Why I Give: David Sluyter

Contact: Amie Heasley

David Sluyter at Wolf Lake.KALAMAZOO, Mich.—The decision to give back to Western Michigan just came naturally for alumnus David Sluyter

“I’ve reached the age when I can finally admit I’m getting older,” he jokes. 

“It was time to figure out what kind of legacy I wanted to leave,” he continues, “and supporting students striving to help sustain natural and wilderness areas just made sense.” 

In addition to hiking and bicycling, Sluyter and his wife, Jill, are devoted kayakers. During the summer months, the couple often paddles out on Coldwater Lake in Michigan, where they have a cottage. 

Sluyter builds his own wood kayaks that he uses each morning on Coldwater Lake, Michigan.

“We try to get out early so we can watch the sunrise,” says Sluyter, MA ’69, EdD ’80. “We never tire of seeing the wildlife.”

This passion for nature and vast open water began at an early age. Sluyter's parents had a place on Lake Michigan and his father was an avid fisherman. Later, the realtor who sold Sluyter his own home convinced him to go on a canoe trip through old fur trader routes in the Canadian wilderness for three and a half weeks. Finally, upon graduating from WMU with his doctorate in counseling psychology and subsequent work for community mental health organizations, he fell hook, line and sinker for the great outdoors.

“I didn’t like my job at the time, so I left and lived on a sailboat in the Caribbean,” Sluyter says. “We didn’t have any money, so we just caught and ate fish. It was a terrible career decision but a great life choice.” 

After about a year at sea, he returned to his career in the mental health field, where Sluyter focused on developing programs for individuals with mental illnesses and disabilities. From 1981-91, he was the executive director for the Center for Developmentally Disabled Adults at WMU, now the Center for Disability Services. He then went on to serve as program officer, vice president, president and CEO, and senior advisor at the Fetzer Institute. Notable themes that ran through his work there included the role of social and emotional learning in K-12 education and the role of relationships in health care. 

While at the Fetzer Institute, Sluyter was also part of the original design team and faculty of the First Movers Fellowship, which is a program of the Aspen Institute, an international nonprofit organization with a goal of realizing “a free, just and equitable society” through seminars, policy programs, conferences and leadership development initiatives.

“The fellowship brings together leaders from large multinational corporations who aspire to use the power of the corporation to do social and environmental good,” he says.

Today, Sluyter is collaborating with faculty and staff at Western to create a similar fellowship program at the Haworth College of Business. He is working with Dr. Timothy Palmer, professor of management and director of Haworth’s Center for Sustainable Business Practices, and Joanne Roehm, senior director of strategy and operations for WMUx and director of WMU-Grand Rapids, to help more business Broncos graduate with the skills and values needed to lead organizations sustainably.  

The Haworth College of Business has laid the groundwork to ensure graduates enter their careers as responsible business leaders. Ultimately, the college looks to provide students at WMU with the most comprehensive exposure to sustainability of any business school in the state of Michigan. 

By leaving a legacy at WMU, Sluyter hopes to nurture this goal. His planned gift, split between the Haworth College of Business and the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, will fund scholarships for students interested in becoming sustainability leaders in business. 

Through his work with the Aspen Institute, Sluyter says he has learned business has the real power and expertise to enact systemic social change. 

“I wanted to encourage students at WMU to contribute to protecting the environment and transform the way business is carried out in the future.”

Supporting the University is also important to Sluyter because of his love for Kalamazoo. 

“It’s a small town but with many of the activities available in much larger cities, partly because of the University,” he says. “Miller Auditorium brings us theatrical, musical and intellectual events, and the music and theater departments are an ongoing source of joy. In addition, the faculty and staff contribute to a well-educated and engaged place to live.” 

It’s a community Sluyter’s gift will not only help strengthen today but also preserve for years to come. ■