Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 29, 2013

Editorial: Donors impact Grand Traverse area's way of life


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---- — The numbers are amazing. Their impact on the community will be felt for decades to come.

Over the past few years individuals have donated an incredible $19 million to Munson Medical Center and the Grand Traverse Bay YMCA. Of, that, $13 million for Munson has come in just more than a year.

Last week the Wayne and Joan Webber Foundation gave Munson $8 million, its all-time biggest donation. The money will go to Munson's 127-bed heart center, which will carry the family's name. The $67.5 million, 128,000-square-foot facility will house cardiovascular services.

In 2011 Munson's plans for a new cancer center received a $5 million year-end gift from Casey Cowell, a Traverse City resident who is former chairman and CEO of U.S. Robotics. Cowell said he donated the money because he knows the effect a first-class health care system can have on the community.

And a year ago, the YMCA met a $12 million fund raising target, in large part because of a $2 million challenge grant from Robert and Phyllis Foster, of Benzie County.

The gift was dependent on the Y raising the $4 million it needed to hit its overall goal of $12 million for a new building by the end of 2011. More than 800 people donated, and ground has already been broken on the new YMCA facility, which will feature swimming pools, tennis courts and work-out area. It is set to open this spring.

These are, of course, extraordinary gifts for any community; but for an area of this size, with a population of less than 170,000, they are nothing short of phenomenal. And all this is on top of the millions that have been poured into the area over the years by Rotary Charities, the philanthropic arm of the Traverse City Rotary Club.

Munson Healthcare President Ed Ness said the Webber family approached Munson and the hospital told them about the cardiac program "and how that really served the entire region, not just Traverse City," Ness said.

Wayne Webber was co-founder of the Detroit-area concrete company W.W. Webber. The Webbers, who have a home in the Thompsonville area, created their foundation in 1999; recent donations include $500,000 to Paul Oliver Memorial Hospital in Frankfort. The Webbers have supported other Benzie County efforts.

This is money that will make a life-and-death difference for untold numbers of area residents. Kids will learn how to swim at the Y, heart and cancer patients will be given additional years of life. It's a legacy of giving that has raised the standard of living for an entire region.