Downtown champion John Canepa dies


John Canepa. Courtesy GVSU

John Canepa, the former president and CEO of Old Kent Bank and a co-founder of Grand Action, has died at 87.

Canepa died yesterday, according to a post by FOX 17.

Canepa was crossing the road at around 5:30 p.m. on Monday when he was hit by a car in the 500 block of Leonard Street NW, near Hamilton Avenue, WOOD TV reports.

Canepa, along with Dick DeVos and David Frey, co-founded Grand Action, a nonprofit instrumental in developing Van Andel Arena, DeVos Place, MSU medical school and other major projects that led to the revitalization of downtown Grand Rapids.

“As fellow Grand Action Committee co-chairs over the past quarter century, John Canepa became an esteemed colleague and treasured friend to both of us,” DeVos and Frey said in a statement. “For 25 years, his voluntary service to Grand Action not only changed our skyline, but fundamentally advanced a culture of collaboration which is now a hallmark of our community.”

Canepa also served many years on the board of the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority, which is managed today by Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc. The current board chair, Kayem Dunn, served on the authority with Canepa.

“John Canepa was a man of good judgment and sound advice, but more important, he was the most egalitarian person I have ever known,” Dunn said. “He didn’t talk about his belief in human equality. He simply lived it and that informed all of his work in the community.”

Canepa was on the advisory board of the Grand Valley University Foundation after serving for more than two decades as a director.

He was also a member of the GVSU Seidman College of Business Dean's Advisory Board from 2002 to 2011.

He served on the committees for the GVSU Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy and several campaigns to support various initiatives by Grand Valley, including the campaign for the Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences downtown, which opened in 2003.

"John was a long-time, dedicated friend to Grand Valley," said Thomas Haas, president, GVSU. "He played a critical role in initiating Grand Valley's presence on Grand Rapids' Medical Mile, which has led to a vibrant and growing health campus. The move was considered bold at the time, and we will miss his leadership, steadfast support and wise counsel. He was a pillar in the community, and our prayers are with his wife, Marie, and his family."

Several Grand Rapids leaders have posted condolences on their social media channels.

“John Canepa was a dear friend and mentor to me,” Dick DeVos tweeted this morning. “His passion for advancing our city to great heights and new horizons was evident through his work with Grand Action. John will be missed, but always respected, remembered and deeply admired.”

Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss posted condolences on her Facebook page.

“John led by example, and he taught us that relationships matter,” Bliss says. “He believed that progress was for everyone and that our community could accomplish anything we could imagine when we worked together. Our city is a better place because of John, and he will be deeply missed.”

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