t’s a place where families with names like Van Andel, DeVos and Meijer have not only founded nationally known empires, but they’ve also stayed put and given back to the place where they started.
The Grand Rapids Magazine staff only scratched the surface in listing people who’ve done some pretty amazing things — some, like President Gerald R. Ford, are household names. Others, like Miguel Navarro, maybe not so much. But all have contributed to the interesting fabric that is Grand Rapids.
No matter where you fall in the “Great Fluoride Debate,” Grand Rapids still took its place in history in 1945 as the first community in the country to fluoridate its drinking water.
The sculpture “Steel Water” by artist Cyril Lixenberg commemorates the title, sitting near the Grand River and JW Marriott. Next to the sculpture is a commemorative plaque and a drinking fountain, so visitors can sample fluoridated water.
Opened in Sparta, Old Orchard Brands is the third-largest producer of frozen concentrated juice in the U.S. and the country’s ninth-largest bottled juice maker.
Its product lines include 100 percent juice blends, sweetened fruit juice cocktails, reduced-calorie juice drinks, and USDA-certified organic juice in nearly 30 frozen configurations and more than 40 bottled versions.
The firm is owned and run by Mark Saur, who founded the company on the site of an apple orchard in 1985. In-house bottling was added in 1999, and by 2003, distribution reached the East Coast, giving Old Orchard coast-to-coast coverage.
Rich DeVos and Jay Van Andel were best friends in high school when they decided to be business partners. They tried a number of ventures before starting Amway, a direct-sales company, in the basements of their neighboring homes. Amway — short for American Way — developed into a multibillion-dollar global business.
Not only has the company remained in Ada, the founders dedicate time and money to improve the quality of life in Grand Rapids, from funding museums, research, hospitals and arenas, to underwriting the July 4 Family Fireworks.
No fuss, no frills, just dogs. That’s the premise behind the Eastown eatery that specializes in “good ole’-fashioned hot dogs.” While the dogs attract lunch and late-night crowds alike, it’s the atmosphere that really sets this place apart. Antique memorabilia is everywhere, including the old-school cash register actually in use — no cards accepted here — as well as tons of vintage advertisements and other decor.
Yesterdog is definitely a Grand Rapids landmark, and if you need proof, check out the photo wall showcasing fans donning its T-shirts all over the world — and some famous fans like Barack Obama and Janet Jackson, too.
Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Controversial boxing legend Floyd Mayweather Jr., who also holds the title for highest-paid athlete in the world, was born into a family of boxers in Grand Rapids. Dubbed “Pretty Boy” because of his defensive abilities — he didn’t have scars from fights — Mayweather is undefeated as a professional and is a five-division world champion.
Boxed Water is better — or at least that’s the tagline from the packaged water company headquartered in Grand Rapids. Launched in 2009, the idea was to create a water brand that was kinder to the environment than plastic bottles, and since then the boxes of water have been all the rage.
Boxed Water can be seen in retailers worldwide — including 400 Target stores — and in the hands of celebrities like Jack Black, Kristen Stewart and Kendall Jenner. Check out more at boxedwateris
Wolverine World Wide
In 1903, G.A. Krause and his sons built a shoe factory in Rockford, making 300 pairs a day. The Rockford-based manufacturer is now a world-wide supplier of Wolverine Boots and Shoes, as well as subsidiaries such as Hush Puppies and Merrell. The company manufactures footwear for other companies including Caterpillar, Harley-Davidson and Patagonia, and shoes and boots for the military.
In 2012, the company added Keds, Saucony, Stride Rite and Sperry Top-Sider to its list of subsidiaries.
Founders Brewing Co.
Without Founders Brewing Co., Grand Rapids likely wouldn’t be the craft beer haven it is today. Founders is the anchor for bringing beer tourists to town with world-renowned beers such as Canadian Breakfast Stout, Kentucky Breakfast Stout and Backwoods Bastard.
The brewery’s beers don’t have to be rare to garner attention either. All Day IPA, one of the country’s first session IPAs, was released in 2012 following three years of development and has helped lead Founders’ expansion, which will soon take it into the top 10 breweries in the nation.
Founded in 1912 by Peter M. Wege, Steelcase has shown the world that office furniture design can be both practical and visually impressive.
Originally called the Metal Office Furniture Co., it built on an advertising campaign aimed at showing the world that wood wasn’t the only choice for office furniture. From its first design — The Victor, a fireproof wastebasket — Steelcase continues to release products that are works of stunning pragmatism.
