Honoring Andy Lubbers

GVL / Courtesy - Amanda Pitts
Don Lubbers talks about the be nice fund during a news conference on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017.

Amanda Pitts

GVL / Courtesy – Amanda Pitts Don Lubbers talks about the “be nice” fund during a news conference on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017.

Ashlyn Korienek

Nearly six months ago, tragedy struck former President of Grand Valley State University Emeritus Arend “Don” Lubbers and his wife, Nancy, when their son Andy Lubbers, 43, committed suicide after battling mental illness and depression for decades.

Transforming grief into community outreach, the Lubbers recently started the “Andy Lubbers be nice. Memorial Fund” in support of Kent County school districts that adopt the “be nice.” program.

After their son’s death Friday, Sept. 9, 2016, Don Lubbers said Andy’s former classmates from around the country expressed their condolences and were impacted by his profound kindness toward others.

“We have taken action to assuage our grief and honor the good qualities of our son,” Don Lubbers said. “With all his troubles, there was an aspect of his character that relates to an objective of the be nice. program.”

In a letter, he said Andy asked others to remember him for his positive qualities. The be nice. program embodies these traits, which Lubbers announced Tuesday, Feb. 21, at the GVSU Seidman Center on the Pew Campus.

“Being nice was his hallmark. His mother and I want to remember that,” he said. “Giving to the be nice. program in Kent County is our way of doing it.”

As a way to reduce depression and suicide, the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan started be nice. for k-12 students, parents and faculty to identify mental illness and take the necessary steps toward preventive action. The Grand Rapids Community Foundation accepted a gift from the Lubbers’ to establish the memorial fund.

Christy Buck, executive director of the Mental Health Foundation, said the program is operated around the core principles “Notice, Invite, Challenge and Empower” enacted to change lives.

Acting as motivation behind the program, Buck said 50 percent of mental health disorders are present before the age of 14, while 75 percent are found by the age of 24. The program focuses on anti-bullying and creates a safe environment for all community members through awareness.

“That’s a very vulnerable population. We have a lot of evidence this is creating an impact,” Buck said. “We have great reviews about be nice., the model and the sustainability, especially if you create an entire district using the same language. ‘Notice, Invite, Challenge and Empower’ is continuing that conversation.”

Currently the program is established at 100 schools, said Ron Caniff, superintendent of the Kent County Intermediate School District. The Andy Lubbers fund will expand that reach into Kent County. In addition, Buck said the program has stretched beyond West Michigan, as well.

Shaun Shira, major and planned gift director for the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, said the Lubbers were connected to be nice. though Jeff Elhart, a Holland businessman who started three funds in Oceana, Ottawa and Muskegon Counties for his brother, Wayne, who killed himself in 2015.

“Jeff (Elhart) has been on a mission to get the be nice. program into schools in West Michigan,” Shira said. “It has had some pretty great successes. Andy passed away six months ago and this is just a great way to honor and to memorialize him.”

Those interested in donating can visit www.givegr.org/benice, or checks can be made payable to the Grand Rapids Community Foundation in name of the “Andy Lubbers be nice. Memorial Fund.”

Expanding the local reach to GVSU, a Laker chapter of be nice. was recently started on campus. Find out more about the organization and its meeting times on Orgsync.