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Barb and Dennis Grady, SMC President Dr. Joe Odenwald, Trustee Beth Cripe

Barb and Dennis Grady, SMC President Dr. Joe Odenwald, SMC Trustee Beth Cripe

SMC Unveils Grady Scholars Initiative

Published on November 20, 2020 - 3 p.m.

Southwestern Michigan College is naming 20 new $1,000 minority student leadership-development scholarships for local trailblazer George Grady.

Grady served as Michigan’s first African American police chief starting in 1965.

Grady (1933-1977) was born in Dowagiac and enlisted in the Navy after high school. He was a Navy diver who served in Korea before coming home to join the Dowagiac Police Department as an officer in 1955. He was promoted to sergeant in 1959 and named Dowagiac Police Officer of the Year in 1962.

City Manager Edward Simmans named Grady chief in 1965, stating he was a very capable choice whose “men have a lot of respect for him.”

At the time of Chief Grady’s appointment, Grand Rapids Police Department Chief of Police William Johnson was president of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police. Johnson proudly inducted Chief Grady into the MACP as its first African American member and appointed him to the Human Relations Commission.

Chief Grady, who served as police chief for nine years, until 1974, was just 44 when he died of a heart attack.

“When I walked a beat I wanted to be the best police officer ever assigned to the job,” Chief Grady once said. “Now I want to be the best chief.”

President Dr. Joe Odenwald said, “There are those within the college district who still think SMC is out of their reach. We know that’s true because we have about 46 percent of high school students graduating in the Lewis Cass ISD who aren’t attending college anywhere. The idea is to associate this program which will specifically attract minority students who have demonstrated leadership potential in high school with someone from our area who was a trailblazer, and by all accounts George Grady was.”

“These are competitive scholarships with a limited number of seats,” Odenwald said. “First priority will be given to in-district graduating high school seniors who belong to underrepresented ethnic groups in the district. There are expectations with being a part of the program, one being that we develop those students’ leadership abilities, then those students become RAs, orientation leaders and build upon some of our other efforts in respect to student leadership. We want to see greater diversity in our student leadership because we believe that when underrepresented prospective students come to the campus, they benefit in seeing diversity in our student leaders and peer mentors. Then those students pass on the torch and go out and recruit the next generation of Grady Scholars.”

Board Chairman Tom Jerdon commented, “This is just a natural extension of our motto, which has been since 1964, ‘Knowledge for All.’ And who better to name this effort for than George Grady, who we all knew growing up in Dowagiac.” Trustee Beth Cripe agreed, “Chief Grady was widely known and widely respected. We hope this leads to more stories like Chief Grady’s.”

Chief Grady’s son, Dennis, and his wife, Barb, represented his family at the college’s announcement this morning. Dennis’s mother, Cynthia; sister, Deborah; and brother, Ron, live in Allendale.

“I think it’s great! I’m very grateful and appreciative. I can’t even put it into words. I’ve waited a long time for my dad to be recognized,” said Grady, who lives in Lansing after retiring in 2003 from a 25-year Michigan State Police career. “He was quiet and didn’t say a lot of words, but when he talked, he meant what he said. He was a gentleman who wasn’t one to talk about himself. He never talked about his deep-sea diving, protecting ships from mines that looked like COVID” in shark-infested waters “unless I asked.”

“He trained me to box,” Dennis recalled. “When I got to the academy, I had three fights and three knockouts. I got pulled out of class and asked, ‘Where did you learn how to fight?’ I thought I was in trouble.”

Dean of Student Development Katie Hannah said a program coordinator would oversee recruiting, retaining, developing and graduating the students in two years.

Recruiting will start in February for the first class of Grady Scholars in Fall 2021.

“It’s a summer bridge program as well,” Hannah said, “so they would begin early. They graduate high school in June and start their SMC classes a couple of weeks later so we can do programming with them. Grady Scholars will live on campus and be able to move in early and participate in our Leadership SMC program over the summer. They will also have priority with on-campus jobs. Other leadership opportunities will be developed for them throughout the year, such as orientation and Welcome Week. Community service is also an important part of this initiative.” 

The Grady Scholars program is just one of a number of new scholarship strategies for 2021, and joins a host of awards given annually by the college and the Southwestern Michigan College Foundation.

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