Joni Vander Till

Joni Vander Till

Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up? 

I was born in Grand Rapids and grew up in the Kentwood area. I was a part of the first graduating class from East Kentwood High School. After graduation, I attended Grand Rapids Community College and took classes through the Emergency Management Institute and State of Florida Emergency Management. I have also lived in the Washington, D.C. area and in Naples, Florida.


How did you first get ‘introduced’ to Grand Valley?

In the 1990s I was the Executive Director at Grand Rapids Youth Commonwealth (now the Boys and Girls Club of PR) and recruited college students for Camp O'Malley staff.  I also became involved through events sponsored by GVSU, the Hauenstein Center, and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.


You’ve been involved with the West Michigan community for many years. What are some of the best ways you’ve seen Grand Valley grow and change?

I remember when it was Grand Valley State College—there have been monumental improvements and growth since then, especially the development of the downtown campus. GVSU has a good presence within the community. I am proud of my association with the university, as well as their great students and alumni!


Could you tell us a little about your professional background working for Emergency Management under Homeland Security/FEMA?

I recruited and managed volunteer staff for emergency duties for the phone bank, assisted in the staging area, emergency distribution points, disaster recovery centers, and multi-agency coordinating centers (24/7 job). I also assisted in recruiting and training volunteers for disaster recovery, coordinated efforts with churches and volunteer organizations, and assisted in the CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) training. Part of the staff that helped to coordinate disaster preparedness seminars with local media in Collier County, also identified pet friendly lodging hotels in Florida where people could bring their pets during disasters.     


What are some things you like to do for fun?

I love to travel, cook, watch movies, and conduct family research. My parents were from Chicago, so I frequently took the train to do research at the Newberry Library to find interesting tidbits regarding my family history. I also enjoy attending local theater, watching sports (baseball and football), reading, volunteering in the Grand Rapids community, and entertaining with dinner parties and educational cooking experiences.


What’s your favorite quote?

 “Never regret a day in your life: Good days give happiness, bad days give experience; the worst days give lessons, and the best days give memories.”  —Author unknown


I know you find it important to give back to the community and play an active role in several regional organizations. What has been your greatest motivation in continuing to help others? 

It started years ago when I was going through a difficult time. When I focus time and energy on helping others, it makes me feel better. Other people have helped me in the past and I like to pay it forward.


You’re supporting the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies with your planned gift. Why did you decide to do this, and how do you see your gift impacting students?

My past involvement in political campaigns and elections makes the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies a perfect fit. I began campaigning for Gerald Ford for Congress in 1970.  Students at the Hauenstein Center are from all over the world and are actively taking leadership roles in their home states and countries. It’s exciting to be associated with such a wonderful and diverse group of people who have similar interests as me.


Why do you think it’s important to give back to Grand Valley, particularly with an estate gift?

I feel that my estate gift can benefit the Hauenstein Center and continue my association with a great group of students after I'm gone. Go Lakers!


What would you say to encourage others to give back? 

Giving to others is a great way to feel good about yourself and continue your legacy. If you can't give money, volunteer your time and energy.

A Laker Legacy

Planned gifts help ensure that students have the resources they need to succeed for years to come. Join Joni in creating a lasting legacy by setting up your planned gift today. Learn more, or join the Gillett Society. To speak to someone directly, contact Director of Endowed and Planned Giving, Andrew Bixel, at (616) 331-5619 or