A love story earns top Newsmaker honors


President and CEO David Hooker, winner of the Business Journal’s Newsmaker of the Year, talks about the origins of Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. Photo by Johnny Quirin

Standing before a sold-out audience on the very site being honored, David Hooker told a love story.

The CEO and president of Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park recounted a story about one summer evening when he took a stroll through the Richard and Helen DeVos Japanese Garden, then under construction.

As he watched the sun set, he thought about how the marriage of Fred and Lena Meijer had blossomed into the beautiful garden he saw before him, which now has directed hundreds of thousands of visitors to Grand Rapids.

Fred and Lena Meijer were on his mind again on Wednesday, when Hooker dedicated his 2015 Newsmaker of the Year award to the vision of the couple responsible for creating the attraction where the annual event was being held.

Hooker received the Business Journal’s top Newsmaker honor for his role in Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park’s landmark year, which saw the grand opening of the Japanese Garden in its 20th year of operation.

“Probably the highlight of the year for us was the opening of the Richard and Helen DeVos Japanese Garden, which perfectly reflects our mission of combining horticulture and sculpture together,” Hooker said after the ceremony.

The feature, which opened last summer, has been a lightning rod for visitors to the area, resulting in a top year for attendance — 775,000 guests in 2015, the park announced this month.

“The garden is innovative in that it takes the traditional art form of a Japanese garden and marries it with contemporary sculpture,” Hooker said. “And it’s a marriage that is representative of the love that Fred had for sculpture and Lena had for horticulture — and it just turned out beautifully.”

The park also celebrated its 20th year of operations with the dedication and installation of Chinese artist and activist Ai WeiWei’s “Iron Tree” sculpture.

Hooker was one of 19 individuals to earn Newsmaker honors across 16 categories, picking up the award in the arts and entertainment category.

The names of those 19 winners, selected from 56 finalists, were revealed at Wednesday morning’s breakfast.

The Newsmakers of the Year

Arts & Entertainment

David Hooker, Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park


Kyle Van Strien and Jon O’Conner, Long Road Distillers

Economic Development

Brian Ryks, Gerald R. Ford International Airport


Teresa Weatherall Neal, Grand Rapids Public Schools


Jason Wenk, FormulaFolio Investments


Stephen Herbruck, Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch

Health Care

Bill Manns, Saint Mary’s Mercy Health, and Deb Lyzenga, West Michigan Works!


Doug Donnell, Mika Meyers, and John Anding, Drew Cooper Anding


Rick Debuncyk, General Motors


Richard M. DeVos

Real Estate/Construction

Mike Mraz, Rockford Real Estate Development


Darla Sevok, Trader Joe’s


Matt Roberts, Grand Rapids Football Club


Nathan Owen, Blue Medora


Greg Northrup, Sustainable Partners


Carl Erickson, Atomic Object

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