Whooping cough vaccine
Whooping cough was raging in the 1930s when two local women worked to find a vaccine. Grace Eldering, from Montana, and Pearl Kendrick, from New York, were former teachers who moved into public health because of the career opportunities it offered women. They began researching the deadly disease at the Michigan Department of Health laboratory in Grand Rapids and, in 1934, conducted their first field trial with dramatic results. The vaccine was eventually distributed across the nation.
Want to know who to thank for each year’s “It” color? Pantone LLC, which became a wholly owned subsidiary of Grand Rapids’ X-Rite Inc. in 2009, is the world-renowned authority on color and is the standard language for color communication from designers to manufacturers to retailers and customers.
Each year the company declares a Color of the Year, which purportedly connects with the zeitgeist and is selected by a secret meeting of representatives of various nations’ color standards groups.
Jeff Koeze, general manager of Koeze Co., is often asked what new products the company is working on. His answer: “We’re all about what’s old.”
The company was founded in 1910 by his great-grandfather, Sibbele Koeze, a wholesale grocer who emigrated from the Netherlands in the 1880s. He sold produce, butter and eggs to small stores around Grand Rapids. His son, Albertus, took over the business around 1918.
“It was my grandfather who purchased a local peanut butter company in 1925, and from then until today, peanut butter and roasted nuts have been part of Koeze’s.”
The peanut butter recipe has remained the same, Koeze said — “just peanuts and salt” — though equipment was upgraded in the ’40s and ’50s. Virginia peanuts are roasted and then coarsely ground in small batches. The peanut butter is not homogenized and contains no artificial colors, preservatives or sugar.
Koeze products are shipped around the country, and thanks to a renewed interest in natural foods, Jeff says demand has increased.
In 1876, Melville and Anna Bissell owned a small crockery shop in Grand Rapids. The couple was constantly cleaning sawdust off the carpet, so Melville invented a carpet sweeper and patented it. Soon customers and friends wanted to buy one and the business was born.
When Melville died in 1889, Anna took over and became the nation’s first female CEO. She marketed sweepers throughout North America and Europe. One of the company’s biggest fans was England’s Queen Victoria, who insisted her palace be “bisselled” every week.
In the 1950s, the manual carpet shampooer was introduced and by the ’60s, Bissell was cleaning a variety of surfaces.
Baker Book House
Herman Baker opened Baker Book House in 1939, and started his publishing business in 1940. You can visit Baker Book House on East Paris Avenue SE and read the books published by Baker Books as well as the other five publishing divisions owned by the Baker Publishing Group. Those divisions include Minnesota’s Bethany House, the foremost publisher of Christian fiction, and Chosen Books, which started with the 1971 publication of Corrie ten Boom’s World War II and Holocaust memoir “The Hiding Place.”
Hudsonville Ice Cream
In 1895, local farmers started Hudsonville Creamery as a co-operative. In 1926, they started making six flavors of ice cream: Vanilla, Chocolate, Strawberry, Butter Pecan, Orange Pineapple and Tootie Fruitie. Dick Hoezee bought controlling interest in 1930 and moved the creamery to Burnips. It stayed in the Hoezee family until 2003 when a local family bought it and relocated to Holland. In 2008, the company expanded to the east side of Michigan where its products now are available in Metro Detroit. In 2010, Hudsonville became available in the Chicago area.
Anyone who has been in downtown Grand Rapids in late September and early October since 2009 knows the city morphs into an art gallery. Thousands of works from artists all over the world can be seen in venues ranging from such year-round gallery spaces as Grand Rapids Art Museum, Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts and Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park to the middle of the Grand River — and almost every kind of space in between.
ArtPrize features the world’s largest cash prize for an art competition, awarded to the grand prize winners. While a jury awards one of those prizes, the other is awarded by all of the people who come downtown and vote for their favorite. And now ArtPrize is branching out: ArtPrize Dallas debuts in April 2016.
ArtPrize has only had one hometown winner so far: Chris LaPorte’s “Cavalry, American Officers, 1921.” If you didn’t see the $250,000 grand prize winner at Grand Rapids Art Museum during the 2010 competition, you can now see the monumental pencil drawing, adapted from a vintage photograph, at Aquinas College’s Grace Hauenstein Library.
You’ll also find LaPorte at Aquinas College, teaching drawing and painting classes. LaPorte’s 2012 ArtPrize entry, “City Band,” came in 10th. He also participated in the 2011 and 2014 competitions.
