Peter C. Cook

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
West Michigan
After establishing his wealth in the automobile import business, Peter Cook formed a foundation and became a significant contributor to local universities, hospitals, and major cultural institutions in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He founded the Butterworth Foundation. His name is found on buildings at Porter Hills Retirement Village, Van Andel Institute, and Hope College. He also supported Opera Grand Rapids, Grand Valley State University, the zoo, and much more.

Biographical Highlights

The son of an automobile mechanic, Peter Cook was born and raised in the Grandville Avenue neighborhood of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and graduated from high school in the thick of the Great Depression. In order to help support his parents and four brothers, he took a job in a factory immediately after graduating. He attended night courses at Davenport College and did well in business. He was extremely successful dealing in imported automobiles. He has given away a great deal of his money to vital organizations in his community.

Historic Roots

Peter Cook was born in Grand Rapids on May 9, 1914, and graduated from South High School in 1932. Peter’s parents, Cornelia and Cornelius, were Dutch and belonged to the Christian Reformed church. Peter grew up with them and his four younger brothers in a two-bedroom home in the Grandville Avenue neighborhood, a historically Dutch neighborhood of Grand Rapids. After high school, Peter had dreams of attending college and becoming a lawyer, but because of the Great Depression’s strain on his family, he had to get a job to help support them.

He found work on the assembly line at the Kelvinator Refrigerator factory earning seventeen cents an hour. It was enough to help him pay for night classes at Davenport Business College, and he then earned promotions at the factory and moved on to other jobs. In 1940, he married Emajean (Pat) Vander Sluis, whom he met in church.

In 1949, Cook had a boss who liked foreign cars. The boss traveled and purchased cars, bringing them to America, where he recruited Cook to sell them to customers here. They called the business Import Motors. Cook took over the business and kept it until Volkswagen bought it in 1980. He also founded Mazda Great Lakes dealership in 1977 and sold it in 1999.


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. His gifts have inspired others and have supported organizations that enrich the entire area.

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

After establishing his wealth, Peter Cook formed a foundation with his wife and became a significant contributor to nearly every college or university, hospital, and major cultural institution in Grand Rapids. His gifts can be partially tracked through the buildings and organizations named in his honor.

He was the founder of the Butterworth Foundation, and the Peter C. and Pat Cook Health Sciences Research and Education Institute is named for him there. The Cook/Hauenstein Hall exists at Van Andel Institute. The Peter C. and Pat Cook Center is at Holland Home, and Porter Hills Presbyterian Village houses the Cook Valley Estates. He has also supported Metropolitan Hospital. There is a Cook Residence Hall at Hope College, the Cook Research Center at Western Theological Seminary, the Peter and Pat Cook Academic Hall at Grand Rapids Community College, and the Peter and Pat Cook Residence Hall at Davenport College. He has also supported Cornerstone University, Aquinas College, and Northwood College. He gave three million dollars towards Grand Valley State University’s Center for Health Professions. He has supported John Ball Zoo, the Grand Rapids Symphony, Grand Rapids Art Museum, Opera Grand Rapids, the Public Museum of Grand Rapids, the Van Andel Arena, DeVos Place convention center, and Grand Rapids Civic Theater.

Peter Cook has served on a variety of boards and is the recipient of numerous awards and honorary degrees.

Key Related Ideas

Peter Cook was raised in a Dutch, Christian Reformed family and neighborhood. He was a firsthand participant in the Great Depression. His strong Christian background emphasized the importance of giving back, tithing, and philanthropy. Cook had success as an automobile distributor. He and his wife then became major benefactors, especially in Grand Rapids.

Important People Related to the Topic

  • Robert Hooker: One of Cook’s chief executives for many years, Hooker is also a notable Grand Rapids philanthropist.

Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • 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.  (
  • The Public Museum of Grand Rapids is a collections-based educational organization that explores and celebrates the world and our place in it. It seeks to educate and delight the public, contribute to the well-being of its community, and enhance the quality of life in West Michigan.
  • Van Andel Institute: Van Andel Institute’s goal is to have an impact world-wide on medical science and education.

Related Web Sites

  • Cook Valley Estates of Porter Hills Presbyterian Village: Porter Hills provides a continuum of high quality communities and services for older adults in accordance with Christian values.
  • DeVos Place: Find convention center information at .
  • 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
  • Metropolitan Hospital: As a comprehensive and growing network, Metro Health provides patients with a more simplified, seamless, and personal health care experience.
  • Opera Grand Rapids is West Michigan's resident, professional opera production company since 1967. Each production is built from the ground up in Grand Rapids, utilizing breathtaking national singers, amazing sets and costumes, our regional chorus, and the music of the Grand Rapids Symphony.
  • The Van Andel Arena: Find details about news and events at the arena at

Bibliography and Internet Sources

Elliot, Gerald. “Peter C. Cook, the Car Distributor” Grand Rapids Press, March 4, 1980, p. 11A

Lozon, Michael. Sharing the Wealth. Grand Rapids: Cook Holdings, LLC, 2007

Maine, Donald. Maine Street: A Tribute to 27 West Michigan Entrepreneurs. Boston MA: Pearson Custom, 2002. ISBN-13: 9780536679918.

Samuelson, Linda and Andrew Schrier, et al. “Peter C. Cook: Firmly Rooted in Grandville Avenue.” In Heart & Soul: The Story of Grand Rapids Neighborhoods, p. 182. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003. ISBN-13: 978-0802839015

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