Grosfelds’ commitment and innovation impact health care and the Jewish community’s future

The Jewish News
Shari Cohen

Shari Cohen

Nancy and James “Jim” Grosfeld are leading Jewish philanthropists who give from “the heart and the head” to help others. They clearly respect each other’s favorite causes but especially enjoy their shared charitable initiatives.

In addition, Nancy, 73, a former social worker and nurse, says she tends to approach philanthropy more emotionally and “hands-on” while Jim takes a more cerebral perspective. She focuses on Jewish organizations, especially “vulnerable populations, Jewish education and community building.”

Nancy also loves animals and is an active supporter of animal rights. They have 14 pets, and Nancy was Michigan Humane Society  president for 10 years.

Jim, 80, a lawyer, business executive and former CEO of PulteGroup Inc., concentrates his philanthropy on hospitals, medical research and academic institutions. Together, they share strong commitments to improving health care and helping the Jewish community — not only with current needs but to ensure a better future.

Improving Medical Care
One example of their forward-looking approach is Beaumont’s Nancy & James Grosfeld Cancer Genetics Center, which investigates the genetic basis for cancer and tests individuals for potential cancer risk.

Nancy was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 and treated at Beaumont Hospital. Cancer had already touched her — nine of the 13 children in her mother’s family died of cancer, as well as several members of her father’s family.

“Beaumont was our neighborhood hospital, and we wanted to do something that was supportive of the hospital,” Jim says. The hospital provided several proposals and the Gosfelds liked the idea of supporting a cancer genetics center.

“This would be proactive. It’s so important to catch things early,” Nancy explains. Since its establishment, the Cancer Genetics Center has helped many patients with genetic analysis and has exceeded their expectations, they both say.

“They are finding new ways of testing and we decided to increase our gift,” she says, creating the Nancy and James Grosfeld Endowed Chair in Cancer Genetics, which is held by Dana Zahalik, M.D. “We love her. She’s very bright, very dynamic,” Nancy says.

Zahalik describes how this will help patients now and in the future. “We are able to focus on clinical research that helps us to understand the genetic basis and mechanisms of cancer development in high-risk families. Our findings help us to provide optimal screenings and guide us to targeted prevention methods, especially in those with breast, ovarian, pancreatic and colon cancer,” she says.

Zahalik is corporate director of the Grosfeld Cancer Genetics Center and professor of medicine at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine.

Jim also contributes to medical research at Stanford University exploring the causes of depression. The Grosfelds have also donated to Johns Hopkins University to advance pancreatic cancer research.

“I believe medical innovations and discovery have contributed to how we care for our citizens and that is changing and will change 50 years from now,” he says. A graduate of Amherst College, he endowed a professorship there and supports scholarships. Nancy is on the board of the College for Creative Studies.

Jewish Community Support
But it is the Jewish community, here and nationally, that has inspired their strongest volunteer and philanthropic support.

Jim has been a member of the national committee of the Anti-Defamation League. Nancy has served on the boards of JARC, Jewish Hospice and Chaplaincy Network, the Jewish Fund and the American Joint Distribution Committee, among others.

Urged by friends, she became involved in the Women’s Division of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit (JFMD), eventually becoming campaign chair and then president of the Women’s Division.

Penny Blumenstein, Federation’s first woman president, became a friend and mentor as Grosfeld became more involved in Federation, where they met more than 30 years ago.

“Nancy was so efficient and organized but reluctant to speak in public,” Blumenstein says. “I led her through it. She is a supreme fundraiser. She speaks beautifully and is so sincere.

“It isn’t always easy to challenge yourself and take the next step. I’m so proud of her. She’s a very special lady with a heart of gold.”

In 2008, Nancy became Federation’s second woman president. “I didn’t see it coming and wasn’t politicking for it,” she says.

“It was a difficult time in her own life as she was dealing with breast cancer, but she said the Federation position was the most important thing,” Jim recalls.

Detroit was reeling from the national recession and many members of the Jewish community were struggling with reduced income and limited job prospects. Federation created the Urgent Needs Funds.

