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Grand Rapids philanthropist leaves $1M for city ballet


Yes, there is a professional ballet company in Grand Rapids.

In fact, they're the only one in the state. 

And they are really fed up with people not knowing that.

“We used to have letterhead that said ‘Michigan’s best kept secret’ or something, and I was like, let’s get rid of that,” laughs the company’s executive director, Glenn Del Vecchio.

But the city’s ballet has long had support from one of West Michigan’s biggest philanthropists, Peter Wege.

He gave millions to the ballet during his life, and after he died this July, he left $1 million for the ballet’s endowment in his estate.  

Del Vecchio says this effectively triples their endowment, which was just $500,000.

“You can’t really fundraise for endowments,” he says.

“It’s hard to ask people to give to build up a bank account or to pay down debt, so a gift that’s earmarked just for endowments is extraordinary.”

What’s more, Del Vecchio says they’re getting the news about this gift just as the city’s arts organizations are really coming back from the recession.

"The business is coming back, and the audience members are coming back, and to sort of be going through a bit of a renaissance – and then to get a million-dollar gift that can support the endowment, it's the icing on the cake."

The Grand Rapids Ballet is hoping to raise its profile with an original production of "The Nutcracker” in December.

It will be designed by the author and illustrator of “The Polar Express,” Chris Van Allsburg. He’s also a native of the Grand Rapids area. 

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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