Philanthropist donates $1M to university for leadership


WWII hero and philanthropist Ralph Hauenstein, left, stands with Gleaves Whitney, director of The Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies at GVSU. Courtesy GVSU

A 101-year-old war hero and philanthropist just gave a $1-million anniversary present to a local university to develop “wise and ethical” leaders.

Educating leaders

In celebration of the 10th anniversary of The Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies at Grand Valley State University, Ralph Hauenstein, the local legend of a man who made the center a reality, has donated the funds, allowing the center to expand its events and academic learning opportunities.

Hauenstein said he was incredibly proud of the work the center is doing, adding that the fruits of that work are seen in the program’s young people who are now taking their place in the world.

He also praised the efforts of Gleaves Whitney, the center’s director.

“I have ample opportunities to invest in many worthwhile programs and projects, but I can think of no better investment than the one to ensure our future leaders are wise and ethical,” Hauenstein said. “And there’s no better place for me to find that kind of program for our emerging leaders than the one Gleaves Whitney is so ably running at Grand Valley State University.”

Since opening, the center has hosted hundreds of programs aimed at developing young leaders to take prominent roles in business, communications, nonprofits and government.

Events have been attended by first ladies and other notable guests, such as Madeleine Albright and General Brent Scowcroft.

“The Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies is an incubator for leaders of the future, and Colonel Hauenstein’s investment into the Center for Presidential Studies ensures our ability to continue to do good, meaningful work in the world of leadership and ethics,” GVSU President Thomas Haas said. “On top of his initial gift, this is a very substantial commitment to the center on its 10th anniversary from a very involved philanthropist and friend.”

Hauenstein’s local philanthropic efforts have had an impact on West Michigan’s education and health services industries.

“Ralph Hauenstein’s remarkable life of leadership and service inspires everything we do, and we are deeply honored to have his generous support,” Whitney said. “With Ralph’s gift, we can build on our successes of the past 10 years to strengthen our Common Ground Initiative and leadership programs. None of this would be possible without Ralph, who steadfastly supports our efforts to form ethical, effective leaders who can make a difference in our communities.”

Ralph Hauenstein

Hauenstein began his remarkable career in the newspaper industry as an editorial member of the Grand Rapids Press and a city editor for the Grand Rapids Herald.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he re-enlisted in the Army, serving during World War II under General Dwight D. Eisenhower as chief of intelligence at the headquarters of the European Theater of Operations.

Hauenstein, who eventually became a colonel, was one of the first Americans to step foot in liberated in Paris in 1944. For his services, the French awarded him the French Croix de Guerre with Palm and Legion of Honor, and the British gave him an Order of the British Empire.

Hauenstein’s experiences in the war were documented in the 2005 book, “Intelligence Was My Line: Inside Eisenhower’s Other Command,” co-authored by Hauenstein and Donald Markle.

After witnessing the devastation of the war, Hauenstein became interested in international trade and eventually became president of the Tri-Continental Trading Co. in New York and founder of Hauenstein Enterprises. He also owned Werner Lehara, a Grand Rapids-based food equipment manufacturer. 

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