Aerial view of the Dowagiac campus

Robinson leaves $7,500 to SMC

A $7,500 Southwestern Michigan College endowment has been established in the name of Gordon D. Robinson, an accountant from Decatur who battled polio throughout his life.

His generosity is all the more remarkable because he apparently never visited the SMC campus.

Mr. Robinson, born Dec. 7, 1937, the son of Ruth (Phillips) and Roldo Robinson, died May 22, 2013. He was 75.

Diagnosed with polio at 16 in 1953, Mr. Robinson recovered and returned to Dowagiac High School, where he played football and graduated in 1955.

When vaccine became available, he did not receive any because it was thought he had immunity to the virus.

He went on to study at Western Michigan University.

After developing weakness in his legs and a fever, within three days Mr. Robinson lost control of his lower body due to his second bout with polio, a crippling, potentially fatal, infectious disease which invades the brain and spinal cord.

“He didn’t think of himself and he never gave up on anything,” said his older brother, Kent, a former Air Force air traffic controller who lives in Minnesota, where he became an aircraft dispatcher for Northwest Airlines after military service.

Kent said Gordon remained determined to walk again, though confined to a wheelchair the rest of his life after his release from a Grand Rapids hospital where he breathed with the aid of an iron lung.

Kent had to take Salk serum just to visit his baby brother.

Kent said Gordon summoned him home in January 2013 to deliver some specific instructions.

He wanted to donate money to SMC, to give his van to the Council on Aging and to leave his wheelchair to a deserving wounded warrior through Decatur Veterans of Foreign Wars.
“I want you to take care of this,” Mr. Robinson directed.

“I don’t understand it myself,” Kent said, “but nothing he did surprised me.”

Mr. Robinson, who worked for Jessup Door in Dowagiac before his 25-year career as controller at a trailer parts manufacturer in Elkhart, Ind., made the most of his limitations, driving a special hand-controlled van with a lift for his wheelchair.

Mr. Robinson finished his degree, worked at his accounting job, purchased farmland, developed a strong faith in God and provided for his brother, Ernie, paralyzed in an auto accident.

Mr. Robinson lived on his own, with private care to help during evenings.

He loved to fish, watch birds and visit with family and friends on Sundays.

Gordon was known as an upbeat, caring, compassionate and positive person.

Trustee Thomas F. Jerdon met Mr. Robinson about a year and a half ago when consulted on real estate matters pertaining to the sale of his house and farm holdings.

A couple of times Jerdon tried to arrange a campus visit after suggesting the endowment to Mr. Robinson.

They found they had mutual acquaintances.

Mr. Robinson knew Jim File, Trustee Paul File’s father.

Jerdon said, "I told Gordon that the Files had established an endowment after Jim's death and that my wife and I also have one. I explained what it meant to us as donors and how many students fall through the financial cracks and cannot afford college."

“Gordon was an amazing guy,” Jerdon said. “Physically, he was in tough condition, but mentally he was very capable and sharp” and well-versed about Wall Street, business, farming and politics.

Jerdon said Mr. Robinson in his youth worked at Smallbone’s resort at Sister Lakes.

Three brothers, A.J., Leon “P.J.” and Ernest “E.J.” Robinson, and one sister, Elaine Knight, preceded Mr. Robinson in death.
Sister-in-law Harriet Robinson still lives in the family home their grandfather built north of Newton’s Woods in Volinia Township.
Sister-in-law Mary Lou Robinson lives in Dowagiac.

The Robinson children all attended the former one-room Volinia school except Ernest, who went to the Michigan School for the Deaf in Flint.
Cass County residents studying accounting are preferred for this endowment.

SMC trustees match such donations up to $25,000.

Southwestern Michigan College Foundation accepts contributions to existing scholarships such as the Robinson’s in addition to establishing new scholarships.

Endowment donations may be directed to: SMC Foundation, Director of Development, 58900 Cherry Grove Road, Dowagiac, MI 49047.

Contact Eileen Toney at (269) 782-1301 or etoney@swmich.edu for more information.