20 Years since the Holland and Zeeland Foundation Merger

Remembering Fondly Bill Vanderbilt, Grace Piersma, and Jim Watt

20 years ago, on April 30, 1996, the Holland Community Foundation and the Zeeland Community Foundation merged together to become the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area.
Three of the key players who helped make our merger a reality have recently passed away, leaving behind them many loved ones, cherished memories, and a legacy of leadership that will last forever.
Grace Piersma and Bill Vanderbilt at Bill’s retirement in 2006

Bill Vanderbilt, Executive Director from 1994–2006

Bill was hired in 1994, at a time when the Foundation managed just 16 funds. At his retirement in 2006, there were 316 funds.

Under his leadership, the Foundation’s assets grew from under $3 million to over $26 million. He helped secure $6 million in matching funds for our Community’s Endowment from a W.K. Kellogg Challenge Grant.

As Executive Director, Bill coordinated the merging of the foundations in 1996. He also helped launch the accreditation process with the Council on Foundations to meet the National Standards for U.S. Community Foundations, a designation the Foundation still holds today.

Upon his retirement, the Board of Trustees established the Bill Vanderbilt Fund, an unrestricted fund that’s part of our Community’s Endowment, in honor of his dedicated service and tireless fundraising efforts.

Of his time as Executive Director, Bill said that it was “a joy to be part of the journey, and very rewarding work.” He noted, “I feel very good about the future of the Community Foundation and know it will continue to be a key player in the community. It’s a wonderful feeling to know that everything good that happens at the Foundation is for the good of the community.”

Bill was an important mentor to both of his successors: retired President/CEO Janet DeYoung and current President/CEO Mike Goorhouse. Bill often returned to the stage at Foundation events, including helping to launch “Today. Tomorrow. Forever: A Campaign for our Community’s Endowment.”

Bill’s spirit is not going anywhere, but we will certainly miss his presence. Bill’s legacy will continue to live on forever through the Bill Vanderbilt Fund, and the leadership and life that he breathed into the Foundation.

Grace Piersma, Past President, 1996, Board member from 1994–2000

Grace was a driving force in the merging of the Holland and Zeeland community foundations in 1996. She was a trustee on the Zeeland Community Foundation Board from 1994–1996, serving as Vice President in 1995, and President in 1996, during the merger. She then continued to serve on the Executive Committee of CFHZ’s Board of Trustees from 1997–2000. During her entire 6-year term, she served on the Distribution Committee, helping to decide competitive grant recipients from our Community’s Endowment. Grace was given the 2012 Marvin C. Lindeman Distinguished Service Award in recognition of her board service.

“It was a great honor to be chair of the Board during the pivotal time of the Foundation’s merger,” noted Grace before she passed. “It has been one of my life’s greatest pleasures to serve on the Community Foundation’s Board of Trustees as both a board member and past president, and to share the legacy of my late grandson through a named scholarship fund at the Community Foundation,” said Grace.

Grace was a firm believer that ‘philanthropy is not just the rich man’s responsibility, it’s all of ours, and no matter what it is that we can give or what we can share, we each need do to that.’

Grace’s legacy will live on forever through the Grace Piersma Memorial Scholarship.

Jim Watt in his signature eyeglasses in 2007

James Watt, Board member from 1980–1996, advisor from 1996- 2010

Jim’s service to the Foundation spans thirty years. Jim was a trustee of the Zeeland Community Foundation from 1980–1996 where he served on the Finance Committee. Jim was also a key player in the merger.

After the foundations were united in 1996, he stayed on as an advisor to the board for fourteen years, until 2010.

He loved photography and served as the unofficial photographer for the Foundation’s luncheons and dinners for many years.

In 2007, he was given the third ever Marvin C. Lindeman Distinguished Service Award in recognition of his many years of board service.

Jim’s legacy will live on forever through charitable gift annuities he established that will benefit the Bill Vanderbilt Fund, Zeeland Public Schools’ Education Foundation Legacy Fund, the Justin “Jup” Elhart Scholarship, and our Community’s Endowment.


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