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Central supporters

Philanthropy comes in many forms from generous donors

Contact: Heather Smith


​​​Reprinted from Centralight Winter​ 2016​​​​​​​​

Winston Churchill famously said, "We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give."

The Chippewas you'll meet in these pages take that dictum to heart.

Whether it's their time, their talent or their treasure – and sometimes a combination of two or all three ​– they are invested in making Central Michigan a better place for students and making those students better in the world. 

When John Kulhavi was a CMU student, he worked three to five jobs to pay for school and lived on $10 a week.

Half of his budget went to a woman who rented him an old Army cot on her porch. He ate a lot of hot dogs and boxes of macaroni and cheese – “I could buy them for 19 cents,” he recalls.

Now the successful head of a wealth management team at Merrill Lynch, Kulhavi, ’65, has transformed CMU’s campus in dozens of ways through his generosity.

You can see how the money he’s given has helped in the neuroscience program, ROTC, athletics and more.

A residence hall in the Towers bears his name. And the university’s 5,300-seat signature events center is now called the John G. Kulhavi Events Center because he led its $21 million fundraising campaign.

“People ask me all the time, ‘What do you have to do to get your name on a building?’ “ Kulhavi says. “If you hang around here long enough, they’ll name a building after you.”

He’s modest.

“I love the university,” Kulhavi says simply.

Bob Martin, CMU’s vice president for advancement, says he wishes he could clone Kulhavi: “He’s one of the most giving people I’ve ever met.”

When university officials try to honor him for his generosity, Kulhavi humbly brushes it off, Martin says. No fuss, he insists.

And when he hears a program is struggling, he helps.

A retired Army brigadier general, Kulhavi gives generously to CMU’s ROTC program, where he began his military career. He flew helicopters in Vietnam and earned the Purple Heart, among other prestigious awards.

“He takes his giving very seriously,” Martin says. “And he encourages others to give. He tells people to give from their heart, not their heads.”

Kulhavi has a folder stuffed with messages from ROTC students thanking him for their scholarships.

“I know what I give is appreciated,” he says.

While his influence on campus is obvious, he says his proudest contribution is the ROTC monument in front of Finch Fieldhouse. It replaced a much smaller one.

“The kids in ROTC are going on to serve their country,” he says. “They deserve some recognition.”

Kulhavi gives just as generously of his time and talent.

He’s been on the CMU Advancement Board since 1997 and is a former Board of Trustees member and chair. He’s also served on countless committees and won several alumni awards.

“We talk often about Central’s core values – respect, integrity, honesty,” says CMU President George E. Ross. “It’s how John lives his life.”

Jeff Seeley, ’82, says Kulhavi is as generous a friend as he is a donor. Kulhavi often invites friends to his northern Michigan cabin, where they can ride his tilt-a-whirl.

“It was his favorite ride as a kid, so he bought one,” Seeley says. “He absolutely loves to have fun. More than anything, John wants people to have a smile on their face. And his love of CMU goes truly to the core.”

“I’ve been very blessed in my life,” Kulhavi says. “If every person with any measure of success gave back, it would be a much better world.”

By Terri Finch Hamilton, ‘83

Laura Gonzales could have used a few successful Latino role models when she was an undergrad at CMU in the 1970s.

“It would have been nice to get to know some of those alumni who had gone before and were out in the work world,” she says. “It shows students examples of success.”

Gonzales, ’79, M.A. ’89, made that a personal mission when she became president of the CMU Latino Alumni Chapter in 2005, and she hasn’t lost sight of it since.

For more than a decade, she’s coordinated the chapter’s efforts to build and strengthen relationships between Latino alumni and CMU and with each other. She also serves on the CMU Alumni Board of Directors.

Gonzales spent most of her career working in higher education administration, including as director of multicultural student services at CMU, so she knows what students need.

“It just makes sense to me to give the time that I can give to help students,” she says.

Her proudest contribution: An annual career information session during Hispanic Heritage Month on campus. The event invites Latino alumni to return to campus and talk to students about their careers and their experiences at Central.

Gonzales is a connecter: This fall, she spoke with the students involved in Empowered Latino Union, a CMU registered student organization, about the alumni chapter and is working to support their efforts to educate the university about Latino heritage and culture.

CMU Latino Alumni Chapter also connects and supports CMU socially. Members attend the annual ¡Fiesta Tigres! Celebration at Comerica Park and often go to women’s basketball games to support head coach Sue Guevara.

