Kentwood 50: Opening celebration brings dignitaries to town

Former Kentwood mayors Richard Clanton, Jerry DeRuiter, and Bill Hardiman; former mayor Richard Root’s wife, Karleen; Kentwood Mayor Stephen Kelley, and first mayor Peter Lamberts’ son Richard.

By Joanne Bailey-Boorsma


It was a celebration of Kentwood’s past and future as residents, city leaders, school officials and students came together Monday night for the city’s kick off to its 50th anniversary.


Feb. 27, 1967, the Kentwood City Commission had its first meeting at Bowen Elementary School, so organizers of the year-long celebration decided it would only be fitting, and a perfect way to kick off the 50th anniversary celebration, if fifty years to the day, the Kentwood City Commission would have its meeting at Bowen Elementary School.



Kentwood Public Schools Superintendent Michael Zoerhoff said the district was excited to be able to help make that happen as both school and city officials are proud of the strong partnership that exists between the two organizations. In fact, at the meeting, Zoerhoff said it is that partnership between the Kentwood Public Schools and the City of Kentwood that has made the community the incredibly strong one that it is.


“I am excited to see what we will do in the next 50 years because its going to be something,” Zoerhoff said.


State Senator Tonya Schuitmaker (R-26th District) presents a proclamation with current and former state legislators to Kentwood Mayor Stephen Kepley.

Last night’s celebration had a definite eye toward the city’s future with Kentwood Public Schools students open the meeting with the Pledge of Alliance followed by students welcoming audience members in their native language, wearing the clothing of their homeland, which was designed to celebrate one of the city’s most unique attributes — it’s diversity. In fact, Kentwood is often called “the melting pot” as its residents represent more than 60 different countries, speaking more than 70 languages.


“If you ask a citizen of Kentwood why they like the city of Kentwood, the first thing that will come of of their mouth usually is diversity,” said Kentwood Mayor Stephen Kepley to the almost 200-person crowd in attendance.


Kentwood’s residents’ and leaders’ willingness to work together have made it the success it is today, said State Senator Tonya Schuitmaker (R-26th District), who, on behalf of the state legislature and with other state officials, presented the city with a special proclaimation. For that reason, she believed the quote at the top of the proclamation from Henry Ford was especially appropriate for the city: “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”


Lt. Governor Brian Calley, who also was in attendance along with other national, state, county and local officials, said it is the attitude of strong people, strong families and strong communities that has made Kentwood and West Michigan the vibrant community it is today. He said that Kent and Ottawa counties make up 10 percent of the state’s population but has been about 20 percent of the job growth over the last six years.


Kentwood Public School students participate in the program with a special welcome to the audience.

“So in celebrating 50 years, I want to say to the leadership that this doesn’t happen by accident,” Calley said. “It happens when people really know there stuff. Who are accountable and transparent and have the type of professionalism to do it and do it right.


“And clearly in Kentwood, you do it right.”


At the closing of the meeting, each of the commissioners talked about how much they have enjoyed living, working and serving Kentwood, making it a place to call home.


“How can a community so diverse unify?” Kepley said. “I think we have the answer not just for Michigan, the country, but for the world. It is a very simple word, and the word is love.


“We love each other. Neighbors love each other, taking care of each other and that neighbor might not look like you, talk like you, worship like you, but there is love there and I think that is why it all works.”


During the meeting, Kentwood resident Dale Potter was recognized for his 30 years of service to the community as representative of the importance volunteers have played in building the city and helping to continue to grow, Kepley said. Also a clip of the Kentwood 50th Documentary was shown, which was produced by WKTV. The full documentary will be available March 20 and will air on WKTV.


The Kentwood 50 celebration continues as the Taste of Kentwood is March 2 and the audition deadline of the Kentwood’s Got Talent is Friday, March 3. The first round of the Kentwood’s Got Talent is March 9. For more information, visit