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‘Then and Now’ Foundation Benefit reaches new heights

BIG RAPIDS - The Ferris Foundation's ninth annual Foundation for Excellence Benefit drew its largest crowd ever on Friday, Nov. 9, as 530 supporters of The Ferris Foundation enjoyed an elegant evening at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in Grand Rapids.

Organizers were thrilled at the number of people who attended this year's black-tie event and were even more pleased with the amount of money that was brought in by those who chose to sponsor the event.

"Not only did we see a record attendance this year, but we also had a record year in sponsorships, totaling more than $163,000," shared Kim Erickson, assistant to The Ferris Foundation.

Sueann Walz, chair of The Ferris Foundation and assistant vice president of Independent Bank in Big Rapids, expects to see positive fundraising results from the evening that will aid the Foundation in advancing the University's mission.

"The final figures aren't in just yet, but we expect to see significant net proceeds from the event," said Walz. "Monies raised will go toward funding merit and need-based student scholarships, along with merit grants for faculty and staff," she added.

First-time attendee of the event, Biology department head and associate professor Karen Strasser, said the event surpassed her expectations, and she will attend next year's benefit.

"It was really great to see a mix of faculty, staff, administrators and students at the benefit," Strasser noted.

The first speaker of the evening, need-based scholarship recipient Bridget Burns, shared with the audience how much the scholarship she received from the Foundation has helped her as she pursued her second degree in nursing, after realizing that teaching jobs in Michigan were few and far between.

"When I wasn't able to find a teaching job in Michigan after I graduated, I got discouraged," shared Burns. "My mom always thought that I would make a good nurse. She encouraged me to follow in her footsteps and go back to school, but she couldn’t help financially this time around. Even after working and saving up money, it wasn't enough to pay for my tuition. The scholarship really helped."

Following Burns, Doug Zentz, assistant professor in Ferris' College of Technology, spoke about the upcoming Michigan Energy Conference Ferris is hosting in April 2008 and how the conference would not have been possible without the assistance of the Exceptional Merit Grant Award he received from The Ferris Foundation.

"The merit grant is allowing us to do something innovative that not only benefits Ferris, but benefits industry and the state of Michigan," Zentz shared during his presentation.

And finally, the man everyone was waiting to hear appeared on stage - sports personality, basketball analyst and former Detroit Pistons coach Dick Vitale. He gave his motivational address to a very engaged audience, with his usual enthusiasm and zest, about life, giving and sharing your passions with others.

"When I heard Dick Vitale speak...all I can say is 'Wow,'" exclaimed Bill Sall, head men's basketball coach for Ferris. "Introducing Mr. Vitale at the benefit was an honor, and I can truly say he was very excited to be at Ferris and to share with us his philosophy on giving and living life."

The Foundation for Excellence Benefit is held every November in an effort to grow the endowment that funds student merit and need-based scholarships, as well as merit grants for faculty and staff. If you'd like to learn more about the Foundation for Excellence Benefit, or how you can become involved, contact Erickson at (231) 591-2365 or visit