“I see it as the chapter benefiting people through making connections,” Gonzales says. “But most important in my mind is supporting the current Latino students at CMU.”

For more information or to join the chapter, email Gonzales at lauragonzales534@gmail.com or visit the CMU Latino Alumni Chapter Facebook page.

By Cynthia Drake, M.A. ‘08

When you do a 15-week physical therapy internship at i’move in Spring Lake, you learn about being human.

That’s because the three CMU alumni who supervise interns believe building relationships with patients is as important as helping them heal after rotator cuff surgery.

Every CMU intern at the clinic leaves knowing that, too.

Physical therapists Dave Van Andel, ’97, and Marty Sytsema, ’97, own the physical therapy and athletic performance training clinic just east of Grand Haven. Mike Braid, ’85, is the director of athletic training.

They regularly recruit interns from CMU’s physical therapy and athletic training programs as a way to give back to the university that trained them.

“What I try to pass on is a love for the profession,” Van Andel says. “We want to provide a meaningful experience for students.

“We remind them to think about why they got into this profession,” he says. “That it’s about more than ‘how much did you bill for that visit?’ and ‘what exercises did you have that patient do?’ Are you treating your patient like a whole person, or are you just treating a condition?”

At staff lunches, they discuss articles about new developments in physical therapy and break for Q&A sessions so interns can ask questions.

The stream of interns – and their often challenging questions – keeps the veterans sharp, Van Andel says.

“When you teach, you learn,” he says. “If we don’t have the youth of our profession come in, we lose freshness, like a stream with no water running through it.”

Braid has been supervising CMU interns since 1994, first at the former Hackley Hospital in Muskegon, then at i’move when he joined the group in 2008.

“My internship was one of the most valuable parts of my education,” Braid says. “It puts you in a safe environment where you can use your skills and start to develop some confidence.”

He wants to give students that same kind of opportunity.

“Every student we’ve had from Central has been good,” he says. “There’s a pride factor in saying, ‘That’s where I went to school.’”

Some of them are so good they never leave. Six former CMU interns are on staff.

“Sometimes we just can’t let them go,” Van Andel says with a laugh.

Sytsema is always thinking about what skills he can share with the interns.

“Could I write a check to CMU? Yes,” he says. “But lots of people can write a check. I’m really good at teaching. I love that I can make an individual impact; I can shape somebody who will go on to love their profession. Maybe someday, in turn, they’ll share what they learned from me.”

By Terri Finch Hamilton, ‘83

Stacy Baker willingly tosses herself into one of the most stress-filled competitions on campus, year after year.

She’s a volunteer coach for CMU’s annual Enterprise Resource Planning Simulation Invitational Competition, lending hours of her time and expertise in the weeks leading up to the high-energy event.

ERPsim, for short, tests College of Business Administration students in teamwork, classroom knowledge and critical thinking.

Each 20-minute round of the frantic game simulates multiple quarters in the life of a business. Students work in small groups to generate the highest net income for their hypothetical business using SAP – a technology tool that helps top businesses around the world run more efficiently and maintain a competitive edge.

Students take this competition sweaty-palmed seriously.

“The students energize me,” says Baker, ‘92. “There’s a lot of intensity and excitement.”

She brings a lot of SAP expertise as executive director of IT business technology for Consumers Energy, one of the nation’s largest utilities.

“I stress the importance of them working as a team,” says Baker, who lives in Grass Lake, near Jackson. “I’m mostly a cheerleader and a guide. When they’re struggling, I ask them questions to help them solve problems themselves, rather than give them the answers.”

She laughs. “Sometimes, I don’t know the answers.”

She’s doing something right. Four years ago, her CMU team went on to become world champions.

While she coaches her students to win, Baker has another motive: “Some of them might be a good fit at Consumers Energy.”

Sometimes, they just need to talk.

“I was the first person in my family to go to college, so I didn’t have someone to talk to about how it all works,” Baker says. “Sometimes I can connect with students who don’t have that person in their life, either. I can be that person who answers the questions they don’t want to ask anyone else.”

Beyond ERPsim, Baker talks to students at CMU’s spring SAP certification course, called Terp 10. She also presents each fall to the SAP student user group about how Consumers Energy uses SAP. In all, she gives Central about 20 volunteer hours each year.

“I have this pride about being an alumna of CMU,” Baker says. “It feels good to give back.”

By Terri Finch Hamilton, ‘83

When Jim Cronin returns to CMU to meet up with his old fraternity buddies, he feels rejuvenated.

