Donor Impact Winter 2016

Corporate partners help advance university's mission

Each year, the brothers who own and operate DeWitt Barrels Inc. meet to choose which nonprofit organizations to support financially and with their time. 

Among the criteria they consider, according to Peter DeWitt, is an organization or entity that will "leave something lasting and identifiable to our children and other generations."

In 2006, Peter and his brothers, Michael and Tim, created and endowed a scholarship for Grand Valley students who are majoring in environmental science and natural resources management. It's a natural fit for the family-owned business that was established in Chicago in 1893.

Michael said the DeWitt Barrels Environmental Science and Natural Resources Scholarship follows the company’s philosophy of being an environmental leader. In 1999, DeWitt Barrels was designated a Clean Corporate Citizen by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. 

“We have a very good reputation in the state for being a safe place for drum disposal,” Michael said. “The scholarship accentuates our commitment to the environment and to the generations that follow.” 

DeWitt Barrels is one example of an area business establishing a relationship with Grand Valley in an effort to build a stronger workforce for Michigan. Shannon Wilson, director of corporate giving at Grand Valley, called the company an amazing partner. 

“DeWitt Barrels is a family-owned business and that’s a cornerstone in the West Michigan business landscape,” Wilson said. “Grand Valley was built on private/public partnerships.” 

Pictured from left are Michael, Peter, Jason, and Tim DeWitt

Pictured from left are Michael, Peter, Jason, and Tim DeWitt. 
photo by Amanda Pitts

Wilson remarked that DeWitt Barrels and other corporate partners help Grand Valley meet its mission of increasing student access by offsetting costs. In addition to establishing scholarships, there are numerous other ways for corporate partners to engage with Grand Valley’s resources, including having student project teams solve real-world issues, establishing an internship program, and obtaining entrepreneurial resources. 

Because of their attention to the bottom line, corporate partners believe in the university’s mission of educating students to make an immediate positive impact on their communities, Wilson said. 

“Corporations also see value in partnering with our faculty and staff to solve real-world issues they may be facing,” she said. “Additionally, students are trained as hands-on practitioners and bring a new perspective to companies.” 

Casey VerStrate, 12, was the first DeWitt Barrels scholarship recipient. VerStrate was a dual major in economics and natural resources management.

Casey VerStrate, ’12, was the first DeWitt Barrels scholarship recipient. VerStrate was a dual major in economics and natural resources management. 
photo by Amanda Pitts

Scholarship recipients

Casey VerStrate was the first DeWitt Barrels scholarship recipient. VerStrate graduated in 2012 and was a dual major in economics and natural resources management. 

After graduating from Grand Valley, VerStrate worked for the National Park Service and was stationed at Isle Royale, in the Upper Peninsula, working as an interpretative park ranger. 

“I would lead guided hikes and tours and meet people on the ferry boat for orientations,” VerStrate said. 

VerStrate, who now works in the purchasing department for Mill Steel in Kentwood, said the scholarship came at an opportune time. 

“It was extremely helpful. I was working my way through school and trying to take out as few loans as possible,” he said. “The year I received the scholarship was the first year I had to take out some loans, so it was very helpful in minimizing that debt.” 

Madison Ball, another scholarship recipient, graduated in 2014 and is in her second year working for AmeriCorps at the Monongahela National Forest, in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia. 

Ball is an AmeriCorps watershed technician and when not conducting field surveys, she is responsible for educational outreach. Earning the DeWitt Barrels scholarship not only helped Ball graduate on time but helped her stay at Grand Valley. “It really came at a crucial time,” she said. “Based on my financial aid, I’m not sure I could have stayed in school that year without the scholarship.” 

Tim DeWitt said it is gratifying to know his family’s gift can help students in such an impactful way. “I had four daughters go to college, I understand that every little bit helps financially,” he said. 

Grand Valley scholarship recipients are encouraged to personally thank donors, especially during the annual Scholarship Dinner. Tim and his brothers have also led tours of DeWitt Barrels for scholarship recipients. 

“It’s good to meet these young people who are charging forward,” Tim said. 

Commitment to environment, Grand Valley

Three generations of DeWitts have graduated from Grand Valley, beginning in 1967 with Peter’s wife, Galene, and Peter in 1968. “To see Grand Valley start with next to nothing and see it grow has been amazing,” Peter said. 

DeWitt Barrels, with a history of more than 120 years, also continues to grow. The company moved to Marne in 2002 after selling its Grand Rapids property to Grand Valley to expand the Pew Grand Rapids Campus. 

Michael said it is a commitment to sustainability that keeps the company moving forward, and he hopes the same is true for DeWitt Barrels scholarship recipients. 

“It’s a charge to the scholarship recipients,” Michael said, “to go out and help improve the environment, which is a win-win for everyone.” 

For more about corporate giving at Grand Valley, visit or call Shannon Wilson at (616) 331-6000. 

Giving Matters

Alumni get others engaged 

The Alumni Champions initiative is an effort to increase alumni engagement with the university, which is critical to Grand Valley’s future success as an institution. 

Alumni Champions are supporting the university by sharing Grand Valley’s excitement and momentum with fellow alumni and encouraging them to play a more active role to support students. 

For more information on becoming an Alumni Champion, contact Katelyn Semelbauer at (616) 331-6606 or


Lakers give back 

Did you know each year Grand Valley participates in the nationwide day of philanthropy, #GivingTuesday? 

On December 1, students, faculty and staff members collectively raised gifts for the Student Support Fund, which helps students through emergencies that threaten their education.

During 2015’s Giving Tuesday, the goal of $20,000 was surpassed with gifts totaling $26,509. To see a video on the impact of the Student Support Fund, visit


Scholarship celebrating 10 years of leadership 

In celebration of President Thomas J. Haas’ 10th academic year, alumni, students, and friends of the university have established the Tom and Marcia Haas Power of 10 Endowed Scholarship Fund. 

The fund will provide support for well-rounded students who demonstrate the character and sense of purpose that define a Laker. For more information about the Power of 10 Scholarship or to make a gift, visit

Page last modified March 21, 2017