GREENVILLE — Be it his time as a student at the University of Michigan, or his years as an attorney specializing in estate planning, John Svendsen always referred to himself as one thing at heart — “a Greenville kid.”
At 74 years old, Svendsen now spends his retirement living in Grand Rapids, but he wishes to give back as much as he can to his hometown.
“Greenville will always be home … the closeness of the community that is there, especially when I grew up, that’s important to me,” he said.
Svendsen recently approached the Greenville Area Community Foundation (GACF) with an initial donation of $10,000 to start the Svendsen Family Unrestricted Fund.
“I’m really proud to call myself a Greenville kid, because I think that makes me part of a very special group, who translated the skills and values they learned growing up in Greenville into significant accomplishments later in life,” Svendsen said. “While I don’t put myself in the same class as Fred Meijer or Dr. Richard Rasmussen, to mention a couple of names that come immediately to mind, I did enjoy success in my chosen career, and I attribute a great deal of that to the community that molded me.”
Svendsen is a 1960 graduate of Greenville High School, and pursued education in law at Michigan, eventually landing at a firm in Sturgis. For 47 years, Svendsen called Sturgis home, but that didn’t stop him from making the two-hour drive back to Greenville most weekends to visit with friends and family.
With his family having roots in Greenville several generations back, Svendsen didn’t sell his family’s home until last year, keeping his ties as long as he could.
“As I look back, I realize how much growing up in Greenville made me who I turned out to be, and what a special place Greenville was and is,” he said. “To use just one example, many of my classmates in college had always lived in suburbs and never knew anyone who wasn’t just exactly like them, and they weren’t nearly as able as I was to relate to people from all walks of life. That served me extremely well in years to come.”
In establishing the new unrestricted fund, Svendsen is hoping his initial donation will inspire others to give as well, to help better the community he’s loved for nearly three quarters of a century.
“The giver (GACF) can even designate what the money will be used for, so long as it is for a charitable purpose,” he said. “For many years I struggled with what specific purpose to designate for a gift to Greenville … while it (the fund) will start out with relatively modest assets, I’ll be adding to those over time, and I’m hoping that relatives and friends may as well.”
GACF President and CEO Alison Barberi said the GACF is elated to have Svendsen give back to the community.
“We are always pleased when members of our community feel so strongly about their experiences in Greenville, that they want to start an endowment fund,” she said. “With John’s community foundation background, he already knew that unrestricted funds were the most valuable and useful for meeting the ever-changing needs through our grant-making to non-profits.”
Barberi said the foundation was pleasantly surprised to have Svendsen, who previously served on a community foundation board in Sturgis, come forward with an unrestricted fund, allowing the GACF to eventually make decisions on how the funds will be used.
“He surprised us one day when he stopped and asked about documents needed to do just that, and voila,” she said. “He’s a great guy and it’s been delightful to get to know him, to hear his life story and to understand why he cares so much.”
Svendsen said through his estate work, he plans to donate additionally in the future to the fund.
“Greenville has produced some very caring, compassionate people,” Barberi said. “John Svendsen is one of them. The GACF is honored by John’s trust that we can administer the Svendsen Family Fund appropriately and in perpetuity.”