Street Talk: Carrying a torch for trust and ethics


Honesty will still get you somewhere in West Michigan.

In fact, it will get you to the podium for a Torch Award from The Better Business Bureau Serving Western Michigan, which recently honored trustworthy organizations for their relationships with customers, employees, vendors and the community.

“Each of the 15 Torch Award recipients and finalists shared information about their leadership, vision, mission, policies and impact. The independent judges were very impressed with the quality of trust-building displayed by each of the finalists,” said BBB President Phil Catlett.

Jeff VanderLaan, CEO of Kent Companies and a Business Journal 40 Under Forty recipient in 2014, said the recognition for his company in the “more-than-250-employees” category was gratifying but just part of what he expects from his workers.

“This award reflects the integrity that the people of Kent Companies bring to the job every day,” he said. “Our customers across West Michigan and across the nation count on us to do the right thing. Our team strives to bring our four hallmarks of safety, productivity, quality and customer service to life in every aspect of our work. We’re committed to raising the bar for the entire construction industry.”

Winners were Peak Performance Chiropractic (1-25 employees); West Michigan Whitecaps (26-249); Kent Companies and Life EMS Ambulance (250-plus); and Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids (nonprofits).

Earning recognition as finalists were Baxter Community Center, CasterDepot, Compucraft, Everdry of Greater Grand Rapids, Forest Hills Foods, Fox Motor Group, Independent Bank, Mid-Michigan Community Action Agency, Mill Steel Co. and Schaafsma Heating & Cooling.

The grapevine

The Honorable Jelena Grcic Polic, consul general, Consulate General of the Republic of Croatia in Chicago, is coming to Grand Rapids Friday for a couple of reasons.

First, she will speak that day at noon to the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan about Croatia’s role in the European Union and trade possibilities with West Michigan.

On Monday, Nov. 17, she will open the photography exhibit “Amazing Croatia” by contemporary Zagreb-born artist Marko Vrdoljak at the University Club downtown.

So, what to do between Friday and Monday? Well, there’s a good chance it will involve wine, according to Dixie Anderson, executive director of the World Affairs Council.

She said many of the early Napa Valley vintners were from Croatia. They lost a lot of their vines in Croatia because of blight and came to the U.S. to start over.

One of those vintners is Mike Grgich, who is still going strong in his 90s. His award-winning wines caused a maelstrom in the ’70s when he took top honors away from the French, which became the basis for the Hollywood hit “Sideways.”

Poli? is well aware of Grgich.

“The famous Croatian American vintner Mike Grgich of Grgich Hills Wine bought a cellar in my grandparents’ village at the Adriatic coast in the 1990s and has been making his own Plavac (wine) there,” she said. “His Californian 1976 Chardonnay was inducted into the Smithsonian as one of 101 things that made America on the occasion of his 90th birthday last year.”

Surely just by coincidence, the University Club will offer some of Grgich’s wines during the photo exhibit opening.

Window shopping

There was a time when downtown Grand Rapids was the place to go window shopping. Part of that was attributable to the intricate window displays put up each holiday season by Wurzburg’s department store. You can see a tribute to those displays in the movie “The Polar Express,” based on the book by Grand Rapids native Chris Van Allsburg.

While not on the same scale, Josh Spencer, director of development for the Geek Group, is hoping to inject some of that excitement into the GR Forward headquarters at 50 Louis St. SW. The visitor center is featuring a video window display installation that includes original animated content with a theme centered on science, technology, engineering and math.

“The organization’s mission is to provide access to science, technology, engineering and math by developing programming and facilities for individuals and institutions to learn, explore, innovate and play at an independent pace, according to their needs,” said Spencer, who is hoping the display draws more attention to the new GR Forward.

There is no truth to the rumors that staff from Downtown Grand Rapids will be made to dress up as elves for the display.

Boxed set

In keeping with the holiday theme, Local First is getting behind a retail project that will showcase products of local businesses just in time for the shopping season.

Local First and Boxed GR are launching what’s call the “Local Treasure Holiday Box,” a holiday gift box filled with full- and sample-size products and gift cards from West Michigan retailers and specialty service providers.

“Heard of Birchbox or Conscious Box? This is the way to try some local favorites,” said Elissa Hillary, executive director of Local First. “We'll take the work out of it by curating some of our favorites. Introduce yourself — or your friends/teachers/family — to local this season.”

“I’m very passionate about promoting local businesses," said Missy McCall, owner of Boxed GR. “I'm proud to offer a unique and very affordable way for businesses to market their products and services.”

Orders for the $32 boxes can be placed through Local First’s website,, until Dec. 5.

3, 2, 1 … liftoff!

OK, this might be a waste of space. Or maybe it’s a space for waste. Either way, this is too good to pass up.

A group called “The Throne Thrusters” will launch a very unusual rocket that has been in the works for about two-and-a-half years from a field in Three Oaks in southwest Michigan.

The rocketeers involved in this project work in retail sales, advertising, manufacturing plant engineering, IT, health care systems, product transportation, machinists, electricians and more.

So what is all this brainpower being used to accomplish? Well, they’re going to turn a portable toilet into a rocket.

The rocket called “Thrusting the Throne” is a very large, high-power rocket. The concept was born at the end of the 2011-2012 launch season for Michiana Rocketry. As volunteers were putting away the launch equipment until the next season, Dave McVeigh, owner of a local retail hobby store, pointed toward a decrepit port-a-potty sitting in a nearby field, and said, “I’ll provide the rocket motors if anyone wants to make a rocket out of that.”

The result is a 10-foot-tall rocket that will weigh almost 450 pounds on the launch pad. It will fly on a cluster of seven motors. How high will it go? It will need a pair of full-sized parachutes during its descent.

If you’re near Three Oaks at 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 22, it might be worth a stop. Although there have been other attempts at blasting a potty into the air (really?), project coordinator Larry Kingman said, “I have yet to see a successful flight of a full-sized port-a-potty rocket.”

Presumably that would put him in the majority.

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