A small group of local families contributed $6 million “to fill gaps in the safety net. It was Bob Aronson’s idea,” Nancy says. (Aronson had been Federation CEO and  now is senior development adviser.)

Nancy’s volunteer service for Federation and multiple Jewish agencies led to her 2015 Fred W. Butzel Award for exceptional contributions to the community’s well-being.

Planning For The Future
The Grosfelds’ interest in the Jewish community’s future inspired them to help create two special programs — the Grosfeld Leadership Mission and Federation’s Centennial Fund. They are particularly pleased with the outcomes for the leadership mission to develop future Jewish leaders.

As Jim Grosfeld explains it, Federation sought to expand young people’s involvement in the community and with fundraising. They came up with the idea of a special trip to Israel to educate and motivate future leaders and designed the program with Aronson.

The first Grosfeld Leadership Mission was held in 2002, and is now in its 13th year. (While usually an annual program, there were a few years when it was not held.) Participants are recommended by Federation professionals, lay leaders and mission alumni, says Amy Newman, Federation’s director of leadership development.

In the early years, the group included about 18 individuals in their 30s and early 40s although the age range is now mainly 40s and early 50s. The group spends four days in Poland with visits to the Krakow Jewish Community Center and Auschwitz, and then six days in Israel, including visits to Federation-funded projects such as the Central Galilee Partnership2Gether programs. Participants meet with the Grosfelds before and after the trip.

“They share what they learned, experienced and will do with it,” says Matt Lester, 52, of Bloomfield Hills, who participated in Grosfeld I. He helped plan the second mission and advised for the third trip.

“I was finding my way in the Jewish community and was lucky enough to be asked to go on it,” he says. “It has been a game changer for our community. It created a bench of people who got launched on a Jewish journey.”

Lester has gone on to co-chair Federation’s Israel and Overseas Campaign, co-chair its current campaign and serve on its executive committee. He also is immediate past president of Jewish Senior Life.

“The Grosfeld Mission takes a very thoughtful, strategic approach. It quickly became the program people wanted to participate in,” he says. More than 50 percent have taken leadership roles in the Jewish community.

“I love it because these young people connect to their Jewish roots and develop a love for the state of Israel. Jim likes that they develop a bond and lifelong friendships,” Nancy says.

Federation CEO Scott Kaufman says the Grosfeld Mission has been a “wildly successful cultivator of leadership in the community. It sort of lit the light for people.”

Federation also organizes other focused missions for specific groups, such as the Becker-Marcus, Forman and Blumenstein family-sponsored missions.

The Grosfelds’ commitment to the future is also the basis for supporting Federation’s Centennial Fund. Kaufman describes it as a “concept to secure the community’s future for the next 100 years.” The goal is to provide stability and smooth the ups and downs of annual campaigns through planned giving that creates endowments for future needs.

The Grosfelds were leaders in creating the Centennial Fund, Kaufman says, and made a leadership gift. “They are great philanthropists beyond their gifts, giving their time generously,” he adds. Nancy is current chair of the fund, with $196 million raised toward a goal of $250 million.

“Bob Aronson designed the program with the Grosfelds,” he says. “We are blessed to have them in our community. They are great citizens of the region. They are sort of quiet leaders. They walk the walk. They are committed. They learn. They care. They influence others.”

Penny Blumenstein
Scott Kaufman
Matt Lester
Nancy and Jim Grosfeld, The Grosfelds live in Bloomfield Hills. They have two adult children and six grandchildren
Jim Grosfeld enjoys funding medical research that can change future health care
Nancy Grosfeld is deeply involved in Jewish community leadership. An animal lover, she is with one of their 14 pets
Dana Zakalik

Grosfeld Mission Alumni Lead the Jewish Community:

  • They hold 90 seats on community agency boards.
  • Fifty serve on Federation committees.
  • Fifteen have received Young Leadership Awards.
  • Nine have served as Federation constituent agency presidents.
  • Alumni comprise 10 percent of Federation’s Board of Governors.

Source: JFMD

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