“I’m in a 77-year-old body, but it’s like I’m 20 again,” says Cronin, ’61.

Back in the 1950s and ‘60s, the Phi Sigma Epsilon brothers mixed plenty of service in with their fun.

During Greek Week they painted houses on the Isabella Indian Reservation. They donated to the March of Dimes and sponsored blood drives.

“Through all of that, we carved relationships,” says Bob Stuart, ’61, M.A. ’64. “We formed a pretty tight bond. That’s worth perpetuating.”

So the Phi Sigma Epsilons are at it again.

The fraternity brothers, who went to CMU between 1955 and 1965, gave $100,000 to the John G. Kulhavi Events Center.

“You have to give back if you’ve had some success in life,” Cronin says. “My experience in the fraternity at Central framed the rest of my life. Much of who I am today is because of those experiences.”

When the Phi Sig brothers graduated, they launched careers and raised families.

“But we kept a bit of a flame – a pilot light – burning,” Stuart says. “We came back for homecoming, played golf, had dinner together. It was an opportunity to renew. We did that year after year.”

In 1994, they started getting together every three years in Charlevoix, too, to laugh and remember.

“We realized we wouldn’t be there, enjoying ourselves together, if we hadn’t all gone to Central – a place where we learned, developed, grew, then launched our lives,” Stuart says. “We started talking about how we could give back.”

They all contributed to pay for a motivational speaker series, bringing dynamic presenters to campus.

Then, in 2011, they learned about CMU’s fundraising campaign to raise $21 million for an improved and bigger campus events center. The university wanted to transform the facility into a regional center for culture, athletics and entertainment.

The Phi Sigs liked it.

“The event center influences everybody,” Stuart says. “Every student will come in touch with it.”

So far, about 60 of the fraternity brothers have given, some donating in memory of other members who have died.

“We’re a band of brothers,” says Bob Beaumont, ’58, M.A. ’63. “It makes sense that we do this together.”

Their names will be included on one of the center’s seven towering pillars.

“One motivation for doing this is that our fraternity no longer exists,” Stuart says. “We thought, ‘Hey, maybe we ought to make a footnote in Central’s history that we did exist, and it made an impact on us.”

Phi Sigma Epsilon was a social fraternity from 1910 to 1985, until its merger with the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity. The new organization kept the Phi Sigma Kappa name.

“We wanted to give something back to the institution that we loved,” Stuart says, “from the fraternity that we loved.”

By Terri Finch Hamilton, ‘83

Terry Pordon still remembers the words of the guest speaker who visited his CMU accounting class nearly 30 years ago.

“We were just moving into the computer world,” he recalls. “I remember him saying, ‘These are just methods to get to an answer. The skill you need to learn is thinking.’ I thought that was a pretty important thing to hear.”

Fast forward to the same classrooms where he listened to accountants from the “real world” years ago, and Pordon is passing along that same wisdom.

“SAP, PowerPoint presentations – they’re just tools,” he says. “It’s all about hearing, listening, thinking.”

Pordon, ’91, is director of domestic compliance for FCA US (formerly Chrysler) and is primarily responsible for domestic tax planning and forecasting, tax structuring, cash planning, and statutory compliance activities.

He takes the time to visit CMU often to speak to advanced accounting students, sharing stories, tips and advice gleaned from 25 years of tax experience working in both public accounting and the manufacturing industry.

“I’m not one of those people who can have a building named after him,” Pordon says. “Probably not even a flower garden.

“This is a way for me to give back.”

In addition to speaking to several accounting classes, Pordon also talks to the Student Accounting Society and CMU’s chapter of Beta Alpha Psi, an international honor organization for accounting, finance and information systems students.

He’s also on CMU’s Accounting Advisory Board, which meets twice a year to talk about the state of the School of Accounting and how to make it even better.

“It’s kind of a pay-it-forward thing,” Pordon says. “CMU provided the foundation for me to do what I’m doing.”

By Terri Finch Hamilton, ‘83

Doug Iles made such a generous donation to CMU’s College of Medicine that the medical resource library at the university’s Saginaw campus will soon be named after him and his family.

Iles died suddenly in May at his cottage, at age 56, leaving a legacy of giving that spans the campus, from Grawn Hall to the bigger, better events center and the College of Business Administration. Iles loved and generously supported the CMU College of Medicine and was its fundraising chair.

“The amount he gave, for a young man, was inspirational,” says Bob Martin, CMU’s vice president for advancement.

