Who Would You Put on Kalamazoo’s Mount Rushmore?
You hear two terms tossed around in sports a lot these days. GOAT and Mount Rushmore. GOAT, for the non-sports fans, is an acronym for “Greatest of All-Time". Mount Rushmore is for choosing four (or so) of the greatest on a particular topic.
But what about Kalamazoo? If we did a Mount Rushmore for Kalamazoo, whose faces would you put on it? That’s where this gets to be fun. The narrowing down process would probably start a good bar or classroom argument or two.
I’ll tell you my selections and then, you tell me yours (or since this 2020, why I’m wrong.)
The first white settler was Titus Bronson, but Native Americans were here from the Hopewell Tribe (Yes, I thought of that, too.) from before the first millennium. Choosing to build a cabin is smart, but I don't know if it qualifies you for our Mount Rushmore. And Bronson has a park named after him, so I took him off the list.
Everyone in Kalamazoo knows the name Westnedge. Col. Joseph Westnedge was a war hero, serving in both the Spanish-American War and World War II, and he was pretty darned good football player for K-College. Westnedge received medals from two countries, The U.S. and France. Tough call here, but he has a major thoroughfare as a consolation prize.
For impact, I have to believe Dr, W.E. Upjohn should be one of the four faces on this Mount Rushmore. The founder of the Upjohn Pharmaceutical Company, not only did the company’s products make countless ailing people feel better, but you can’t forget the philanthropy of both himself and his descendants, even to this day.
From the previous paragraph, you can see there’s a long medical history in this town, and it would be impossible to leave Dr. Homer Stryker off our Mount Rushmore. If you’ve ever had a cast taken off, it was his oscillating saw invention that makes it possible to cut the plaster but not rip the heck out of your skin. Stryker’s name feels like a historical figure, but he lived to 1980, and through his grandchildren, a legacy of philanthropy that to this day, a price tag can’t be put on.
So, the first two faces on this Kalamazoo Mount Rushmore are Dr. Upjohn and Dr. Stryker. This is where this task gets both interesting and hard.
The first name that came to my mind was Derek Jeter. Baseball hero, Hall of Famer, generous in remembering the town he grew up in. You may disagree, but this is the third face to put on this Kalamazoo Mount Rushmore.
Number Four. Yes, that’s the one that will create some disagreement.
Let me throw out some names, and hopefully one will emerge from all the candidates.
The Velvelettes, a Motown singing group from Kalamazoo, that while they didn’t quite make it like the Supremes, they still were very good.
Larry Bell. Bell’s Beer. Enough said.
Former WMU President Elson Floyd. That WMU research and industrial park in many ways saved Kalamazoo’s heiney when Pfizer decimated Upjohn and did a “brain drain” to New Jersey and elsewhere.
Martha Parfet, Gilmore's Department Store, Upjohn heir, co-founder of the Kalamazoo Wings, local philanthropist.
Dave Thomas, lived in Kalamazoo for a while as a child, founded Wendy’s. Advocated for adoptive children, as he was one.
Jim Gilmore, businessman, car dealer, broadcast owner, auto racing owner/sponsor
Suzanne Parish, Upjohn granddaughter, honored aviator, co-founder of the Kalamazoo AirZoo.
Rhonda Styker, Stryker heir and philanthropist.
Jon Stryker, Stryker heir and philanthropist
Jordan Klepper, TV commentator/comedian
Frankie Ballard, Country musician.
Ryan Hurd, singer, songwriter.
Greg Jennings, Football star and Super Bowl winner.
Bobby Hopewell, longtime mayor of Kalamazoo.
Robert Jones, also a longtime mayor of Kalamazoo.
Orville Gibson, Gibson Guitars. Gibson would be a finalist, if the company were still in town. Not his fault, true, but that factors into it.
John Fetzer, founded local TV and radio stations and owned the Detroit Tigers.
And here’s one, literally out of left field, Ella May Wilson was born in Kalamazoo, moved to Virginia as her father fought in the Civil War. There was a lot of death around their lives during the war, so Wilson and her sister began to place flowers on the graves of the fallen from both sides. This eventually became Memorial Day.
So, while we may have missed a name or two, this is a pretty well-populated list. Obviously some have stronger credentials than others, but all are at least in the conversation.
My choice for the fourth position on the Kalamazoo Mount Rushmore comes down to Larry Bell or Martha Parfet. And remember, there's no wrong answer here. The K-Wings are a local jewel, and Gilmore Brothers Department store was a major local retailer, but when you've built the 12th largest brewery in the country, that's quite an accomplishment. The Upjohn-Gilmore dynasty is already represented, so I have to go with Larry Bell.