Lubbers, Arend Donselaar (Don)

Don Lubbers volunteered his time to many community organizations. His most notable contribution to the community, however, was the development of an excellent public university. The university provided West Michigan with widespread and profound benefits, including the public television station and a downtown campus that was a major boost to the central city revitalization. Don Lubbers Stadium at the university is named for him.

Biographical Highlights

Don Lubbers was born in 1931 and moved to Holland, Michigan, when his father became president of Hope College. Don Lubbers earned degrees from Hope College and Rutgers University. After a brief career in teaching and development, he became president of Central College in Iowa at the age of twenty-nine, making him the youngest college president in the country and serving in the same position his father held years before. In 1969, Lubbers moved to the presidency of Grand Valley State College where he remained for over thirty years. He transformed the college to one of Michigan’s largest universities.

Historic Roots

Don Lubbers was born July 23, 1931 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His father, Irwin J. Lubbers, was president of Central College in Pella, Iowa, and then Hope College in Holland, Michigan. Don earned his AB degree from Hope in 1953. He went on for a masters degree from Rutgers University in 1956 and taught briefly at Wittenberg University in Ohio. He then gained a position in development at Central College in Pella, Iowa. He was promoted to president of Central in 1960, a post his father once held. At 29, he was the youngest college president in the country. In November 1969, he took the position of president of Grand Valley State College, which later became Grand Valley State University. The college was five years old at the time and had only had one other president, James Zumberge. Lubbers retired after thirty-two years in 2001.

Importance

At the point of his retirement, Lubbers was the longest-serving state university leader in the country. He oversaw the development of the college into the seventh largest university in the state of Michigan. During his tenure, enrollment increased sixfold, and the budget grew from twenty-five to one hundred and forty million. When he arrived at the college, there were no graduate programs, and when he left there were sixteen.

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

Lubbers has volunteered his time to community organizations that include the Grand Rapids World Affairs Council, the Arts Council of Greater Grand Rapids, the Grand Rapids Symphony Society, Butterworth Hospital, and the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. His most notable contribution to the community, however, was the development of an excellent public university. The university provided West Michigan with widespread and profound benefits. Among those benefits are the public television station and a downtown campus that was a major boost to the central city revitalization. Don Lubbers Stadium at the university is named for him.

Key Related Ideas

As president of Grand Valley State University for over thirty years, Lubbers is responsible for developing one of West Michigan’s most important facilities of higher education. He was a key figure in downtown revitalization and community building.

Important People Related to the Topic

  • Peter Cook: Peter Cook was in the foreign car import business. He owned a Volkswagon and a Mazda dealership. After profiting a great deal through his business success, Peter Cook shared a large percentage of his wealth with his community. He invested in nearly every local educational, medical, and major cultural institution.
  • Richard DeVos: Richard DeVos is the cofounder of Amway with Jay Van Andel. Also born and raised in Grand Rapids, Rich DeVos met Helen in the Christian school and they married in 1953. The couple have been partners in philanthropy since then. The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation formed in 1970. Richard DeVos was instrumental in the development of GVSU.
  • Robert Pew: One of the chief executives at Steelcase, Inc., Pew was a major supporter of GVSU. He helped with the Steelcase donation of property, and the downtown campus is now named for him.
  • William Seidman: William Seidman was a local businessman and chairman of the FDIC who was a key developer and visionary of Grand Valley State University.

Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • The Grand Rapids Community Foundation: Michigan’s oldest nonprofit organization pools donations in order to invest them and make grants to a variety of charitable organizations. https://www.grfoundation.org/
  • The Grand Rapids Symphony was officially organized in 1930 and is recognized as one of America’s leading regional orchestras. Eight concert series and extensive education and community service programs provide the community with performances designed for young children through adults, featuring a diverse repertoire. The Symphony sponsors the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus, Grand Rapids Youth Symphony, and the Classical Orchestra. It also provides the orchestra for Opera Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids Ballet Company.  (https://www.grsymphony.org/)
  • Grand Valley State University: Grand Valley offers a strong liberal education, fostering critical thinking, creative problem solving, and cultural understanding. The mission is to educate students to shape their lives, their professions, and their societies. The university website is at http://www.gvsu.edu/
  • Grand Rapids World Affairs Council: Established in 1949, the World Affairs Council has been dedicated to educating people in western Michigan about other countries, cultures and regions of the world, as well as providing a forum for discussion of critical foreign policy issues facing this country. http://www.worldmi.org/

Related Web Sites

  • Grand Valley State University: The GVSU website at http://www.gvsu.edu/gvhistory/ has information about the institution, including an extensive history with a chapter on Lubbers.

Bibliography and Internet Sources

Rowe, Stephan, editor. Old Hopes for a New Place: the Legacy of Arend D. Lubbers at Grand Valley State University. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 2006. ISBN: 0870137654

Clipping file and oral history in the SOUL of Philanthropy collection in the Grand Rapids History and Special Collections of the Grand Rapids Public Library