Lettinga, Wilbur (Bill), Sr.
By Jennifer Morrison (MI-Stories.com)
S.O.U.L. of Philanthropy
The child of Michigan farmers, Wilbur Lettinga went to a one-room schoolhouse. He discovered a love of math in high school, which led him to Davenport Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and then on to a career in accounting. He graduated from Davenport in 1955 and, not long after, opened his own public accounting firm. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he started a business that sold lasers used in construction and another business that developed mobile home parks. He became a philanthropist, especially toward Butterworth Hospital and Davenport University, and supported many other community causes.
Bill Lettinga grew up on a farm in Moline, Michigan. He went to a one-room school as a child and then graduated from Wayland High School. In high school, he discovered he loved math. He moved to Grand Rapids to attend (what was then called) Davenport Institute, completing their business and accounting program in 1955. After college, he worked as an accountant for two years before opening Lettinga & Associates, his own public accounting firm. In 1968, he co-founded Laser Alignment, Inc., which deals in lasers used in construction, and sold the company in 2001. He also collaborated with his sons, Bill, Jr. and Michael, to run Kentland Corporation, a development company that owns and manages mobile home parks and office buildings.
An alumnus of Davenport Institute, Lettinga became a major benefactor of the institution later in life when it became a university. He has also given large contributions to medical organizations in Grand Rapids. He owned several successful businesses and actually pioneered the laser technology used in construction. Bill Lettinga has been very generous with his time and money in Grand Rapids, especially with Hope Network, Butterworth Hospital, and Davenport University.
Ties to the Philanthropic Sector
Bill Lettinga initiated the Hope Network Foundation in 1987. The Coral Lettinga Campus at Hope Network is named for Lettinga’s granddaughter. He was a founding member of the Butterworth Foundation board. After becoming involved with Butterworth, he donated the funds that made the Lettinga Cancer Center possible. The Center was completed in 1996, and Lettinga’s gift also allowed for an endowment for cancer research and prevention.
He was a major benefactor to Davenport University. He served on its board for over 30 years, including 14 years as chairman. The W. A. Lettinga Business Training Center at Davenport opened in 1986. The forty-three acre W. A. Lettinga campus in Caledonia was dedicated in 2005. Lettinga has also served on many other community boards, including Hospice of Michigan.
Key Related Ideas
Lettinga was born into a farming family in Michigan. He pursued his love of math in school and in a career in accounting. He was a successful businessman who believed in giving back to the community through involvement and philanthropy. His gifts have benefited education and medical organizations.
Important People Related to the Topic
- Fred Kamminga: Kamminga owned a car wash in Grand Rapids and hired Lettinga while the latter was still in high school. Kamminga is the one who suggested Davenport Institute to Lettinga. The car wash became a client of Lettinga’s when Lettinga had his own accounting firm. Later in life, Lettinga purchased Kamminga’s car wash.
Related Nonprofit Organizations
- Hope Network is a non-profit Christian organization founded in 1963 to empower people with disabilities or disadvantages to achieve their highest level of independence. (http://www.hopenetwork.org/)
- Hospice of Michigan provides comprehensive care to people with acute chronic illness and support to their loved ones. http://www.hom.org/
Related Web Sites
- Davenport University: The W.A. Lettinga campus is one of many locations of this West Michigan university. http://davenport.edu
- Kentland Corporation: W.A. Lettinga founded Kentland Communities in 1971 with the development of the first community, Pinebrook Village in Grand Rapids. In less than 35 years, Kentland grew to 20 manufactured housing communities with approximately 6,000 home sites. http://www.kentland.com/ Find information about the history of the business Bill owns and operates with his sons.
- Leica-Geosystems: Lettinga sold his laser business to Leica. Go to their website to read about lasers used in construction. https://www.buy.leica-geosystems.com/
- Spectrum Health: Inpatient cancer care is provided at the Lettinga Cancer Center, located on the fifth floor of the Butterworth Hospital, and the first floor of the Blodgett Hospital. http://www.spectrum-health.org/cs/Satellite?c=eHA_Content_C&cid=1159374686154&pagename=Spectrum_Health_Core%2FSpectrum_Core_Central_Template
Bibliography and Internet Sources
Maine, Donald. Maine Street: A Tribute to 27 West Michigan Entrepreneurs. Boston MA: Pearson Custom, 2002. ISBN-13: 9780536679918.
Clipping file and oral history in the SOUL of Philanthropy collection in the Grand Rapids History and Special Collections of the Grand Rapids Public Library
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