But the difference Iles made on campus went far beyond monetary giving. A financial planner, he used his expertise as managing director of investments for Merrill Lynch as chair of the CMU Development Board’s investment committee, guiding the university’s investments.

Iles was recognized several times as one of the top financial advisers in the country. He left CMU just short of his graduation when he received a job offer from Merrill Lynch and then finished his degree in 2006.

“I’ve worked with a lot of financial professionals, and he was one of the best ever,” Martin says. “He was smart as hell and caring. That’s a very good package.”

Students in CMU’s College of Business Administration knew Iles as the adjunct professor who drove in from Saginaw twice a week after work to teach personal financial planning.

“Any time I was out walking near Grawn Hall, I saw Doug,” says CMU President George E. Ross. “I’d say, ‘You’re here all the time, man.’ When he talked about his students, you could see the excitement in his face.”

Iles often stayed after class to talk to students, says Iles’ oldest son, Ryan, ’11.

“The relationships he built with students meant a lot to him,” Ryan says. “A lot of them called him, even after graduation, for career advice. He would often stay up late, talking to students on the phone.”

Many of those students attended Iles’ funeral.

Year after year, Ryan and his siblings, Kristen and Jeffrey, watched as their dad generously donated – to a new score board for Ryan’s school swim team, to area nonprofits and to CMU.

Every Christmas, they adopted a needy family.

“Mom would go overboard with the gifts,” Ryan says of Sandy Iles, Doug’s wife of 34 years.

“He just loved to help others,” Ryan says.

“He always said, ‘You don’t do it for the acknowledgment.’”

Jeff Seeley, ’82, knew Iles since they were in seventh grade in Saginaw. They re-established their friendship on the CMU Development Board, which Seeley chairs.

Above all else, Seeley says, Doug loved his wife and kids.

“His giving was about teaching his children that it’s important to give back,” Seeley says. “He felt that was an important part of his legacy – to show young people how to be good people.”

By Terri Finch Hamilton, ‘83

When Rich Fleming interviewed for a teaching job at Central Michigan University in 1982, he immediately felt a good vibe.

Fleming liked the campus. And he liked the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

But he wasn’t sure his wife, Diane, would share his enthusiasm and embrace a move north from Memphis.

“He called and said, ‘I’m worried you might not like it,’” Diane remembers. “I asked why, and he told me Mount Pleasant was a small community. We’ve never found it to be small.”

Indeed, the Flemings have built a big world at Central over the past 34 years. Thanks to decades of forging friendships, their life is filled with everything from football to fiction writing to philanthropy – much of which is directed back to the school they love.

Rich taught for 25 years as a CMU math professor, serving 15 years as department chair, before retiring in 2007.

Diane worked nearly 30 years in the school’s Scholarships and Financial Aid office, where she started as a receptionist and retired as the associate director of financial aid in 2012.

They each continue to serve in a variety of civic and church roles and remain fixtures in the stands at Chippewa sporting events.

“I have never regretted moving here,” says Diane, who earned a bachelor’s in political science from CMU in 1992. “Some people say there’s nothing to do, but I can’t find time to do it all.

You choose to be a part of a community or not. For us, it didn’t seem like a choice. We got naturally involved, and it’s really been great.”

The Flemings have financially supported CMU athletics, public broadcasting and the Charles V. Park Library – which recently ordered “Wetzel,” the historical fiction novel Rich penned in 2015.

In 2007, the couple helped establish the Fleming Lecture Series to bring world renowned mathematicians to campus each year. The series has included several winners of the Fields Medal, the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in mathematics.

“It’s been wonderful, especially for graduate students,” says Rich, who earned the Distinguished Service Award from the Michigan Section of the Mathematical Association of America in 2009. “These speakers come in and talk with students and really connect with them.”

A lifelong sports fan, Rich is a member of the selection committee for CMU’s Marcy Weston Hall of Fame, helping to choose the athletes enshrined each fall.

Diane jokes that attending games is part of the couple’s marriage contract, and they’ve more than fulfilled it, rooting on the Chippewas in football, basketball, baseball, wrestling, gymnastics, track and just about any other contest.

In 2012, they were invited to travel on the plane with the Chippewas for a football game at Iowa, where Rich was raised.

“We won that game, and I’ve tried telling them to take me every time – but they haven’t done it again,” he recalls with a laugh.

By Todd Schulz, ‘92

Stan and René Shingles have earned five academic degrees between them. Though none of those diplomas comes from Central Michigan University, there’s no questioning the couple’s devotion to the campus community where they’ve forged their careers for more than 25 years.

