T. Grace MacDonald isn’t a household name in northern Michigan, but she should be.
The philosophy that drove her to dedicate decades of her life to the benefit of the Grand Traverse region stands on the same values that motivate many of us to make this place our home.
Grace believed people, especially young people, develop mentally, physically and socially in the outdoors.
She was right, as all of us who call northern Michigan home, second home or just vacation can attest.
Grace — “Mac” to her friends — died in February at her winter home in California. She was 88. A succinct obituary published in the Record-Eagle outlined Grace’s lifetime spent helping young people find their way in the world through time spent at the summer camp she owned and operated on the shores of Lake Arbutus in East Bay Township.
Grace was a mentor, a friend and a teacher to dozens who turned out last weekend for a memorial service at the park bearing her name along Rasho Road just north of the camp she called home.
A trove of friends, former employees and past campers stood to describe the extraordinary impact Grace had on their lives.
It would be a disservice to reduce Grace to a list of her accomplishments, both as owner of Camp Arbutus and as a committed naturalist and philanthropist. Those achievements are many and notable. A tribute penned in 2015 by Myma Yeakle and presented to the Arbutus Lake Association captures many of them.
Grace first came into contact with the camp in 1955, the first year she worked there.
But it was her move to purchase the place in 1967 that set Grace on a trajectory to quietly influence the Grand Traverse region. From then until the YMCA bought the camp in 1995, she ran programs that provided a haven where young people — especially girls and young women — could grow by connecting with the natural world.
“She was a great student of child development,” said Glen Chown, executive director of the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. “She was one of the most interesting people to talk to and had one of the most generous hearts.”
She dedicated years to serving on local boards, including the Regional Land Conservancy, the Women’s Resource Center, the East Bay Township Parks and Recreation board and others.
In addition to her time, Grace contributed financially to many local organizations, probably most notably the GTRLC where she directed checks to projects that ensured preservation and public access to many of our most beautiful natural places.
But probably more important than any single action or achievement was the system of values that motivated Grace’s tireless efforts to preserve our connection to the wild spaces we all so love.
She knew we find ourselves when aimlessly wandering a beach or lost in the woods.
She knew it often takes the sound of waves on the shoreline or wind in the trees to quiet our souls.
She knew we grow and heal more completely when rooted in nature.
Through our shared values we all know Grace, regardless of whether we had a chance to shake her hand and sit at her campfire.
And we carry on her legacy each time we step outside.