Street Talk: Food drive comes up aces

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A Grand Rapids-based food retailer’s professional women’s golf tour event produced one champion, but the impact will be felt by thousands across the Midwest.

In one of the most exciting Meijer LPGA Classics yet, Jennifer Kupcho claimed the title of champion and the event surpassed its increased fundraising goal to garner $1.25 million to feed families in need. Kupcho joins an illustrious list of past champions to hoist the crystal on the 18th green of Blythefield Country Club as the winner of the 2022 Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give.

Tournament officials announced the event generated $1.25 million for the Meijer “Simply Give” program, surpassing its already increased goal. This donation will help stock the shelves of 262 food pantries the retailer partners with across the Midwest as they experience greater need amid ongoing economic challenges. Including this year’s June 16-19 event, the Meijer LPGA Classic has generated $8.65 million for Simply Give.

“In so many ways, this was our best tournament yet,” Meijer President and CEO Rick Keyes said. “Our community has always played a major role in the success of this event, but for them to rally around this cause and help us not just meet, but surpass an ambitious goal, is incredibly humbling. We’re grateful for the ongoing support of the players, community and volunteers who made this week possible.”

In the second victory of her LPGA career, the 25-year-old Wake Forest University alum shot 71 Sunday to finish at 18-under 270 and prevailed in a two-hole playoff against Leona Maguire (65) and defending champion Nelly Korda (72). Kupcho said the local community played a major role in her tournament experience, specifically thanking her Grand Rapids host family for their support.

“The crowds were huge… They always are at (the Meijer LPGA Classic),” she said. “I think Grand Rapids does a great job bringing awareness to the LPGA.”

The tournament brought record-setting attendance this year to watch an elite international field of 144 players headlined by nine of the world’s 10 best golfers compete.

“On behalf of Meijer and everyone at the tournament, we congratulate our newest champion, Jennifer Kupcho,” said Cathy Cooper, executive director of the Meijer LPGA Classic. “We’re honored to once again name such a high caliber professional as our champion and commend her for an exciting and strong performance through the very end.”

In addition to the $1.25 million raised by this year’s event, Meijer will donate $25,000 to a hunger relief organization of Kupcho’s choice as part of a tradition the retailer started in 2021. Last year’s winner, Korda, chose to keep her inaugural donation local to the tournament by supporting Kids’ Food Basket in Grand Rapids. Details on Kupcho’s donation will be shared in the coming weeks.

The Meijer LPGA Classic will return to Blythefield Country Club for Father’s Day weekend next year, June 15-18, 2023.

Why Grand Rapids?

The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce’s 2022 West Michigan CEO Summit asked a couple of simple question: “Why Grand Rapids? Why now?”

Grand Valley State University President Philomena Mantella was one of the June 14 event’s featured presenters, discussing GVSU’s mission to provide education responsive to today’s extraordinary disruptions and the need for talent to lead and drive inclusive prosperity in the region.

“What drew me to Grand Valley and Grand Rapids was the opportunity to situate a university both as a contemporary, 21st century learning model and as an economic driver to the region,” Mantella said. “It wasn’t an ‘either-or’ proposition. Everyone saw both sides of that really important coin.”

Mantella said Grand Valley is positioned to help students, at any stage of life, by being responsive to their appetite for learning, building in-demand skills and meeting today’s need for enduring competencies of a liberal education.

“In Michigan, we have 2 million people who have walked away from the current educational system with some college that we can bring back. We can appreciate the experience that they’ve had outside a formal educational model,” she said.

“Along with supporting students through completion, engaging communities underserved and importing students from other areas of the country are all ways to grow as birth rates decline.”

At the forefront of reaching those students, Mantella said, are GVSU’s three commitments to the people it serves: empowering the educational experience of its students, appreciating a lifetime of learning and developing a culture of educational equity.

“We are a place and a space that believes that there’s not a juxtaposition between access and quality,” she said. “We can in fact serve, as is our mission, the public and draw talent to Michigan. We need to do that at the highest-quality level.”

An example of that talent is Deidra Mitchell, president and CEO of Waséyabek Development Company, who opened the summit by relating her personal story. Having lived in nearly a dozen cities and countries spanning the globe, Mitchell said the region’s economic and cultural prosperity eventually led her to call Grand Rapids home.

A similar story came from Dr. Anthony Chang, founder and CEO of BAMF Health. He said the world-changing innovations that are taking place right here in Grand Rapids make West Michigan a hotspot that instantly comes to mind for medical technologies and education.

Nate Koetje, CEO of Feyen Zylstra, also described the economic potential of West Michigan and the importance of creating a welcoming environment for all, particularly for new Americans. Koetje facilitated several table discussions throughout the day to advance those efforts.

Two more West Michigan executives also touched on the importance of an inclusive community and what that does for companies that are in the process of hiring.

Scott Ryan, vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary at Zeeland-based Gentex, gave insights into the company’s recruiting and retention success, particularly by expanding language offerings and rewarding employee loyalty. The presentation by Steve Huizinga, president of Allied Mechanical Services, took that a step further by encouraging attendees to remove barriers and be willing to take risks that put people first.

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