BELDING — The late Stanley and Blanche Ash were well known throughout Montcalm County for their generous donations and entrepreneurial efforts, but the community of Belding was close to their hearts as well.
Last week, $25,000 was distributed to three organizations in Belding in the first year of grants provided by the Greenville Area Community Foundation (GACF) from the Stanley and Blanche Ash Community Improvement Fund, which is an endowment fund established in the autumn of 2011.
Those organizations include the Belding Skate Park committee, which received $10,000, the Belding Veterans Memorial, which received $10,000, and the Belding Community Garden, which received $5,000.
“Blanche Ash and the Ash Foundation had been very generous over the years to nonprofit organizations in Belding, as well as Greenville and Montcalm County,” GACF Director of Grants and Communications Amy O’Brien said. “Being the first year money was available to award from this fund, the GACF wanted to make a strong effort to honor Blanche’s wishes to include Belding.”
O’Brien said the GACF contacted Belding City Manager Randy DeBruine to help identify initiatives taking place in the community that people were excited and positive about and that had strong community support.
“This was very unexpected and we are very grateful,” DeBruine said. “Blanche had stated in her will to the foundation, ‘remember Belding.’ This was a very kind act to give $25,000 to the community.”
After the Ash deaths — Stanley in 2004 and Blanche in 2011 — the couple’s remaining assets were divided up between college and community foundations such as the community improvement fund, which the GACF will continue to use to award grants for area needs.
After the Belding Freedom Wall was completed on Nov. 11 next to the Pere Marquette Depot in Belding, Denny Craycraft of Belding, who helped spearhead the effort to construct the wall, celebrated with the rest of the community, but did so quietly with $7,000 in outstanding bills.
With the $10,000 grant from the GACF, Craycraft said he can now breath a sigh of relief.
“They came to the rescue,” Craycraft said of GACF awarding the Veterans Memorial with the grant. “This donation let us put the first phase behind us. It was a shot in the arm and one that we really needed.”
Craycraft said for the donation to come from an endowment fund from the Ash family is “truly special,” because three of the Ash family members’ names are on the Freedom Wall for serving in World War II, including Stanley.
“The Ash family has a history in Belding,” he said. “Just to say thanks doesn’t justify how grateful I am. They really helped out the community tremendously on this project.”
Craycraft said with phase I of the Veterans Memorial now complete, fundraising for phase II can begin, which will consist of construction of World War I and Korean War memorials.
Craycraft said 300 of 840 bricks, which will make up portions of the memorial’s foundation, have been sold thus far. Bricks are available for $50 and can be engraved with any veteran’s name who has served in any war.
Belding Skate Park
The Belding Skate Park committee is still working its way toward a goal of raising $100,000 to construct a park at Central Riverside Park as early as this spring, and committee member Roger Wills said the donation from the Ash Foundation is a big boost for the committee’s morale.
“When you get a five-figure donation like this, it’s a real boost,” Wills said. “It not only moves your numbers up, but it helps your attitude and your fundraising.”
Wills said the committee now has $68,000 in funds and pledges from area businesses, the latest coming from the $10,000 grant given by the GACF.
Having personally met with Blanche before she died, Wills said he was very grateful that the GACF decided to donate funds to the Belding Skate Park.
“What’s more special about this is having met and talked with Blanche Ash,” he said. “She loved to give money to projects that involved kids. Whatever it was, she always wanted to know how the kids were doing.”
Wills said the skate park, which will be permanent and concrete, will be closest park of its kind next to parks in Grand Rapids, Holland and Grand Haven.
“This has been on the wish list of the Belding Recreation Board for years and years,” he said. “I think we’re on a pretty good pace now.”
With donations already collected ranging from $5 to $25,000, Wills said he hopes people continue to donate with the final goal within reach.
“We just need a little more help getting to the finish line, or rather, the starting line.,” he said.
Donations can be mailed to Belding City Hall at 120 Pleasant St.
Belding Community Garden
The Belding Community Garden was established in June and was recently celebrated by those who grew gardens and various fruits and vegetables throughout the summer months.
On hearing the news that the garden was receiving a $5,000 grant, Garden Coordinator Andrea Belding said she was pleasantly surprised.
“I was very emotional,” she said. “We’re going to be able to touch so many more people with the community garden than what we expected and be able to help out so many more families.”
More than six bushels of food grown in the garden were donated to the Belding Food Pantry and teachers at nearby Woodview Elementary School have incorporated the garden into their class curriculum.
With the addition of the GACF grant, Belding said the garden group is already thinking of ways to expand the garden and put the money to good use.
“To have that influx of money for all three projects for all of us to benefit greatly from their generosity is just amazing,” she said. “Our group is ecstatic and already coming up with grand ideas on how to spend the money.”
Those interested in being part of the next season, by donation or by gardening a plot, can contact Belding at (616) 240-1472.