Cathy Geerlings

The Indomitable Spirit Scholarship Fund

Cathy Geerlings started her career at Herman Miller as an intern and progressed to Senior Human Resources Consultant. During her 27-year career, she left a positive impact on the lives of many of her colleagues, inspiring them with her indomitable spirit.

Despite facing significant challenges, Cathy was known for living her life in a purposeful way as a servant leader and was admired for her courage, creativity, perseverance, tenacity, and determination.

When Cathy passed away in 2015, a number of her colleagues and friends worked together to establish the Cathy Geerlings Indomitable Spirit Scholarship, to ensure that her legacy will live on through the scholarship fund and the determined students who it inspires.

Cathy had a life-long passion for helping others. “After Cathy passed away, so many people came forward asking what they could do to help, what they could do to honor her, to thank her for everything she’s done over the years. We have so many wonderful employees at Herman Miller who loved Cathy as a colleague and as a friend, and we just knew that starting a scholarship was the right thing to do to,” said colleague Joanie Reid.

Pictured: Five of Cathy’s many supporters (left to right) front: Kristi Cnossen, Joanie Reid, Pam Prafke; back: Mike Swistak, Marty Ryan
“Cathy touched so many hearts and minds during her long career. She hired hundreds and hundreds of employees over the years. This scholarship is a way for her to continue to touch hearts and minds beyond her lifetime, to continue her legacy of helping others cultivate their extraordinary abilities,” said colleague Mike Swistak.

“When I think of Cathy, I think about what she did — her accomplishments, her work, her concrete contributions — and, as or more importantly, how she went about doing that work — the way she worked, the values, the beliefs that she not only held, but that she demonstrated, that she lived day in and day out,” recalls Joanie.

“Cathy always looked at things with a ‘can-do’ attitude. We all admired her for her work ethic. She cared so deeply about the employees at Herman Miller and could always raise the level of conversation in the room with her thoughtfulness and ideas. She viewed work as a privilege and an honor,” remembers her friend Pam Prafke.

Marty Ryan, colleague, recalls that Cathy was all about accountability. “She had such a passion for Herman Miller, its people, and its programs. She was so committed and held each of us accountable. She believed in each of us and encouraged us to be the best we could be,” said Marty.

Cathy was also known to be excellent at discovering one’s true potential. She was a driving force behind the Bridge Program for team leadership at Herman Miller, an in-depth development program for plant-floor employees aspiring to be future supervisors.

“An employee that was once known to be very quiet and reserved is now one of our top team leaders because Cathy saw the potential there right away. She had a gift for drawing people out, encouraging them and coaching them,” said Marty.

“Cathy got things done, and she got them done well,” noted Joanie. “We miss her thinking and her creative problem solving. We’ve all tried to put a little more Cathy into our thought processes. She was truly one of a kind.”

The Geerlings scholarship will be awarded to an hourly worker currently employed in the greater Holland/Zeeland area. Those working in manufacturing, skilled trades, semi-skilled trades, or other production-related areas who demonstrate an indomitable spirit and are enrolled or enrolling in an accredited program at a post-secondary institution are encouraged to apply.

Many of Cathy’s friends, family members, and colleagues have been actively involved in developing and growing the scholarship in her honor.

“This has been a grassroots initiative to keep Cathy’s legacy alive in the community, demonstrating how one person can make a profound difference in the lives of others,” said Joanie.


Originally featured in the Community Foundation’s 2015 Annual Report. While this was written by CFHZ’s Communications Manager Nicole Paquette in 2016, we believe that stories of generosity are timeless and always relevant.