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Michigan Gateway Community Foundation giving $10,000 to nursing project

Michigan Gateway Community Foundation is contributing $10,000 toward Southwestern Michigan College’s nursing and health education expansion. Founded in Buchanan in July 1978, Gateway serves southern Berrien County and all of Cass County with a mission of “fostering a community of philanthropy, for good, forever.”

Rob Habicht, president and CEO since 2001, said the four founders, Clark Equipment CEO Walter Schirmer Sr., attorney B.R. Desenberg, car dealer Harry Kennedy and furniture store owner Phil Sexton, understood the potential for a permanent community foundation to support quality of life.

Nearly 40 years later, Habicht said, quality health care and adequately-trained professionals to provide it are among the important considerations in measuring a community’s overall quality of life.

“On one hand, Community Foundation provides scholarships for students, with some seeking a career in a health field. It just makes sense to support the educational facilities these students will attend to learn their skills,” Habicht said. “It all fits together, completing the circle. We feel very fortunate to have SMC close by.”

The foundation’s first partnership of any magnitude was plans made with Buchanan Fine Arts Council to renovate the Tin Shop, which had been part of Clark Equipment’s facilities, into a community arts center which still provides summer theatre.

In 1982, $21,000 was committed to the project the foundation primarily focused on for three years.

For the rest of the ’80s activities included scholarship loans, grants to community projects such as downtown Christmas lights, Buchanan High School exchange tours and Area Recreation Board support.

In 1986, Unity Hospital’s sale endowed the foundation with assets “to provide scholarships and other support with relation to medical and health-related education and service.”

Buchanan Area Foundation trustees received a $590,000 transfer at the Oct. 28, 1988, board meeting.

The ’80s ended with foundation assets exceeding $750,000.

In the ’90s, the foundation diversified and broadened geographically, its assets eclipsing $1 million in mid-1994.

In 1995, discussions with Niles leaders led to the foundation changing its name. Buchanan Area Foundation’s corporation dissolved Oct. 25, 1996, and reorganized as Michigan Gateway Community Foundation.

With formation of the Niles Area Fund, two component funds existed within the foundation.

The following year, Cass County leaders requested a third component, the Cass County Community Fund, finalized Feb. 20, 1997.

The combined fund balance for the three geographic funds, each with its own board, was $2.2 million.

There are now 135 separate funds, with new ones added every year.

The foundation’s largest single gift transferred in 2016 from the estate of Walter Schirmer Jr., son of the co-founder.

The gift, in excess of $7 million, funds the Buchanan Promise, a place-based scholarship for Buchanan High School graduates.

This gift increased the foundation’s endowment assets to more than $18 million.

Community foundations, which cover all 83 Michigan counties with annual grantmaking topping $164 million, originated in Cleveland.

The Midwest accounted for 47 percent of 734 community foundations in 2010.

SMC Foundation insures all eligible students have financial access to college education.

This non-profit, tax-exempt corporation established in 1970 bridges the financial gap between students’ needs and resources with scholarships.

This year the foundation embarked on a $2.6 million major gift initiative to provide funding for the Nursing and Health Education Building expansion on the Dowagiac campus.    

To learn more about the foundation's major gift initiative and support changing lives, visit

Or, contact Executive Director Eileen Toney at: SMC Foundation, 58900 Cherry Grove Road, Dowagiac, MI 49047; (269) 782-1301; or