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Gillett Society Donor Spotlight: Carl & Claudia '78, '90 Bajema

Gillett Society Donor Spotlight: Carl & Claudia '78, '90 Bajema

Tell us about yourselves. Where did you grow up? How did you meet?

Claudia: Both of us grew up in West Michigan, Carl in Wyoming and myself in Spring Lake. We met at Grand Valley, which is one reason the university is so important to us. Carl was a professor, and I was a non-traditional student.

How did you both first get 'introduced' to Grand Valley?

Carl: I was completing a Ph.D. at Michigan State University late in 1963. I was excited that a college was founded in West Michigan, and the idea of participating in the formation of the college was very appealing.

Claudia: I was a high school student in Spring Lake when the college opened. I joined Grand Valley as a non-traditional student, forever grateful for the opportunity to complete a degree with the constraints of single parenting and living in West Michigan.

Carl, you were a professor of biology for over 40 years. What was the best part about teaching at Grand Valley?

Carl: I developed friendships with so many faculty and students. In the early days, I partnered with a number of faculty colleagues on student field trips. Some of my fondest memories are of field trips with Fred Bevis to The Smoky Mountains and the Upper Peninsula. Sadly, Fred and other special friends have passed away. I often hear from students about how meaningful those trips were to them and the difference it made in their lives.

What are some of your favorite places on campus?

Carl: I taught in Allendale, and as an ecologist, my favorite place is the Ravines.

Claudia: I worked downtown, and my favorite places are the Seidman Center and Eberhard Center riverfronts. I thoroughly enjoyed the seasonal and sometimes daily changes in the river, especially the ice break-up in early spring.

What is your favorite quote?

Carl: For as long as we can remember, the following quote has been on the refrigerator and has, perhaps, inspired some of our gifts:

"One hundred years from now, it will not matter how much money I had in the bank, what sort of house I lived in, or the clothes I wore… but the world may be different, because I was important in the life of a child." -Forest E. Witcraft

You established the Carl and Claudia Bajema Grand Rapids Urban Schools Endowed Scholarship. What inspired you to create this?

Carl: We have lived in Grand Rapids for nearly 40 years. Our youngest four children attended Grand Rapids Public Schools. Over those years, both of us have volunteered in a variety of capacities, including Claudia serving on the Grand Rapids Board of Education. We are so aware of the financial challenges of many inner-city families and saw, firsthand, that the cost of a college education for many GRPS students, including our children's friends and classmates, was prohibitive. We hope that the scholarship will make a Grand Valley State University degree a little more attainable for students.

Why did you decide to make a planned gift? Why do you think it's important to give back to Grand Valley?

Claudia: We wanted to ensure that even when we are gone, we continue to support Grand Valley's mission. We take such pride in being part of this amazing institution, and we feel that it has given us so much. We are at a point in our lives that we are able to give back.

What would you say to encourage others to give back?

Carl: Together we made Grand Valley what it is, each of us contributing time and talent and giving of ourselves in our own unique ways. Now, together we must ensure its future.