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VAI Voice

The Official Blog of Van Andel Institute
1 Nov 2016

A donor’s story: Anything is possible — R. George Mickel

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Van Andel Institute Board of Governors member and philanthropist, the late R. George Mickel, wasn’t subtle when he talked about Van Andel Institute. Mickel believed passionately that the Institute has an undeniably important role to play in the future of human health and that it is an incredible gift to humanity.

“Only through research and education can humanity advance toward a better future,” Mickel said. “I really believe that Van Andel Institute and its work on cancer and other diseases and its dedication to science education is a gift to future generations.”

Philanthropy for Mickel was not merely an act of generosity or goodwill, it was a way of life.

As a young boy growing up in Toledo, Ohio, during the Great Depression, Mickel witnessed the devastation of poverty on his neighborhood. He also had the opportunity to take part in the Boys and Girls Club, where he received mentoring and learned how to be part of a community. He later became a camp counselor and helped children who, like Mickel, grew up without much money or many opportunities.

“It was a place for poor kids coming out of the Depression. I was a camp counselor and helped other kids like myself. I enjoyed it immensely,” Mickel said. “The experience gave me a sense of the beauty of humanity and the importance of helping others.”

Mickel went on to serve in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II and pursued a successful career with the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. After retiring, Mickel reflected on the generosity and kindness he was shown as a young boy in Ohio.

In what Mickel called the “autumn of his life,” he joined the Grand Rapids Police Department as a senior volunteer, was an active member of numerous boards, including the Boys and Girls Club, and began his philanthropic work with Van Andel Institute. Even though he had experienced great success, Mickel recognized that his accomplishments were made possible because of the guidance he received from those who gave of their time and treasure when he was growing up.

Van Andel Institute is something I am very proud to be involved with, because its mission represents faith, hope and knowledge that lead to the end goal of improving the health and well-being of humanity. – R. George Mickel

“What we do and what we are thankful for really defines the moral fiber of our lives,” Mickel said. “Volunteering and being active in my community brought me back to where I come from, gave me a strong sense of purpose and taught me a lot about honor, integrity and personal values.”

As a man wise with experience, it was not prestige or material possessions that Mickel valued — it was the optimism, spiritual faith and the joy of giving back. One of Mickel’s favorite sayings was “anything is possible.” As a former member of the Institute’s Board of Governors and committed donor, Mickel was confident that his contributions and relationship with Van Andel Institute would help educate the next generation of great scientists and lead to the next discovery that could change the way cancer or neurodegenerative diseases are treated.

“Van Andel Institute is something I am very proud to be involved with, because its mission represents faith, hope and knowledge that lead to the end goal of improving the health and well-being of humanity,” Mickel said. “I have always believed that if we use the abilities and experiences God gives us to do good in the world, anything is possible.”

This story was posted in honor and memory of the late R. George Mickel.