teh, formerly of Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, has forged partnerships with 11 area urologists from both Spectrum Health and Metropolitan Hospital and with DeVos Children’s Hospital to study the disease. Teh’s research has identified the genes - different for adults and for children - that cause both hereditary and nonhereditary kidney cancer. The research also has determined that the genetic makeup, not the size or shape of a cancerous growth, determines whether it will spread. Teh’s team has also fingered the targets for drug therapy in kidney cancer, allowing physicians to more intelligently direct their patient’s chemotherapy.

“I work on kidney cancer because it has such huge impact in my life,” said Teh, whose father died of the disease at age 35.

Bart Williams, a VARI investigator, said Teh had done a good job of integrating the local clinical research community with the institute. “And since that’s one of the long-term goals of the institute, it’s very important.”

Teh, his wife Jane and their 8-month-old son are happy transplants to the area. “My two biggest hobbies are golfing and fishing, so I suppose I come to the right place. We have many good friends here,” he said.

What you don’t know about Teh: When he is golfing, he thinks about work.


Dan West, 34
Design Director, Izzydesign

Dan West surely won’t take all of the credit for his success at Izzydesign. “It takes a team. Lots of people are involved with the success of design. I am just proud to be a part of a small, intelligent, acute group of individuals who help bring Izzy to life.”

West’s design work honors include a 2001 Best of NeoCon Editors’ Choice Award and 2002 Best of NeoCon Silver Award. “He is a terrific young designer and has played a significant role in the design of new products for Izzy,” said Izzydesign President Chuck Saylor. “I have known him for four years, and his creative thought process as well as his sincere commitment to this community and to making a difference are some of the qualities I have seen in Dan.”

Previously a product designer at Haworth Inc. and a contract designer for Steelcase Inc., West takes great honor in working in the area he grew up in. “Being from this area, it’s even more meaningful to be able to affect this community in a positive way; I enjoy bringing more opportunities for labor and helping the community thrive and grow along with my friends and family.”

West hopes to transition from designing furniture to designing and constructing houses. His desire is to build homes as simply as possible, forcing himself to be more creative with fewer resources. “People are overloaded; they need tranquility and trust. I want to build this into my furniture and my homes. A home is a sanctuary. I hope to create that for each unique individual I work for.”

What you don’t know about West: “As a late teen-ager I had the honor of driving Bozo in the local parade.”


James White, 38
Entrepreneur

James White, a former commercial banker, began in 1994 to focus his business acumen on neglected areas of this city. “The kind of work I’m doing is about changing lives and changing communities,” he said.

Division Avenue was the first target for White’s effort at resurrection. Beginning with partners Les Allen and Stuart Ray, White planted a Burger King at the corner of Franklin Street and Division Avenue and followed it up in quick succession with McDonald’s and Church’s chicken franchises. In 1996, White and Allen collaborated on the renovation of present-day Tillman Commerce Building, 1001 S. Division Ave. The partners are joined even on a personal level; their wives are sisters.
White’s newest partnership, Development LLC, will do further development in the inner city.

“He is a very knowledgeable man, having worked on the Planning Commission with the city. He’s interested in the residential neighborhoods around the business district, which is important. You can’t have a strong business district without strong residential neighborhoods. We have already seen the benefits of that caring,” said Anne Marie Bessette, development specialist with the Neighborhood Business Specialists Program.

White serves on the board of Young Life and, with his wife Sulari, is an active member of Messiah Baptist Church. He pursues his business course prayerfully. “What I really love about it is to be able to control my own destiny. The issues I deal with - I have some say-so,” he said.

What you don’t know about White: He claims to be a really ordinary guy, but his wife claims he keeps the house at near-tropical temperatures and bundles up even in the summer.


Meg Miller Willit, 39
Volunteer

Since leaving the public relations field in 1998, Meg Miller Willit has made a second career out of volunteering. The 39-year-old mother of a 3½-year-old, who expects a baby this month, deftly champions education and the arts in Grand Rapids.

“I was taught at an early age that it was our responsibility to contribute back to the world we live in,” Miller Willit said.

While sitting on the board of directors of Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park for six years, Miller Willit pioneered Christmas Around the World, spending weeks crafting ornaments and trimming the various trees of the nations. She chaired the Gardens’ 1999 gala for Nina Akamu’s daVinci-inspired horse and the May 2001 opening of the Sculpture Park. She now divides her time between the board of the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum, the Grand Valley Foundation Board of Trustees, the Young Leadership Advisory Committee at Grand Valley State University, the Holland-Zeeland Community Foundation and the Grand Rapids Symphony.

“I have only worked with Meg for about a year and a half, and in that time she has proved nothing less than a woman who gets things done,” said Theresa Thome, executive director of the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum.

The thing you don’t know about Miller Willit: Her treadmill is in constant use as a lectern for rehearsing speeches. “I don’t walk on it. It’s never turned on - never.” GR


Myrna Anderson is the Grand Rapids Magazine staff writer. Lauren Befus is an intern with Grand Rapids Magazine.

   
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