World Affairs Council names inaugural award recipients


Right Place CEO and President Birgit Klohs. Photo by Johnny Quirin

A nonprofit has named the first recipients of two prizes meant to recognize leaders who have had a role in developing global understanding and collaboration on the world stage and in West Michigan.

The World Affairs Council of Western Michigan has awarded the first Vandenberg Prize to Ambassador (ret.) Jon Huntsman Jr., and the first Hillman-Orr Award to Birgit Klohs, president and CEO of The Right Place.

The awards will be presented at a luncheon at noon Jan. 14 at Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in Grand Rapids. Tickets are $200 for members and $250 for nonmembers.

Vandenberg Prize

The Vandenberg Prize goes to a national or international leader who has been “influential in developing global understanding and collaboration on the world stage.”

The Vandenberg Prize is named after Michigan Sen. Arthur Vandenberg (1881-1951), the inspiration for founding the WACWM in 1949 by Grand Rapids attorney Douglas Hillman, who was later a federal judge, and businessman Edgar Orr.

Huntsman is the former Ambassador of the United States to Russia at the appointment of President Trump, to China at the appointment of President Obama and to Singapore at the appointment of President George H.W. Bush. Ambassador Huntsman also was the 16th governor of Utah and a 2012 candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.

“Ambassador Huntsman has demonstrated a lifelong interest in forging strong international ties for the United States, and his bipartisan service shows a willingness, like Senator Vandenberg, to bring people together for good of the country and the world,” said Dick Gauthier, WACWM board president.

Hillman-Orr Award

The annual Hillman-Orr Award goes to a West Michigan individual or institution that “mirrors the intent of the council’s founding leaders to bring global awareness and international understanding to the West Michigan community.”

Hillman and Orr were inspired by the life and work of Vandenberg, an isolationist who became a strong advocate of internationalism in the wake of World War II, WACWM said.

Vandenberg forged bipartisan support for the Marshall Plan and NATO and was appointed one of the first U.S. delegates to the brand-new United Nations. Vandenberg always has been considered the “patron saint” of the council, WACWM said.

WACWM said The Right Place, a Grand Rapids-based economic development organization, has from its beginnings featured a “global reach and international mindset.” Klohs, a native of Germany, began in her role over 30 years ago.

“Birgit Klohs credits the work of Senator Vandenberg as a key reason she was able to move forward and prosper after WWII, allowing her to grow up in a peaceful country with opportunity,” said Michael Van Denend, WACWM executive director. “We in West Michigan are deeply fortunate she chose this area to use her gifts to bring global business to the region.”

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