TRAVERSE CITY — Wayne Webber relaunched his small concrete business with a $2,200 used pickup truck after returning home from a peace-keeping mission in Korea.
He had all he needed: an eighth-grade education and a natural talent to lay concrete.
“Before I bought my pickup truck and before Korea, I went to work for a cement contractor,” Webber said. “And I learned the trade right there. I fell in love with concrete. It came easy for me. It’s all about setting forms.”
Webber eventually partnered with a childhood friend, and their company flourished as they launched into massive construction projects such as highways, airport runways and bridges.
Wayne and Joan Webber were in town late last week for a ribbon-cutting of Munson Medical Center’s Webber Heart Center.
Their foundation donated $8 million in February to support cardiac programs and technology for the hospital’s 127-bed heart center, named for the couple. Munson announced it was the largest single donation in hospital history.
The donation makes it possible for area residents to receive cardiac care in Traverse City instead of going out of town, said Munson Healthcare Foundation’s Ruth Bloomer.
“When we started talking with the Webbers, they wanted to know what needs we had,” Bloomer said. “We had built the heart center, but there were still programs and equipment, and still so much we wanted to do. A big concern of theirs was access to care. They didn’t want people to have to travel a great distance to get the care they needed.”
Their donation has also made cardiac care in the outlying rural areas possible, she said.
Webber, 80, bought out his business partner, Earl Champagne, in 1991 and sold W.W. Webber Inc. in 2005. He continues to work, but the couple’s main focus is philanthropy through the Wayne and Joan Webber Foundation. They’re involved in a wide range of projects, from building a cancer center for St. John Macomb Hospital in Warren to giving Benzie County kids warm weather gear.
“When we started putting clothing on those children, my niece was up there, and there were children with no socks. No socks.” he said. “No jackets, no coats. One mom had a mitten on her child’s foot. I didn’t know this existed.”
Wayne said they’re also building a library in Thompsonville.
“It’s going to be perfect, brand new, state-of-the-art,” he said. “It won’t be the largest, but it will be one of the best.”
Wayne was born in Thompsonville and moved to Warren at the age of three when his dad got a job with General Motors. Wayne returned frequently during his teen years.
“Every weekend I was north, hunting, fishing and dancing with my friends. There were five of us, and we had a great time up here,” he said.
The couple visited family members in the area throughout the years, and wanted to give something back to their cherished vacation spot.
“We have been so blessed, and this is our way of sharing our blessings. That’s all I can say,” Wayne said. “I always wanted to do something for Munson. It’s wonderful to be able to help. Hopefully we touch lots of people.”