Zondervan, a Christian publishing company, has come a long way from the Grandville farmhouse where Peter and Bernard Zondervan started the company in 1931.
Today, it is part of HarperCollins Christian Publishing and has five divisions (four of which are centered here in Grand Rapids) covering a broad range of audiences, including academics, children, young adults and the Spanish-speaking community. Zondervan also holds the North American publishing rights to the New International Version translation of the Bible.
A treasured New York City Ballet principal dancer since 1999, Maria Kowroski began taking ballet lessons at age 7 at the School of Grand Rapids Ballet. At age 16, she moved to New York City to join NYCB’s School of American Ballet, becoming an apprentice at NYCB two years later and rising quickly to the top. Happily for her local fans, the 5’ 9” long-limbed dancer has returned to her hometown frequently to perform with Grand Rapids Ballet as a guest artist and to teach young dancers in its Summer Intensive program.
HopCat owner Mark Sellers started a Grand Rapids institution in 2008, and now he’s spreading the love across the Midwest. The world-renowned beer bar has since opened three Michigan locations, three outside the state, and has plans for more than a dozen across the country.
The Grand Rapids location will always be home for the HopCat team, however, as its bottled beer selection continues to be well curated beyond the tap rotation, and menu items such as Crack Fries continue to make plenty of stomachs happy on Ionia Avenue.
The Wet Burrito
San Diego claims the original fish taco. Maine takes credit for lobster rolls. South Florida is home to the grouper sandwich. And West Michigan has the wet burrito.
While several local restaurants have bragged about creating the original wet burrito — a large flour tortilla wrapped around a filling of beef, refried beans, diced tomatoes, shredded lettuce and smothered in sauce and melted cheese — Beltline Bar has the best story.
Tony Rutkowski acquired the Beltline Bar in the late ’50s, and back then it served beer, wine, popcorn and chili dogs — the house special. According to Beltline lore, while Rutkowski was out of town in the mid-1960s, the kitchen staff mistakenly received a shipment of flour tortillas.
“They didn’t know to send them back,” said Jeff Lobdell, who purchased Beltline Bar in 2001. “So the cooks stuffed them full of ingredients and topped them with sauce.”
Customers loved the giant wraps. When Rutkowski returned and realized the potential, he added the wet burrito to the menu, along with other Mich-Mex dishes created by his son, Jerry.
Technically she’s from DeWitt near Lansing, but GR has embraced Linda Hundt as our own. The founder of Sweetie-licious Bakery Café is a 19-time national pie-baking champion with locations in Downtown Market and Gaslight Village as well as the original DeWitt bakery. She is the exclusive pie provider for Williams-Sonoma Inc., and her pies are available nationwide through the Williams-Sonoma website and catalog. In fall 2013, Food & Wine Magazine named Laura’s Sticky Toffee Pudding Caramel Apple Pie one of America’s Best Apple Pies. Hundt also competed on the “Steve Harvey” show in November 2014, and won the title of Best Apple Pie in the country on the “Great American Food Fight” segment.
Gerber Baby Foods
Following the advice of her pediatrician in the summer of 1927, Dorothy Gerber started straining solid foods for her 7-month-old daughter, Sally. After repeating this process many times, Mrs. Gerber suggested her husband try it. She watched Dan make several attempts, and then he pointed out the work of straining fruits and vegetables could be easily done at their Fremont canning business. Workers in the plant began requesting samples for their own babies, and Gerber Baby Foods was launched.
More than a household name, Meijer is credited with pioneering the modern supercenter concept in 1962. Now, the retailer has locations all over the Midwest.
While the retail chain has experienced massive growth, the company remains family focused with its leadership — the current chairmen being founder Hendrik Meijer’s grandsons — and with its prices (oh hey, mPerks). No matter what national retailers move into town, West Michigan folks will always have a special spot in their hearts for Meijer.
Cheeze Kurls are made and distributed in northwest Grand Rapids. The family-owned company started in 1964 when the fathers of the current partners, Tim DeDinas and Bob Franzak, bought a recipe from a man who didn’t have the time to commercialize it.
The men made sales calls during the day and made the snacks at a small shop in the evenings. The original product, Corn Kurls, were deep fried and hand seasoned. A couple of years into the business, they added cheese to the mix and the signature product was born.
El Matador Chips
El Matador Tortilla Chip Co. was founded by Miguel and Isabel Navarro in 1976. Back then, Miguel was one of only a few Hispanic businessmen in the Grand Rapids area. The company was sold to Garden Fresh Gourmet in 2007. The factory at 45 Franklin St. SW still makes chips the traditional way, cooking white, yellow and blue corn and grinding it into masa.
