Inspiring the Institute — Ann Schoen’s journey with VAI

In the summer of 2002, Ann Schoen sat in her doctor’s office, feet numb, mind racing. A sudden cancer diagnosis had stunned her, and she tried to picture the repercussions. Her husband had been gone for 18 months, and her children, 11 and 13, would have to watch as their mother faced an often debilitating disease. Schoen shared the news with a colleague who met her at the clinic, helped her get on her feet and guided her back to their office at Van Andel Institute.

Schoen’s diagnosis gave her a new perspective on the world of research, elevating her personal investment in VAI’s projects.

“Scientists here truly care about their research, and work to better understand the disease and develop new ways to diagnose and treat it,” Schoen said. The diagnosis furthered her relationship with the Institute, threading her passion with VAI’s mission.

That relationship began six years before her diagnosis, predating the Institute’s official inauguration. Schoen was VAI’s third employee, working alongside scientists to establish connections in a fledging Medical Mile in 1997. The work was foundational — ordering furniture, creating letterheads and establishing contacts — and it made a difference. She was an essential part of building the Institute.

Following VAI’s founding in 1996, Schoen became a senior executive assistant, working with key Institute leaders for more than two decades. Her influence soon expanded beyond strategic support as she became a donor, contributing to memorials and fundraising events. Schoen regularly donates when able and asks friends and family to get involved.

“I’m in awe of what is done at the Institute, the incredible talent that we have,” Schoen said. “You’re seeing scientific publications, researchers getting grants and our researchers becoming sought out speakers around the world — it’s very moving.”