The winds of change are sending a generational transfer across the family philanthropies of West Michigan.
The effects of this shift can be seen in the new faces sitting on the board of trustees at the Frey Foundation, said Steve Wilson, foundation president.
Since February, three women from the third generation of the Frey family — Mary Frey Bennett, Sarah Frey Rose and Ellie Frey — have been serving as new board trustees at the Frey Foundation, one of the largest family foundations in Michigan.
Wilson said this is the start of a long transition process to hand the reins over to the next generation.
“It’s going very well. It’s at the earliest stages of generations continuing to build the legacy, and that’s happening, certainly, elsewhere in West Michigan, as well as nationally, in philanthropy,” he said. “It’s beginning with us.”
Selected out of 10 cousins, the three women now sit on the same board with their fathers, Edward Frey Jr., John Frey and David Frey.
All three women have extensive philanthropy experience and already have been sitting in on meetings for years, Wilson said.
“These are the first three (of the cousins) that were selected, but over time the others will come on board, as well,” Wilson said. “It was a combination of their past service, experience and availability. We’ve made good progress.”
Foundation Chairman David Frey said the new trustees are a welcome addition.
“They will bring fresh perspectives and diverse experiences to our board, especially at such a critical juncture as we plan for a generational leadership transition in the ensuing years,” he said.
“The Frey family is very fortunate to have such an impressive group of interested, passionate and skilled individuals from the next generation. We are delighted to begin our succession process with Mary, Sarah and Ellie.”
Ellie Frey currently serves as director of the Family Business Alliance in Grand Rapids. Previously, she worked as a commercial real estate agent specializing in adaptive reuse of historic buildings and was the first executive director of Local First West Michigan.
Sarah Frey Rose resides in Harbor Springs with her husband, Randall Rose, and their three young children. She was previously engaged in early childhood and education initiatives in the Charlevoix/Emmet County area, including serving as a family services worker for a local Head Start preschool program.
Mary Frey Bennett and her husband, Dr. Richard L. Bennett II, reside in Gainesville, Fla., with their three young children. Frey Bennett has worked for the Council of Michigan Foundations and has fund development experience with the New York City Opera and The Little Orchestra Society. From 1996 to 2007, she managed the Albert A. List Foundation, a small, socially progressive family foundation in New York.
“As trustees of the Frey Foundation, we have a unique opportunity to continue to serve the communities in which our grandparents lived and worked,” she said. “A strong community is one where we come together to support and serve one another. I am excited to see these communities continue to flourish.”
Wilson described the role of business philanthropy in West Michigan as a “civic stewardship,” saying the generations that helped build West Michigan are now seeing their work furthered by the next generation.
“The wonderful thing about philanthropy in Grand Rapids and West Michigan is it’s in perpetuity,” he said. “There are philanthropies in place for generations, and what we’re seeing now is the generation that built a lot of the buildings in downtown Grand Rapids is in the process of handing things off.”
Late last year, Fred Meijer, “a long-term civic leader,” Wilson said, passed away, leaving “a wonderful legacy that now his sons and family members are carrying forward in the Frederik Meijer Gardens.”