Chris Van Allsburg
If you have ever wanted to play Jumanji or take a ride on the Polar Express to visit Santa, you have East Grand Rapids native and two-time Caldecott Medal Winner Chris Van Allsburg to thank for sparking your imagination.
Van Allsburg is the author and illustrator of 18 children’s books, and the illustrator of three more. Three of Van Allsburg’s books — “Jumanji,” “The Polar Express” and “Zathura” — were adapted into major movies. If you saw Grand Rapids Ballet’s new production of “The Nutcracker” last year, you may have recognized Van Allsburg’s work. He, along with Eugene Lee, designed the set and production for the world premiere presentation.
On (and off) the screen
West Michigan has had its share of movie and TV stars, as well as screen writers, directors and more. The list ranges from soap actress Kim Zimmer, best known for her role as Echo DiSavoy on “One Life to Live,” to Taylor Lautner, the hunky “Twilight” actor.
There’s “Good Morning America” meteorologist Ginger Zee, a Rockford native who’s still proud of her West Michigan roots. And Eric Kramer, who was Bear in “American Wedding” and Bob Duncan in the 2010-2014 TV series “Good Luck Charlie.”
Screenwriter, film director and movie critic Paul Schrader has had a remarkable Hollywood career, considering the fact that his strict Calvinist parents refused to allow him to see a film until he was 18, according to his IMBd bio. He and brother Leonard wrote the 1976 hit “Taxi Driver.” Other screenplays include “Raging Bull” and “The Last Temptation of Christ.” He also directed more than a dozen feature films, including “American Gigolo” in 1980 and “The Canyons” in 2013.
And fans of “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” know funny guy Andy Richter as O’Brien’s sidekick. Richter is also known for his voice work in “Madagascar” films and lead roles in sitcoms “Quintuplets” and “Andy Richter Controls the Universe.” For one season he also starred as “Andy Barker, P.I.”
Luther Perrigo was proprietor of a general store and apple-drying business in Allegan. In 1887, he had the notion to package and distribute patented medicines for country stores. His company developed the “private label” concept as a way to build company loyalty. Through the years, Perrigo has acquired several businesses throughout the world, but remains in West Michigan.
East Grand Rapids native Laura Kasischke is an award-winning poet, novelist and MFA professor at the University of Michigan. Her literary fiction — including her newest novel, “Mind of Winter,” — has a dark edge, often falling into the psychological thriller genre. Three of her 10 novels have been adapted into movies: “Suspicious River,” “The Life Before Her Eyes” and “White Bird in a Blizzard.”
Kasischke has also published nine volumes of poetry. Her talents have earned her numerous awards and recognitions including a Guggenheim Fellowship, two fellowships from The National Endowment for the Arts, multiple Pushcart Prizes, and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry for her collection “Space, In Chains.”
The 1913 Room
The 1913 Room in the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel was Michigan’s only AAA five-diamond-rated restaurant. Adorned in French Louis XIV décor, The 1913 Room was the standard-bearer for white-tablecloth, upscale dining in West Michigan. Opened by businessman Peter Secchia in 1981, it closed in 2011 to make room for Ruth’s Chris Steak House. The eatery played host to many notable guests, from President Gerald R. Ford to country singer Reba McEntire.
Reality show contestants
Jason Kakabaker, owner of The Cakabakery in Eastown, faced off against three other bakeries on The Food Network’s popular series “Cupcake Wars” and took second place in May 2013.
Interior decorator Tylor Devereaux was one of 10 contestants competing for a chance to host his own television show on
“HGTV Star.” He was eliminated in the third episode that aired in June 2013.
Both say they endured stressful challenges.
“It’s even more intense than it looks,” said Devereaux, who spent five weeks filming in Los Angeles. Each episode, the contestants were given decorating challenges and a timeframe to complete the task.
Kakabaker, whose bakery specializes in custom cakes and desserts made from scratch, flew to L.A. with assistant Michelle Baker for a day of competing and half a day of interviews.
“It was surreal,” he said. “A lot happens even before they start taping. It’s like 16 hours of work for a one-hour show. There are producers and cameras all over the place.”
Daniel Vosovic was runner-up in season two of “Project Runway” in 2005. Raised in Lowell, he graduated from Grand Rapids Community College before heading off to the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC where he now lives.
