Banking on a bright future

Isabella Bank's gifts of more than $2.5 million help CMU students access an exceptional education.

| Author: Ari Harris

​You can learn a great deal about an organization from its mission, vision and core values statements.

​When Jae Evans, CEO of Isabella Bank and president and CEO of the Isabella Bank Corp., compared the language of the bank's guiding principles with those of Central Michigan University, he saw a natural alignment of goals.

​"I noticed all the common threads that tie the two organizations together. There's emphasis on leadership and integrity and a shared commitment to excellence and service to the community," he said.

​Isabella Bank has given more than $2.5 million to the university and is a lead donor in the Fire Up for Excellence campaign

​"When you work in a community bank, you focus on the word community," Evans said.

​Healthy communities need five things to thrive, Evans said: education, financial resources, governance, faith and health care. The bank's leaders have chosen to support CMU because it offers solutions for many of those needs. CMU is training the teachers, health care workers, and community and business leaders who will care for this community, as well as our state, and help each other grow and prosper, he said.

Exceptional learning experiences create foundations for successful futures

"We wanted our philanthropic dollars to impact as many students as possible. CMU gave us the ability to make a difference for these students now, while they are on campus, and in their lives in the future," Evans said.

In recent years, the bank has created scholarships for the College of Medicine and the College of Business Administration. It supported construction and improvements in the School of Music, the Fabiano Botanical Garden and the John G. Kulhavi Events Center and contributed to the renovation of Grawn Hall. The bank also donated $1 million to the new CMU Chippewas Champions Alumni Center.
Evans, far left, attended the 2011 groundbreaking ceremony for the Grawn Hall renovation.

"Isabella Bank has been a longtime partner of Central Michigan University and a leader in our community. We are grateful for their continued generosity and support of our students' success," said Bob Martin, vice president of advancement at CMU.

Evans is particularly proud of the bank's investment in the Isabella Bank Institute for Entrepreneurship and of the work done in programs like the New Venture Competition. He and several of his colleagues have served as judges and mentors for the competition.

"Many of the students compete for several years. You can see their growth from one year to the next, how much confidence they've gained and how much they have learned. You know they are learning at a higher level and gaining skills that will serve them in any career they choose to pursue," he said.

Evans said the investment in CMU's College of Business Administration had the added benefit of bringing skilled employees into the bank.

More than 40 CMU alumni work at Isabella Bank, including many members of its leadership team. Sarah Opperman, who serves on the bank's board of trustees; former bank president and CEO, Richard Barz; and Evans himself are proud CMU alumni. The bank also hires and mentors several CMU students each year through its internship program.

The bank's primary goal for giving was to give students access to exceptional learning experiences that would provide a strong foundation for their future success, Evans said.

"We see that happening at CMU year after year. When we look at the statistics about CMU's impact on the community and the state of Michigan, and see how it has grown in reputation, we know we've been successful," he said.

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