Wege, Peter Melvin

Peter Wege, the son of the founder of Steelcase, worked as a leader of the Grand Rapids, Michigan furniture company for nearly 40 years. Wege established the Wege Foundation and contributed to Aquinas College, St. Mary's Hospital, and the Grand Rapids Catholic Diocese. He is a major supporter of the arts and environmental issues. He funds nature trails and conservancies as well as efforts to protect the Great Lakes. He has provided fuel-efficient vehicles for organizations such as the Grand Rapids Police Department and gives to educational organizations that teach environmental responsibility.

Biographical Highlights

The son of Steelcase founder, Peter Martin Wege, Peter Melvin Wege was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1920. After college and World War II service, he made his career at Steelcase. He created his own foundation in 1967 and became one of Grand Rapids’ premiere twentieth-century philanthropists.

Historic Roots

Peter Melvin Wege was born Feb. 19, 1920, the only child of Peter Martin and Sophia Louise Wege. The elder Wege was one of the founders in 1912 of the Metal Office Furniture Company. In 1954, the company became Steelcase, Inc. The younger Wege attended college at the San Diego Army and Navy Academy and the University of Michigan. He served in the Army Air Force during World War II. He joined Steelcase in 1947 and worked in various capacities until his 1985 retirement. He had seven children. He was the author of the 1998 book, Economicology: The Eleventh Commandment, which is about the relationship between ecology and the economy. He also writes poetry.

Importance

Wege, the son of the founder of Steelcase, worked for nearly 40 years as a leader at the Grand Rapids-based international office furniture company. A prominent member of the Grand Rapids community, Wege volunteered on boards and task forces throughout the community. He also donated millions of dollars toward causes that support the environment, the arts, and education in Grand Rapids.

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

Peter Melvin formed the Wege Foundation in 1967 to honor his parents. Raised a Catholic, Wege has been a major benefactor to Catholic institutions in Grand Rapids, including Aquinas College, St. Mary’s Hospital, and the Grand Rapids Catholic Diocese. In 1999, he named for his mother the Sophia Louise Wege Academic Center at St. Stephen's School and Parish in East Grand Rapids. Wege is also strongly associated with the arts in Grand Rapids. He led the committee that brought Alexander Calder's artwork "La Grande Vitesse" to downtown Grand Rapids in 1969. In 2001, he gave the lead gift of twenty million dollars to construct the current Grand Rapids Art Museum building. He provided for a major expansion to the Grand Rapids Ballet headquarters in 2007.

Wege is perhaps best known for his environmental activism. He is a major supporter of nature trails and conservancies as well as efforts to protect the Great Lakes. He has provided fuel-efficient vehicles for organizations such as the Grand Rapids Police Department and gives to educational organizations that teach environmental responsibility. The Grand Rapids Art Museum is the first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold-certified art museum in the world. Other buildings that Wege helped to construct are also LEED certified.

Key Related Ideas

Born in 1920, Wege was the son of a Steelcase, Inc. founder. After college and World War II service, he also had a career with Steelcase. Beginning in the 1960s, he became active as a volunteer and community builder. Especially through his foundation, he engaged in philanthropy toward the environment, the arts, and Catholic institutions.

Important People Related to the Topic

  • David Dyer Hunting, Sr.: David was one of three men to found Steelcase. Hunting joined the company in 1912, two years after Peter Wege, Sr. and Walter Idema. David Hunting, Sr. was a major philanthropist in Grand Rapids, including as one of the founders of the Steelcase Foundation.
  • Walter Idema: Walter was one of three men to found Steelcase. Idema was the original secretary-treasurer of the metal furniture company that started in 1912.
  • Peter Martin Wege: The father of Peter Melvin Wege lived from 1870 to 1947. He was one of the founders and a career-long president of Steelcase, a world leader in the manufacture of office furniture.

Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • The Diocese of Grand Rapids is a division of the Roman Catholic Church covering eleven counties and serving over a million people. It is the sponsor of the Cathedral Square project that Wege played a major role in funding. http://www.dioceseofgrandrapids.org/gallery/gallery.htm
  • The mission of the Grand Rapids Art Museum is to provide a gathering place where people of all ages and backgrounds can enrich their lives through interaction with authentic works of art of the finest quality in a thought-provoking and creative way. In order to nourish and delight the mind and spirit, the Museum collects, conserves, educates, and interprets. http://www.artmuseumgr.org/
  • The Wege Foundation (http://wegefoundation.com/) focuses on local good works that enhance the lives of the people and preserve the health of the environment. The five branches of their mission are education, the environment, arts and culture, health care, and human services.

Related Web Sites

  • Aquinas College: An inclusive educational community rooted in the Catholic Dominican tradition, Aquinas provides a liberal arts education with a global perspective, emphasizes career preparation focused on leadership and service to others, and fosters a commitment to lifelong learning dedicated to the pursuit of truth and the common good. http://www.aquinas.edu/
  • The Grand Rapids Ballet Company consists of a school and a professional dance troupe. http://grballet.com
  • The Saint Mary’s Hospital website has a helpful historical timeline at http://www.smmmc.org/about/history.shtml
  • Sculpture Sites Grand Rapids: This website has details about La Grande Vitesse and other outdoor sculptures in Grand Rapids. http://www.sculpturesitesgr.org/
  • Steelcase, Inc.: Steelcase studies how people work to fully understand the ever-changing needs of individuals, teams and organizations all around the world. Then they combine that knowledge with products and services and create solutions that help people have a better day at work. To read about the Steelcase history, look under Our Company/About Steelcase/Milestones. Details about the Steelcase Foundation are also available on this site. http://www.steelcase.com/na/

Bibliography and Internet Sources

Olson, Gordon. Steelcase: the First 75 Years. Grand Rapids: Steelcase, Inc., 1987.

Wege, Peter M. Economicology: the Eleventh Commandment. Economicology Press, 1998. ISBN: 0966436709

Carron, Christian. Grand Rapids Furniture: The Story of America’s Furniture City. Grand Rapids: The Grand Rapids Public Museum, 1998. ISBN: 0966652401

Lovell, Susan. Peter Martin Wege: A biography. Generations Publishing, 2003.

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