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The Wege Foundation CEO to Receive Honorary Degree from Aquinas

Ellen M. Satterlee, chief executive officer of The Wege Foundation, will receive a Doctor of Public Service, Honoris Causa at Aquinas College’s 2013 commencement ceremonies.

Satterlee’s involvement with The Wege Foundation began in 1988. She had worked in the human resources department of Steelcase, where she first met Peter Wege. He had started The Foundation in his parents’ honor, and when he retired from Steelcase, he asked Satterlee to join him in running The Foundation.

Twenty-five years later, Aquinas is honoring her support of sustainability. When she learned she would receive this degree, Satterlee said, “I was just shocked, literally shocked. There are so many people who deserve to be recognized. I’m so humbled.” She considers the opportunity to work at The Wege Foundation an honor in itself. “When I look back on any one week, the number of organizations and lives I’ve touched is great. It’s just wonderful.”

During Satterlee’s tenure as CEO, The Wege Foundation has contributed greatly to Grand Rapids’ reputation as an environmentally conscious city. They were involved with the construction of the Grand Rapids Art Museum’s new facility, the first LEED-certified art museum in the world. The Wege Foundation also funded geothermal testing at the site of the Downtown Market, a center for local agriculture and culinary arts, which is scheduled to open this summer. The market is built from recycled wood and concrete, and is the nation’s first market to receive a gold LEED certification.

Satterlee said that one of the most important changes she oversaw for The Wege Foundation was to prepare Wege’s children and grandchildren for leadership positions at The Foundation. “We’ve been involved in transition from Mr. Wege being the only decision-maker,” she said. Satterlee is confident that The Foundation’s younger leaders have the talent and passion to sustain its work.

Satterlee served on the College’s board of trustees for ten years. Her appreciation of the College was partly shaped by that of Wege himself. “He’s a big believer in Catholic education,” Satterlee explained. “He says, ‘Aquinas College is a small jewel in the heart of our city.’”

Wege started The Foundation in 1967. Since the Grand Rapids area had supported the success of his father, who founded Steelcase, he wanted to reinvest that money in the community that had blessed his family.

Wege is best known to the Aquinas community for working to raise funds for several construction projects during the 1950s and 1960s, including Albertus Magnus Hall, Regina Hall, St. Joseph the Worker Hall, and the student center that bears his name. He also had a hand in the college arriving at its current location in 1945. “Mr. Wege walked the property with the realtor before Aquinas bought it,” Satterlee said.

Aquinas’s commitment to sustainability, which has become part of the college’s character, also traces back to Wege. He was instrumental in making Aquinas the country’s first college with an undergraduate program in sustainable business. Wege believes that caring for the environment isn’t just a question of social responsibility, but also a smart business decision.

It’s a legacy that Satterlee is thrilled to participate in. “This is just really good work,” she added.

Satterlee will join the Most Rev. Walter A. Hurley, the bishop of Grand Rapids, in receiving honorary degrees from Aquinas at the College’s 2013 commencement ceremony. Peter M. Perez, president and chief executive officer of Carter Products, Inc., will deliver the commencement address. The ceremony will be held at 2 pm, Saturday, May 4 in the Sturrus Sports and Fitness Center on campus.