As President of the Lakeshore Excellence Foundation, I would like to dedicate this Chairman’s Letter to a great friend who we recently lost.
Merlin Hanson was a great friend of the LEF and had also become a personal friend. Merlin and his family represent the largest contributors to our Foundation and I will share the story regarding how Merlin became a contributor. Upon being asked and accepting the role of LEF President, we developed a fundraising campaign based on face to face communications and the request for a specific financial contribution. I had met and had social conversations with Merlin a couple of times but this was going to be the first real business discussion that we would have.
Merlin and I met at Papa Vino’s for lunch and after discussing our backgrounds we moved into the LEF discussion. Merlin was tough and straight forward with his questioning of why he should make an investment in the LEF. I talked about Lakeshore students and their education and how much better we could make that based on our potential projects. After feeling like I really wasn’t making much progress, I said … ”Merlin, I have been accountable for millions of dollars of investment at Whirlpool for the last 39 years and I think that I had a pretty good track record on those investments. Just because I retired, I’m not going to start making dumb decisions with the LEF money!” He asked me how much I was after from him and I indicated a 5 figure amount annually. He looked at me with a smile, held out his hand for a shake, and said … ”We have a deal.” Each year after that we would have lunch and catch up with one another but he always wanted to know the LEF money was being wisely spent (my part of the deal) and he would then pass on a check (his part of the deal).
His interest in the LEF and the students at Lakeshore continued to grow over the years as illustrated by these three (3) examples. Shortly after our initial lunch at Papa Vino’s, Merlin invited me to his office and introduced me to his four (4) children … each of which are Lakeshore graduates. He talked about his commitment, his support of the LEF and then left me with the children to give a presentation regarding the LEF. Each of the children are now Lancer Leader level contributors to the LEF.
After the Oxford, Michigan, school shooting, I was contacted by the Hanson’s asking about any necessary safety investments at Lakeshore. This conversation led to an additional 5 figure contribution for a revised door locking system at the high school.
The biggest contribution of all was the support for the entire PLC (Professional Learning Communities) project.
This was part of a $720,000 project investment that the LEF announced at the March 2022 Board of Education meeting. The day after this announcement received front page coverage in the Herald Palladium, as Merlin and his wife Carolyn were having coffee that morning, they became very interested in this particular project due to the impact on all of the students. I received a call later that day from the Hanson’s and was very humbled by their commitment to fund the PLC portion of the project.
Maybe it’s a coincidence that the day 45 Lakeshore teachers and administrators were attending the PLC Conference in Grand Rapids happened to be the day that Merlin passed. The impact that Merlin and his family have had on our school and community is perhaps indescribable in words. He was first a gentleman, a very successful businessman, and then became a great philanthropist. Merlin’s passion for the arts, education, and economic development of our area led to the contribution of millions of dollars into these areas. Our community has certainly become a much better place to live and work as a result of Merlin Hanson.
Even though I was already retired from Whirlpool when I really started dealing with Merlin, I wish that I had met him much earlier in my life. He would have been a great mentor and I would have been much wiser from our conversations. Farewell and thank you my dear friend Merlin.
J.C. Anderson, LEF Board Chairman