Photo at top: Michelle and Kevin Bassett
Supporting innovation in research and education today creates hope for tomorrow. Each Van Andel Institute donor, volunteer and supporter brings their own unique hope, passion and motivation to help further the Institute’s cutting-edge work. In the case of Michelle and Kevin Bassett, they started on different paths, but their end goal has always been the same: to bolster an organization working tirelessly to bring hope and a lasting impact to future generations.
For Michelle Bassett, director of research administration at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, it began when she, her two children, and her first husband, Dwight Reed, moved to Grand Rapids in 1999. Michelle was part of a group recruited from the National Cancer Institute to help VAI get its early start, and she worked directly for the Institute’s founding research director, the late Dr. George Vande Woude.
“I moved here because I believed in Jay Van Andel’s vision, in George Vande Woude’s work,” said Michelle, who worked at the Institute until 2012. “VAI has been such a gift to Grand Rapids and has stimulated so much growth and collaboration.”
One year after their move to West Michigan, Dwight was diagnosed with soft-tissue sarcoma, and passed away only 20 months later.
“Cancer research was my chosen profession, and it became far more real and relevant for me both during Dwight’s illness and after he died,” Michelle said.
In Dwight’s memory, his sister and her husband, Dawn and Darryl Schumaker, launched a memorial golf outing. Held annually for a decade, the event raised more than $80,000 for VAI’s cancer research efforts.
Meanwhile, Kevin Bassett, president of family-owned company Spectrum Industries, began donating to VAI after his brother, Keith, was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma and passed away in December 2013.
“Cancer research already had been near and dear to us, and then when Keith lost his battle with renal cell, it became even more real,” Kevin said.
Kevin and Michelle, who married in 2006, realized their shared passion for cancer research, and soon decided to include VAI in their will. Because of this, they are now included in the Jay and Betty Van Andel Circle of Hope, which recognizes those who have notified us that they have included the Institute in their will or other deferred giving plan.
“What gives us an overwhelming desire to give is the examples of others around Grand Rapids who also give,” Kevin said. “Other people with deeper pockets give freely of their money, and while we know that our pockets aren’t as deep, our contributions absolutely help along the way.”
Their close experiences with disease unfortunately did not end with Keith and Dwight. In August 2017, Michelle was diagnosed with AL cardiac amyloidosis, which affects the heart’s ability to pump blood and is related to a cancer called multiple myeloma. Following seven months of chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant in 2018, Michelle is in remission.
“Receiving those treatments would not have happened without research. It saved my life,” she said. “The work done at VAI in the last 25 years didn’t necessarily impact my specific outcome, but it contributes to a chain of knowledge that opens up new possibilities.”