Campus community mourns former Johnson Center executive director

James (Jim) Edwards II
James (Jim) Edwards II

The Grand Valley campus community is mourning the death of James (Jim) Edwards II, a former executive director of the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy, who died June 27. He was 51. 

Edwards served as executive director of the Johnson Center from 2011 to 2013. He brought to the position his nonprofit experience and knowledge of human services, and embraced the academic rigor of the university.

"Jim was a dynamic and engaged researcher who truly understood the positive potential that the Johnson Center could have on the philanthropic community. This positive thinking was truly representative of Jim’s orientation to his work and his life," said Kyle Caldwell, executive director of the Johnson Center. "His commitment and positive energy are reflected in the courageous way that Jim dealt with the tragic illness that befell him that caused him to leave the university to focus on his health and family."

As the fifth executive director of the Johnson Center, Edwards worked to integrate the various components of the center into a cohesive whole. 

“When I think about Jim Edwards, I think of a servant leader," said Dorothy A. Johnson, former Grand Valley Board of Trustees member and namesake of the Johnson Center for Philanthropy. "Jim was someone who had a positive impact both through and for others. Jim felt passionate about his family, his teaching and research at GVSU, and his community. We will be forever grateful for his leadership of the Johnson Center.”

Edwards’ insights into Michigan’s philanthropic infrastructure and operation grew from the perspective of a professional who was relatively new to the state’s formal philanthropic structures. His sector impact was informed by professional experience and academic scholarship related to philanthropy’s role in communities.

Edwards joined the Johnson Center as director of the Community Research Institute in 2009, and also held the roles of assistant professor and director of field education in the school of social work at Grand Valley.

Prior to his career in higher education, he served for more than 13 years in the human services fields of child welfare, juvenile justice, mental health and substance abuse treatment services. Before joining Grand Valley, Edwards was a program director for Network 180 Access Center in Kent County. He also served as a foster care worker, a Juvenile Court probation officer, an investigator for the Kent County Family Drug Court Task Force and assisted in the expansion of home-based mental health services in Kent County. Jim also served as a board member for the Arbor Circle Corporation for five years.

A native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Edwards earned a bachelor's degree from Aquinas College, a master’s degree in social work from Western Michigan University and a doctorate in social work from Michigan State University. He is survived by his wife, Kendra, and their two daughters, Alyssa and Kyra.


Edwards requested that memorial contributions in his memory be made to the Down Syndrome Association of West Michigan or the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University.