Harris and Verplank families honored by Grand Valley University Foundation

The Grand Valley University Foundation celebrated the Harris and Verplank families for their long-standing dedication to the university on June 4, presenting each with the Enrichment Award. The honor recognizes significant contributions to Grand Valley through philanthropy and community service.

A Legacy of Support: The Harris Family

three people standing near hall of fame wall with names on plague in the Fieldhouse
The Harris family was honored by the Grand Valley University Foundation for their significant contributions to student athletes. Pictured from left are John, Diane and Tom Harris.
Image credit - Amanda Pitts

For decades, the Harris family has been a pillar of support for Grand Valley, particularly for student athletes. The late John (Jack) Jr. and Dorcas Harris began their involvement with varsity wrestling when their son, John Harris III ’77, joined the team. Their commitment continued long after, laying the groundwork for a lasting legacy of generosity.

Inspired by their parents, John and his wife, Diane ’76, along with his brother, Tom Harris ’80, and wife, Tammi, have tirelessly supported student athletes. Their efforts were instrumental in reviving varsity wrestling at Grand Valley and by establishing the Harris Family Athletic Complex.

Randy Damstra, GVU Foundation director and member of the Board of Trustees, presented John Harris III with the Enrichment Award. Damstra said: “For decades, your family has been a pillar of support, elevating opportunities for our students. You have led the way, honoring your parents’ legacy and underscoring the importance of generational philanthropy.”

Reflecting on his parents' influence, Harris said: “From them, we learned a strong work ethic, the importance of kindness and respect, not to take ourselves too seriously, and to be persistent in the things that matter. They would be so pleased to see the wrestling legacy that has resulted, and to know they remain a part of it all.”

Engineering Success: The Verplank Family

Vicki and Gary Verplank
The Verplank family received the Enrichment Award for their support of Grand Valley's engineering program. Vicki and Gary Verplank are pictured.

Brothers Gary and Midge Verplank founded Shape Corp. in 1974. While they had tremendous professional acumen that grew the company into an enterprise with locations around the globe, they are most fondly remembered for how they invested in their community. 

Midge, Gary and his wife, Vicki, all believed in putting people first, and their spirit of generosity is evident through the enduring impact of their philanthropy.

Throughout the years, the Verplank family championed the growth of Grand Valley’s engineering program and supported the Robert B. Annis Water Resources Institute. Gary and Vicki’s sons, Tony and Kyle Verplank, are continuing the legacy of their parents and uncle. As co-executive chairs of Shape Corp, they offered corporate support that helped create GVSU’s Shape Corp. Innovation Design Center.

Midge Verplank
Midge Verplank founded Shape Corp. in 1974 with his brother, Gary.

Dottie Johnson, GVU Foundation secretary and honorary life member of the Board of Trustees, presented Tony and Kyle with the Enrichment Award. 

Johnson praised the family's contributions, saying, “They represent a multi-generational family of Grand Valley supporters, and I applaud them for engaging the next generation in giving. Philanthropy and collaboration are how we keep West Michigan thriving.”

Tony Verplank acknowledged the profound influence of their predecessors. “If you were to ask any of the Verplanks how they got to where they are today, they would unfailingly credit their predecessors," he said. "Generation after generation, we were passed on a name that was synonymous with integrity, humility and hard work.”

Celebrating a Legacy of Giving

President Philomena V. Mantella commended both families for their unwavering support. “The Harris and Verplank families have elevated our university and strengthened our foundation for generations to stand on," she said.

Mantella added that the dedication of the Harris and Verplank families serves as a beacon of generational philanthropy, inspiring future generations to continue the tradition of giving and community support.

Treena Gilbert serves as the University Development communications assistant.


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