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PROGRESS 2019: A tradition of giving

For Park family, helping Alpena is a matter of heritage

News File Photo In this photo from June 2016, Alpena resident Jim Park, right, receives the Michigan Association of School Administrators’ Champions for Choice Award from then-Alpena Public Schools Superintendent Brent Holcomb.

ALPENA — The Besser tradition was started by Jesse and Anna Besser and the drive of Phil Park, Jim Park says.

Jim Park and the Park family have for decades donated to the Northeast Michigan community to help improve the area’s health, education, and recreational opportunities, and that initiative started in the early 20th century.

“The traditions provided by Jesse and Anna Besser, the foresight and drive of Phil Park, as well as some good experience overseas and in Washington, D.C. and Tampa were all instrumental in building the quality of leadership that a person with a great staff could accomplish,” Jim Park said.

Phil Park, who is a former president of Besser Co., is Jim Park’s father and nephew of Jesse Besser. Jim Park is himself a former Besser president.

Jesse and Anna Besser started the Besser Foundation 75 years ago. Following that lead, Jim Park and his family created the Park Family Foundation.

The Besser Foundation was created in 1944 to receive and administer funds for scientific, educational, religious, and charitable purposes, according to the Besser Co. website.

The Park Family Foundation was created to help meet athletic and educational needs of the communities.

The Park Foundation has three active trustees: Jim Park, his daughter, Kim, and son, Scott.

The Park family has provided funding for the Alpena Community College gymnasium, which was named Park Arena in the 1990s, the Besser Museum, and scholarships for Northeast Michigan high school students.

“This year, funding was provided for the new surface for the field at Alpena High School, ACC renovation, and several scholarships for local students through the Community Foundation of Northeast Michigan,” Jim Park said.

Jim Park said it’s hard to put an approximate number on how much the Park Family Foundation and Besser Foundation have each provided to the area over the years.

He said the Besser Foundation provides over $1 million a year. This year, that amount was doubled to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the fund.

About $2.4 million in grants were allocated in September by the Besser Foundation to the Boys and Girls Club of Alpena, Alpena Public Schools, the Friends of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, and others.

“It is rewarding to see the great facilities used and busy,” Jim Park said. “Our community is generous.”

Jim Park received both a bachelor’s and master’s in business administration from the University of Michigan after graduating from Alpena High School.

He returned to Alpena in 1970 and took a position with Besser. He was then named president of the organization in 1977. He was president until 1999.

He was inducted into the Alpena Sports Hall of Fame in 1995, named the Alpena Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year in 1999, the president of the Alpena Rotary Club for a year, and inducted into the Alpena High School Alumni Hall of Fame in 2003.

While Jim Park was Besser president, the company expanded to different areas in the country and world. The company has locations in Alpena, Iowa, California, Canada, Russia, and others.

“Several significant additions were made to the manufacturing area, as well as the World Headquarters in Alpena,” Jim Park said. “Major additions were also made to the World Center for Concrete Technology and the number of graduates blossomed.”

Jim Park, who spends part of the year in Alpena and the other half in Fort Myers, Florida, is currently working on two books, “The Besser/Park Era” and “Management Principles for Medium Sized Business.”

Julie Goldberg can be reached at 989-358-5688 or jgoldberg@thealpenanews.com. Follow her on Twitter @jkgoldberg12.

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