Teaching by Example

The De Groot Family Foundation fulfills one couple’s legacy.

Peter and Louise De Groot

Peter and Louise De Groot achieved the American dream, and hand-in-hand with their success was the desire to give back to the country that welcomed them.

Arriving in the United States from the Netherlands in the 1950s, the De Groots became successful through hard work and determination. Today, their legacy lives on through the De Groot Family Foundation.

Peter started a wholesale nursery business, De Groot Inc., in 1957 near their home in southwest Michigan. While helping out in the business as youngsters, the couple’s three children inherited their father’s strong work ethic and unwavering values. 

“My parents believed in education and saw to it that their children and grandchildren had that opportunity,” says the De Groots’ oldest daughter, Shirley Leith. “They felt it was the key to getting places in life.”

The couple also regularly gave to charity.

“They did it because they believed it was the right thing to do,” Shirley says, “and they never wanted any recognition.”

Leith family

The work begun by Louise and Peter De Groot (top photo) continues, thanks to the beneficence of Shirley Leith and her children, Eric and Jessica.

After the De Groots’ son, Ron, lost his battle with cancer in 1985 at the age of 27, the family began to support cancer charities, including St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

St. Jude has become so important to us,” Shirley explains. “The year following my brother’s death, my brother-in-law died of brain cancer. It was a difficult time.”

The family named a diagnostic imaging recovery bay in the St. Jude Chili’s Care Center in tribute to of Ron De Groot and Christopher Leith. The plaque gently reminds patient families and employees to “Believe in Miracles.”

Shirley and her mother established the De Groot Family Foundation to streamline the family’s charitable giving after Peter’s death in the mid-1990s. Mother and daughter served on the foundation’s board of directors together with the family’s attorney, a close family friend.

Louise lived to see the next generation of her family share in her devotion to charity when Shirley’s two children, Jessica and Eric Leith, joined the foundation. Shortly before Louise’s death in 2013, the De Groot Family Foundation made a five-year commitment to support the St. Jude Brain Tumor Program.

Although Shirley has not yet visited the hospital in person, her daughter, Jessica, had the opportunity to tour the facility.

If a child has to be sick, what a wonderful place to be.

Jessica Leith

“She felt it was an amazing place,” Shirley shares. “Her reaction was, ‘If a child has to be sick, what a wonderful place to be.’”

Since retiring from the family business, Shirley and her husband, Mike, frequently travel to Seattle to visit Jessica and their baby granddaughter.

“Our kids are our greatest pride and joy,” Shirley says. “I hope they will carry on the foundation. They have become a big part of it. I’m especially proud of them for continuing the legacy that my parents taught by example.”

Abridged from Promise, Spring 2015

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