A donor’s story: Love at first sight — Robin and Mike Schwark

Robin met Mike Schwark during their junior year at the University of Michigan. Robin was the business manager of the university’s hockey band and Mike a young saxophone player. On the first day of rehearsal, Robin noticed Mike looking at her from across the room, and when their eyes met, it was love at first sight.

Mike and Robin were married on Halloween. It was a day picked by coincidence, but instead of changing the date, the two embraced the craziness of the holiday and incorporated costumes and decoration into their wedding reception. Mike was a gorilla and Robin was Groucho Marx. Their wedding was the beginning of a beautiful family that would grow to include three sons and serve as a source of strength during Mike’s battle with brain cancer.

Mike passed away in the family home on October 27, 2014 — four days before their anniversary. After Mike’s passing, Robin received an outpouring of support from friends and those who had known Mike professionally. Mike, a financial advisory at Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC, had developed a network of hundreds of clients that he treated like family. His long-time business partner and friend, Barbara Paneral, was one the speakers at Mike’s funeral.

“When Mike died in 2014, Barbara and the employees in Mike’s office wanted to honor him, so they hosted fundraisers throughout 2015 to collect funds for Van Andel Institute,” Robin said. “It started out with a pancake breakfast, because Mike loved pancakes, and the fundraisers took off from there.”

Mike’s co-workers raised more than $10,000 to benefit brain cancer research at the Institute, and Mike’s name was added to VAI’s donor wall during the Leadership and Legacy event in May 2016.

Robin is encourages by the Institute’s work in brain cancer and is please that the fund collected in her husband’s memory went directly to fund research. “The more I read, the more I discovered that there is real lack of funding for brain cancer research,” Robin said. “When I found out that the Institute was studying brain cancer, I was thrilled.”

Mike Schwark was a proud father, a loving husband and a person who touched many lives. Robin believed his legacy is evident in the way he lived, up until the very last moment. “Mike always said, ‘Whatever can be learned from my experience will help the next person with this cancer,’” Robin said. “He was never angry, nor said, and he showed our boys how to live during adversity — with love, faith and humor. It was a glorious marriage.”


Memorial gifts are a fitting tribute to a cherished loved one. To learn more about establishing a memorial or tribute fund or designating the Institute for memorial gifts, please click here or contact Lawrence Rush at lawrence.rush@vai.org or 616.234.5552.