In 2008, he published “Fashion Inside Out.” A year later, the 2009 premiere of Project Runway’s sixth season was preceded by a two-hour special episode,“Project Runway: All-Star Challenge,” where eight past contestants competed for a $100,000 prize. Vosovic won. He launched his own fashion line and has released a collection each season since then.
As founder and teaching pastor of Grandville’s Mars Hill Bible Church in the old Grand Village Mall building, Rob Bell ministered to a congregation approximately 10,000 strong. During his years at Mars Hill, he also filmed his NOOMA video series and wrote books on faith and spiritual topics — although not without controversy regarding his unorthodox views on hell.
His 2011 book, “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived,” was a New York Times Bestseller, and Bell was named one of Time Magazine’s Time 100 the same year. 2011 was also the year Bell stepped down from his role at Mars Hill. He and his family now live in California, where Bell writes, goes on speaking tours and hosts a weekly podcast.
Eames Lounge Chair
Charles and Ray Eames changed the lounge chair game with a design they created for local furniture giant Herman Miller. The couple set out to create a modern version of a common feature of many living rooms, and after years of development, the Eames Lounge (670) and Ottoman (671) were released in 1956.
Almost immediately, the design became an icon of Mid-Century American design. The chair has been in continuous production since it was released, and is showcased and housed in museums around the world.
Drueke chess sets
Established in GR in 1919, The Drueke Co. was the first manufacturer of chess sets in the United States. The company also made chess boards and tables, cribbage boards, backgammon sets, dominoes and checkerboards.
Although the name and product lines were assumed by The Carrom Co. of Ludington in 1991, Bill Dreuke, son of the founder, released a new version of the Clapper 12 that had been previously discontinued.
What originated in 2006 as a search for all-natural snacks for her daughter has blossomed into a Pure Bar empire.
Holland’s Veronica Bosgraaf started with one Pure Bar made with organic fruits and nuts, no refined sugars, no chemicals and no genetically modified stuff. She found a certified organic manufacturer on the West Coast that would mass produce the bars.
Today the company makes nearly a dozen snacks that are distributed nationally.
“We’ve grown to be more than a health bar,” says Bosgraaf, who recently published “Pure Food,” a cookbook filled with seasonal, plant-based recipes. “It’s really about educating people on the right foods to put in our bodies and living eco-friendly. It’s the big picture.”
The Verve Pipe
The Verve Pipe can be traced back to the early ‘90s when members of two rival Michigan bands joined forces. After releasing two independent albums, the group garnered a regional following and attracted the attention of RCA Records, which released its platinum major label debut “Villains” in 1996. The album featured the radio hit “Photograph” and the No. 1 single “The Freshmen.” Next came the self-titled LP “The Verve Pipe,” featuring “Hero,” a Top 15 hit at Modern Rock radio.
In 2001, RCA released “Underneath,” which produced singles “Happiness Is” and “Never Let You Down,” one of the most played songs for Adult Top 40 that year.
The album also included “Colorful,” a ballad feature in the film “Rock Star,” starring Mark Wahlberg and Jennifer Aniston and co-starring lead singer Brian Vander Ark in his first major film role.
The band toured throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe and Australia with numerous TV appearances, including “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” and “Late Night With David Letterman.”
After an eight-year hiatus, The Verve Pipe released “A Family Album” and “Are We There Yet?” with music for the entire family.
In 2014, The Verve Pipe released its first rock album in over 13 years with “Overboard,” a collection of 10 new songs.
The Verve Pipe continues to tour, performing both rock and kids shows, including special appearances at Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits Festival, Hangout Music Festival, SummerStage in Central Park, and more.
Del Shannon, well known for his popular hit “Runaway” in the ’60s, grew up in Coopersville, a small town northwest of Grand Rapids.
Coopersville honors his memory with the Del Shannon Days and Car Show event every August hosted by Rotary of Coopersville. This is the event’s 25th year. More than 400 cars from every decade line the historic Main Street and as many as 80,000 people attend.
In the early 1990s, R&B music was dominated by the squeaky clean and elegant images of Whitney Houston, Anita Baker and En Vogue — until Grand Rapids-native Adina Howard stepped on the scene.
In 1995, Howard expressed sexuality from a young, black, feminine and most importantly dominant perspective when she released “Freak Like Me,” which went on to hold the No. 2 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 for two consecutive weeks.
That was 20 years ago, but Howard’s legacy and influence is apparent in artists like Beyoncé and Rihanna who dominate the charts today. GR