Press Release

16 Apr 2015

Carol Van Andel and Van Andel Institute honor Michigan-based business leaders

Van Andel Institute awards Leigh’s and The Sharpe family with the 2015 Carol Van Andel Angel of Excellence Award 

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (April 16, 2015) – The third annual Carol Van Andel Angel of Excellence dinner and award presentation takes place on Thursday, April 30, 2015. The event, hosted by Carol Van Andel, Executive Director of the David and Carol Van Andel Foundation, and Van Andel Institute’s (VAI) Board of Governors, honors individuals who have made a significant contribution to the Institute through volunteer service, philanthropy, special event support, innovation or scientific support.

This year the event honors the philanthropic and leadership efforts of two Michigan-based businesses that have helped benefit biomedical research and science education initiatives at Van Andel Institute. Leigh’s, a women’s specialty store, located in Grand Rapids, has been an instrumental supporter of VAI events such as Couture for a Cure, which has helped raise important funds to benefit cancer and neurodegenerative disease research and science education at the Institute. The Sharpe family, Grand Rapids-based entrepreneurs, are owners of the Sharpe Collection, a group of prominent luxury automotive dealerships in West Michigan. The Sharpes are dedicated supporters of Parkinson’s disease research and chair VAI’s Winterfest event which has raised more than $1 million for Parkinson’s disease research at the Institute. Van Andel was instrumental in the creation of this community appreciation event and believes the Institute has a responsibility to honor the accomplishments of those who give of their time and talents to benefit advancements in human health.

“The Angel of Excellence Award is given to individuals who have given of their gifts and abilities to support advancements in human health,” said Van Andel. “It’s important that we acknowledge these powerful examples of philanthropy and honor those who are passionate supporters of life-changing biomedical research and innovative approaches to science education.”

The Leigh’s team will receive the award collectively for their participation in Couture for a Cure, an event that was created by Leigh’s owner, Rebecca Wierda and Van Andel in 2005. The event utilizes the creativity and energy of a high-fashion show to raise funds for the Institute. The Leigh’s team, under the direction of Wierda, has been instrumental in the event’s continued success as a fundraiser that impacts VAI’s mission of research, discovery and hope.

“Rebecca Wierda and the Leigh’s team have helped make Couture for a Cure a powerful fundraiser that benefits biomedical research into cancer and other diseases, as well as science education initiatives that inspire students,” Van Andel said. “I am extraordinarily proud to present Leigh’s with this Angel of Excellence Award for their continued support of Van Andel Institute’s mission.”

The Sharpe family has a special connection to the research conducted at VAI. George Sharpe Sr., the family patriarch who founded the Sharpe Collection, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2009.  His two sons, Blair and George Jr., have both helped their father run the family business, and have also become active participants in supporting Parkinson’s disease research at VAI.

“It’s amazing to see what’s happening at Van Andel Institute right here in Grand Rapids, and it’s wonderful how businesses and non-profits can work together to bring about changes that might impact society as a whole,” said Blair.

The family has rallied together in support of Parkinson’s disease research, leveraging their community connections and business acumen to support a cause that benefits the good of all people.

“Something that never wavers in importance, relative to Parkinson’s disease research, is the passionate commitment of philanthropists and activists who support the researchers in the labs,” Van Andel said. “The Sharpes are dedicated entrepreneurs who have worked hard to create a thriving business, but what makes them truly extraordinary is their ability to come together, as a family, to leverage their success in order to benefit the greater good.”

About Carol Van Andel
A native of West Michigan, Carol is widely recognized for her commitment to education, children’s issues, health and human services and the arts, as well as her ability to bring people together in support of organizations that provide essential quality of life services to those in need.

Carol serves as Director of the David and Carol Van Andel Foundation and through her extensive involvement as a volunteer and board member, Carol has, for decades, provided leadership and support to dozens of West Michigan and national organizations. Carol is a member of the Davenport University Governing Board, a member of Van Andel Education Institute’s Advisory Council, and a board member of Grand Action, the Public Museum of Grand Rapids Friends Foundation, the YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids and a member of the advisory board to the campaign cabinet of Wedgwood Christian Services.