West Michigan Businessman Peter Wege Dies At Age 94
Peter Wege, the son of the co-founder of Steelcase, has died. He was 94.
The Metcalf and Jonkhoff Funeral Service website says that Peter Wege died July 7, but does not list a cause of death.
Wege took became the Steelcase vice chairman after his father’s death more than 60 years ago, and built his fortune as the popularity of metal furniture grew. He used that fortune to give back to the community.
Wege was the lead donor to the Wege Center at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s. The Wege Center is an alternative, holistic center focused on patient healing. Wege was also a big supporter of Grand Rapids Public Schools, The Grand Rapids Ballet, and he donated $20 million dollars to the Grand Rapids Art Museum.
Metcalf & Jonkhoff Funeral Service posted the following obituary on their website:
Peter Melvin Wege fulfilled his life’s mantra by doing all the good he could for as many people as he could for as long as he could before he died July 7, 2014 to join his revered parents Peter Martin and Sophia Louise Wege. Born in Grand Rapids on February 19, 1920, this unassuming philanthropist and environmental visionary lived ninety (plus) full years of loving his family, his friends, his country, and his fellow man. A business man, Wege coined the word economicology to define his advocacy for striking the right balance between a healthy ecology and a profitable economy. He wrote two books titled ECONOMICOLOGY, the first in 1998, the sequel in 2010. In both books Wege wrote his version of the Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not commit abuse against the environment, but rather honor it with respect for sustaining life…Wege was also a poet, photographer, painter, and accomplished athlete.
He is survived by his children: Mary Goodwillie Nelson; Susan Carter; Peter Martin Wege II; Chistopher Henry Wege; Diana Wege Sherogan; Johanna Osman; Jonathan Michael Wege; 17 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
Peter Wege’s father co-founded Metal Office Furniture in 1912 – today’s Steelcase, the world’s largest office-furniture manufacturer. As an only child, Peter M. Wege always made sure people knew it was his father’s innovative genius that provided the wealth that he gave away to make life better for countless people in his home town and beyond. When Peter Wege gave his largest single gift to build the new Grand Rapids Art Museum, the GRAM board asked to rename it the Wege Art Museum. Peter’s response was typical. “This art museum belongs to the people of Grand Rapids, not the Wege family, and that’s how the name will stay.”
Peter M. Wege graduated from Brown Military Academy in San Diego in 1938 and from Lake Forest Academy in 1940. He entered the University of Michigan in 1940 where he set a freshman track record in the javelin throw that held up for half a century. After Pearl Harbor, Wege enlisted in the Army Air Force and served his country as a First Lieutenant multi-engine pilot until 1946.
Wege joined Steelcase in 1946, working in a series of executive posts including sales, research, design, and as an officer of the Board of Directors and the Steelcase Foundation Board. He retired as Vice Chairman of the Steelcase Board in 2000. Peter’s visionary influence on Steelcase put the manufacturer on the map as one of the world’s earliest environmental manufacturers. Peter’s prophetic view of preserving Earth’s finite resources led to Steelcase becoming renowned for its environmentalism long before “green” became mainstream.
In 1967, he created The Wege Foundation with the first project to clean up the water, air, and land in West Michigan through his new Center for Environmental Study. While best known for his environmentalism, as CEO of The Wege Foundation Peter’s favorite dictum was to “Educate! Educate! Educate!” He gave generously to educational causes – both Catholic and public – supporting the youth he cared so much about: Aquinas College, Grand Rapids Public Schools, University of Michigan, Blandford Nature Center and Earth University.
His active community service began in 1958 as President of St. Mary’s Hospital Board; state President of the American Cancer Society; Co-chairman: Calder Sculpture: 1969; President Grand Rapids Art Museum; Advisory Board Chairman Franciscan Life Process Center; Chairman National Pollution & Prevention Center, University of Michigan; President: Michigan Botanic Garden Foundation; Trustee: South East Economic Development Association; Chairman Aquinas College Board of Trustees.
Among his many honors, Peter was particularly proud of honorary doctoral degrees from the University of Michigan, Aquinas, and Saint Mary’s Hospital. National Wildlife Federation’s Conservation Achievement Award 2001: Honorary Doctoral Degrees from Aquinas College and St. Mary’s Hospital; Winner of Russell G. Mawby Award for Philanthropy 2006; National Wildlife Federation’s President’s Council; Founder: Economicology Collaboration University Conferences; Driving Force behind Muskegon River Watershed Partnership; Winner of the 2007 Paul G. Goebel Distinguished Alumni in Athletics Award; Grand Rapids First Honorary Fire Chief 2007; Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree: University of Michigan 2007; David Smith Humanitarian Award 2009, American Institute of Architects/W. Michigan; Senior Neighbors 2009 Twilight Humanitarian Award
Community Service: President Board of Trustees St. Mary’s Hospital: 1958 State President American Cancer Society: 1959 Founder (1969)/ Trustee: Center for Environmental Study Co-chairman: VandenBerg Center Calder Sculpture: 1969 President (1975)/Honorary Board Member: Grand Rapids Art Museum President: Doran Foundation, St. Mary’s Hospital: 1984.
Visitation will be on Thursday, July 10 from 6:00 – 9:00 PM at the Cathedral of St. Andrew. Funeral Mass will be celebrated on Friday, July 11 at 10:30 AM at the Cathedral of St. Andrew. Private interment to follow at Graceland Mausoleum.