420 Oak Street
Big Rapids, MI 49307
Arlen-Dean Gaddy began his journey as a director on The Ferris Foundation’s Board of Directors this past January. Director of Market Strategy for Erhardt Construction in Grand Rapids, Gaddy loves many aspects of Ferris State University and is proud to serve on the board.
Ferris gave Gaddy, a self-proclaimed less than exceptional high school student, the opportunity to study operations and production management. Though he only spent two years at Ferris before transferring to Ohio State, he made some lifelong friendships and even met his wife here.
Joining the foundation board not only gave him the opportunity to return to Ferris, but it also gave him the chance to see what he could do to support the Jim Crow Museum. In Gaddy’s mind, it was fascinating to have a world-class collection of artifacts from the Jim Crow era housed at the university.
“Dr. David Pilgrim has made himself a nationally renowned figure in not only racist memorabilia but in the laws and the culture of the Jim Crow era. I was captivated by that,” Gaddy said.
Gaddy and his wife hosted a fundraiser for a group of about fifty leaders from the Grand Rapids and West Michigan area last summer to generate funds specifically for the Jim Crow Museum. They toured the university, had lunch together, listened to Dr. Pilgrim speak about the museum, and went on a guided tour of the space.
“That was really exciting because those were people that I am friends with, some business associates. We brought them up there to learn about this fabulous project, so that was a fun time,” Gaddy said.
Another recent project that Gaddy is glad that he has been able to assist with while on the board is the Student Hardship Fund. After Barb Benda approached him about it, he immediately remembered when he was a student at Ferris in the mid 80’s how much he would have benefited from a fund like this one, especially in the midst of the current crisis.
“There are several students who were enrolled in the university but renting an apartment off campus. Some of them had jobs working at the university. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the university is closed down. Some of those students had to go back home but still had a rent check due April 1st and that can be a hardship for some students, it really can. The foundation is able to assist the university in coming alongside those type of students,” Gaddy said.
One of the moments that he has been able to realize the impact that he and the board’s work has made on student success is at the annual Foundation for Excellence Benefit. At the gala, members of the foundation and Alumni Association have the opportunity to meet students who have benefited from scholarships generated through the foundation.
Gaddy sees the work being done by the foundation as necessary because the cost of getting an education continues to rise. One of the best ways to overcome poverty is through getting an education. Therefore, the work being done by the foundation plays a key role in increasing the likelihood that students will not have to experience poverty.
“The foundation has a mission, and that mission is to raise money for the university. Some of those dollars will help with the [Jim Crow} museum but I think more importantly those dollars directly impact students.