BY JORDAN DYKSTRA
Even before donating large sums of money for Learning Commons, the DeWitt family has been a household name on campus. The chapel, music hall and theater building were some of the more recent projects completed with large DeWitt contributions. Surprisingly, not a single member of the DeWitt family has ever attended Northwestern.
For Jack and Mary DeWitt, for whom the Learning Commons is named, Northwestern is a special place.
“Whenever we visit this campus, you can really see the difference in the students and staff,” Mary DeWitt said. ”You can see it in their eyes, actions, the respect they show and their love for Jesus. It really sets it apart from other colleges and even other Christian colleges.”
Although none of the DeWitt’s ever attended Northwestern, Jack recalled a time when he visited Northwestern with his father in the 1980s.
“I was working at our Storm Lake turkey plant at the time, and my dad took me with him on a drive to Orange City to see what Northwestern was all about,” Jack said. “We fell in love with the college and with the president, faculty and students. From then on, my parents, four siblings and I have contributed to Northwestern.”
Since their discovery, Jack and Mary have eagerly found ways to send students from the Western Michigan area to Northwestern.
“We enjoy providing scholarships to students that are striving for a Christ-centered education, and we feel that Northwestern is a tremendous opportunity for them to grow,” Mary said.
However, the recruitment within the family is a challenge the couple has taken on.
“We are still working very hard to get a DeWitt to attend Northwestern,” Jack said. “We sent one of our grandsons and five of his friends down last fall for a visit, and although they loved it, they didn’t want to be that far away from home.”
In his youth, Jack took a lot of pride in working at his father’s company, Bill Mar Foods. Bill Mar Foods was a turkey, cow, pig and chicken slaughtering operation that was started in 1938. By 1987, the company was top-three in the nation in turkey production and was sold to Sara Lee Corp.
Jack graduated from Zeeland High School in Zeeland, MI, in 1960 and chose to bypass college to continue working for his father. Although he took away a lot from his education, he said his biggest reward was Mary, his high school sweetheart. Jack and Mary married in 1964 and had five children and have 18 grandchildren.
Currently, Jack is the CEO of Request Foods out of Holland, MI. Request Foods is a division from his father’s business that produces frozen entrées and foods, which Jack purchased back from Sara Lee in 1990. The company employs more than 600 people and produces more than one million pounds of food each day. In 2010, Jack celebrated 50 years of service in the food industry.
“We’ve truly been so blessed over the years, and we feel that Northwestern is a great place to give some of that back to,” Jack said.
Jack and Mary will be in attendance during the dedication of the Learncing Commons at 4 p.m. on Friday.