“Although I am not an alum, I bleed a little maroon – probably a lot,” René says. “Central Michigan is a special place, and it has been truly an honor and privilege to be a part of this community and to carry on the legacy of the programs we’re involved with.”

René is the chair of CMU’s School of Rehabilitation and Medical Sciences and the director of the athletic training program, which offered the nation’s first major in sports medicine. A licensed and certified athletic trainer who holds a doctorate degree, René has served in her current role about 10 years.

Stan is assistant vice president for university recreation, which includes operating the Student Activity Center.

Together, they fund the Shingles Family Scholarship, which helps three students every year – two who are studying athletic training in René’s program and one student from university recreation. Perhaps more importantly, the Shingles both recruit and mentor CMU students, helping them thrive at the university.

“René and I have very good lives, and to whom much is given, much is expected,” says Stan, who also has chaired CMU’s United Way campaign. “People think giving is always about your treasure. But it’s as much about giving your time and talent as anything.”

Over the years, the Shingles – whose son, Lamar, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from CMU – have connected with hundreds of students through their respective academic programs, their fraternity and sorority affiliations, and their close association with the university’s athletic programs.

Stan worked for nearly 20 years as part of the school’s radio team, broadcasting football and basketball games. That helped them build special relationships with many student-athletes, leaving their office doors open to anyone in need.

Along the way, they’ve formed lifelong bonds with students they now consider family, including former CMU women’s basketball player Vershaun Jones.

“She is the daughter of my heart,” René says. “We could talk about anything – good, bad and ugly. She knew she could come into my office and close the door, and whether we were laughing or crying, that space was sacred for us. We just connected, and we still are to this day.”

For the past seven years, the Shingles have hosted a Labor Day cookout for Central students from the Chicago area, where Stan was raised. The event has grown from six students the first year to 60 in 2016.

Both Stan and René have considered opportunities at other universities during their careers. But their roots simply run too deep at CMU, and they plan to continue giving back, grooming a new generation of Chippewas.

“I did not get to the place I am today without those who mentored me,” René says. “From my undergraduate to my master’s and doctorate education, there were people who took me under their wing at each stage. So I want to give back in that way.”

By Todd Schulz, ‘92

Fall Saturdays in DeLand, Florida, aren’t quite the same as crisp afternoons in the stands at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.

But alumni Gary and Karen Aalbregtse don’t let 1,200 miles stop them from rooting for CMU’s football team. They fly the CMU flag – “nobody down here knows what the heck it is,” Gary says – and fire up digitally streamed broadcasts of the gridiron matchups.

That’s how they were able to see CMU’s comeback upset of Oklahoma State in September.

Well, they watched most of it.

“With about 10 seconds left, I said, ‘Aw, this is no good,’ and I turned it off,” Gary says with a laugh. “About 10 minutes later, Karen came in and said Central won. Say what? I shouldn’t have given up on them.”

Fantastic football finishes aside, the couple has never given up on CMU. In fact, they’ve given back to the university for more than 20 years, donating money to everything from the Charles V. Park Library to band uniforms to the athletic department.

“It’s always felt like the right thing to do,” Karen says. “We talk a lot about CMU sports around here, but that’s not the only reason we’ve given. We both got a great education, and we wouldn’t be where we are today without Central.”

Gary, from Kalamazoo, and Karen, raised in the Saginaw area, started dating at CMU in the early 1970s.

“We met at a church coffee house on University Ave.,” she remembers. “My roommate dragged me there.”

Gary graduated in 1972 with a major in speech and minors in education and political science – and promptly embarked on a successful career in food service sales, first in Michigan and later in Florida.

Karen took a break from school when the couple was married and began a 40-plusyear career in health care. She returned to college in the mid-1980s and earned her degree in administration from Central Michigan in 1994.

Early in their married life, work commitments kept the couple from returning to campus. But they made the trip to Mount Pleasant for homecoming in 1979 to meet friends for the game, and they continued the tradition every year until moving to Florida in 1999.

Gary and Karen were regulars in the stands for football games throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

“We started going to the games again, and I said, ‘I love this,’” Gary remembers. “We joined the Chippewa Club, bought season tickets and got to know the people.”

Today, Gary and Karen, gold members in the CMU Alumni Association, are retired from their careers. Still, Gary stays busy as a high school substitute teacher.

They continue to fly the CMU flag in Florida.

“We’ll always be proud Chippewas,” Gary said.

By Todd Schulz, ‘92


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