Bill and Jessie Pierce, the founders of Pierce Cedar Creek Institute, loved the people and rural setting of Barry County, Michigan. The Willard G. Pierce and Jessie M. Pierce Foundation is a demonstration of their commitment to their community and the fruit of their success. The Foundation operates Pierce Cedar Creek Institute, along with providing support to three other institutions that were close to Bill’s and Jessie’s hearts: First Presbyterian Church, Charlton Park, and Barry County Cares.
Bill and Jessie both came from a humble background. Jessie was a fisherman’s daughter, growing up on the shore of Lake Huron. Bill was born in the hill country of Western Kentucky. During the Depression, Bill moved with his family to Detroit, where he met Jessie. A natural salesman and organizer with a great sense of humor, Bill started out as a clerk with Montgomery Wards. He quickly rose within the organization and in 1952 was transferred to Hastings as a store manager. It was here that Bill and Jessie decided to make their home and raise their family.
Bill left retail in 1954 and began a new career in manufacturing, accepting a position with Orchard Industries. In 1961, Bill along with Doug DeCamp and five other partners formed Flexfab, a company manufacturing and marketing hose and ducting. Through hard work, co-founders Bill Pierce and Doug DeCamp grew Flexfab into an international company and a leader in its field. Their vision from the beginning was to build, “a healthycompany that would provide employees a secure employment in a harmonious, efficient work environment.” Both men agreed, “People are our most important asset.”
Bill was high-energy and made time for his many outside activities, despite the heavy demands of a growing company. He was a fierce competitor, always striving for the best. As an avid archer, he won many tournaments on the local and national level.
When Bill was semi-retired, he and Jessie began to think more seriously about how they could give back to the people and community that meant so much to them. In 1988, Bill created The Willard G. Pierce and Jessie M. Pierce Foundation. At first, the Foundation awarded community grants, but in the late 1990s, Bill began to think about doing something more significant for the community, a project that would once again provide challenge and require hard work and commitment. Sitting on the back porch of Ken and Alice Jones’ home, Bill pondered the idea of conserving our natural resources and environmental education. From that spark and through discussion with his sons, Joe and Gary, Bill set out to purchase land for what would become the Pierce Cedar Creek Institute for Environmental Education.
Edited from The Pierce Legacy, written by Pastor and Past Board Member Jeff Garrison
The Willard G. Pierce and Jessie M. Pierce Foundation started as a dream of doing something to give back to Barry County. Bill and Jessie’s dream grew into an environmental education center when Dr. Gary Pierce shared his environmental vision with his parents. Gary was a Foundation board member and the Institute’s first director from 1998-2004.
Bill and Jessie’s commitment was to support community projects which enhance the lives of people living in Barry County. Gary’s commitment was to enhance, and protect, those lives through environmental education and stewardship of natural resources.
As a dedicated educator, botanist, and wetland expert, Gary felt strongly that learning is self-motivated. He said humans have the responsibility to be aware of the environmental consequences of their lives, and then to preserve, manage, and restore natural landscapes.
Gary was instrumental in the design of the Institute. He made sure the buildings were environmentally- efficient and harmoniously designed to blend into the landscape—to have the smallest environmental footprint as possible. His commitment to education is also reflected in the state-of-the art teaching spaces, classrooms, and auditorium—all vital to the Institute’s mission to educate adults and youth in ecological principles for the preservation, management, and restoration of our natural world.
Bill, Jessie, and Gary are gone, but the Institute fulfills their family vision of, and commitment to, a valuable education resource in Barry County and West Michigan. Pierce Cedar Creek Institute serves as a gathering place for friends, families, businesses, and organizations to learn about and appreciate the natural world.
Written by 2008 URGE researcher Jodi Hovey, A Landscape History of the Pierce Cedar Creek Institute from Pre-Columbia Times to the Present offers a detailed history of the Institute's property.