Presidential roast fundraises for good cause
Grand Valley State University’s former first couple, Arend (Don) and Nancy Lubbers, invited some 300 to 400 people to the Thousand Oaks Golf Club of Grand Rapids Wednesday.
Guests were charged $100 per dinner plate and asked to pay another $100 for a plastic light-up ring, and a few were publicly insulted at the end of the night.
In spite of all this, many people thanked the Lubbers for hosting such a party and went home feeling good about the whole thing.
But how can people put up hundreds of dollars, be publicly ridiculed and still leave with a smile on their faces? Through a fundraising, Comedy Central-style roast, of course.
The man of the hour, Don Lubbers, said he felt the event was a success, despite the number of jokes made at his expense.
“Life is very serious, and we have lots of serious things to do and lots of negative things to do, so that when we’re doing something for a good cause, if we can have fun doing it, that’s all the better,” he said. “So, here’s a good cause that needs help, we get a group of people here to kind of make a little fun out of it, and that’s what happens. That’s what we were trying to do, and I think that worked.”
The roast of GVSU’s second president and his wife raised money for Senior Neighbors, a nonprofit organization that aims to improve the lives of senior citizens.
“It’s just wonderful to have so many people come, because what you do this for is to try to raise money for a good cause,” Lubbers said. “Both Nancy and I felt if we were going to give our names to it, we wanted it to be more fun than accolades. We’ve had enough accolades in our life, and this was a more fun way to do it.”
Twilight Shines, the official name of the benefit, is in its sixth year. The dinner and roast raised about $180,000 to support programs hosted by Senior Neighbors, said Bob Barnes, president of the nonprofit.
“We do probably a dozen different things,” Barnes said. “The general theme running through everything we do is helping people connect to the community.”
MONEY, BUILDINGS AND URINALS
Mark Murray, former president of GVSU, was one of the few selected to roast the Lubbers.
“We’re talking about the ‘Donald,’” Murray said. “Not that vulgar, flamboyant one on TV. We’re talking about the real ‘Donald’—the ‘Donald’ who has a way of working his way into our hearts. And the reason why he works his way into our hearts is because he knows it’s the fastest path to our wallets.”
The Lubbers were noted several times throughout the event for their ability to fundraise, even in a context laced with political adversaries.
“Don and Nancy were the masters,” Murray said. “All the Republicans thought they were Republicans, all the Democrats thought they were Democrats. What was he doing with the faculty and the deans? My own sense of it is I think he promised everybody a building.”
The room was full of prominent people, some of whom have GVSU buildings or other facilities named after them. GVSU graduate and Ionia Mayor Dan Balice was among them.
“Just in the room tonight, we have Secchia Hall, represented in Secchia; Murray, Van Steeland and Niemeyer Living Centers; Padnos Hall of Science and Nancy Lubbers Stadium,” said Balice, who acted as the roast’s master of ceremonies. “If you’ve ever been to Kistler Hall, go to the fourth floor, men’s lavatory, third stall, it’s the Balice toilet. Cost me 50 bucks, and Tom Haas tells me tonight, there are still naming opportunities for the urinals.”
Political slights and jokes aside, the event was held to raise awareness and funds about serious matters.
“Of the roughly 100,000 seniors in Kent County, nearly 20 percent of them live in, or near poverty putting them at greater risk of needing our support,” Barnes said. “At the same time older adult demographic is soaring, financial support for many senior services is waning.”
Alzheimer’s, dementia, financial hardships and emergency expenses, or even something as simple as giving up a set of car keys, can lead seniors to feeling a loss of independence. Often times, the death of a long-term spouse can be one of the hardest things seniors face.
“The pain from the death of a spouse of 40, 50, 60 years is really an earth-shattering event for some of these seniors,” Barnes said. “So all of these things can lead to isolation, loneliness and really soul-crushing anxiety, which is made worse because seniors don’t know what to do and they don’t know where to turn for help.”
Senior Neighbors tries to provide people with services and help seniors make social connections.
“If you retire and suddenly people aren’t calling you, they’re not emailing you, those connections tend to dry up over time,” Barnes said, adding that the isolation can have negative effects on individuals’ well-beings. “We want to keep people involved and keep them healthy.”
Additionally, the organization provides transportation, operates a number of senior centers in the area, and orchestrates a lot of health and wellness programs.
Lubbers had previously served on the leadership council for Senior Neighbors, which was how the roast came to be.
“We want to honor someone who has done good things for the community,” Barnes said. “(The event was) very successful, lots of fun, very entertaining, and (it) did a great job raising money for a great cause.”
Though the event wasn’t directly aimed at the GVSU community, it did bring together a number of individuals associated with the university.
“I think humor, when it’s done in this regard, is in the great spirit in which it is intended,” said Thomas Haas, current president of GVSU. “It was a great synergistic approach to where we can celebrate the good in people, their accomplishments, and in turn, with our philanthropy, help an organization as we have tonight. It really is a remarkable opportunity for us to come together, have a lot of fun and make a difference in other people’s lives.”