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For the first recipients of the GRCC Foundation’s Armen Oumedian Consecutive Giving Award, “consecutive” reaches over decades: Jerry and Jan Benham started contributing in 1979 — a foundation record.

“That is 41 years of giving consecutively to support our students’ needs and removing financial barriers for students,” said Dr. Kathryn Mullins, vice president of College Advancement and the executive director of the GRCC Foundation. “There is not a single individual donor within our organization who has done this longer.”

“There are so many scholarship opportunities at GRCC, and support for any of them is worthy,” Jerry Benham said. “A scholarship is, as the saying goes, the gift that keeps on giving. We are very proud to be a part of that effort at GRCC!”

Jerry Benham started work at what was then Grand Rapids Junior College in 1980 as the culinary arts supply room clerk. While he officially retired in 2001 as the food service director, he returned to campus that same year to work part time for the GRCC bookstore before retiring as its senior accounting clerk in 2011.

Jan Benham took clerical classes at GRJC in the late ‘60s. Her first job at the college was as the executive secretary to the executive vice president in 1978. Even after retiring in 2004 from GRCC’s Human Resources Department, she couldn’t stay away for long, working part time for Human Resources from 2005 to 2013.

The Benhams’ contributions started with a donation to the Million Dollar Faculty/Staff Program in 1985. When they received the Excellence in Education Award in 1991, they decided to expand their giving.

“After receiving the Excellence in Education Award, we created our own scholarship focused on service learning activities,” Jerry Benham said. “Two of our daughters participated in service learning trips, and our scholarship provided a way for other students to fund their trips as well.”

The Benhams’ legacy also includes the Jerry Benham Award, which goes to a GRCC employee who has demonstrated outstanding involvement in student activities, and the Benham Service and Civic Engagement Award, which recognizes a student leader’s accomplishments with a stipend.

Anders Rottschafer, who received the 2020 Benham Service and Civic Engagement Award, didn’t participate in campus activities with an eye to getting accolades. But receiving the recognition has encouraged him to keep pursuing service to others when he heads to the University of Michigan.

“Your gift has reinforced to me that I’m heading in the right path,” he told the Benhams through a video shown at a virtual event honoring them. “That is the real gift you gave me.”

The Benhams also provide funds for the student food bank and contribute to the Golden Raiders Scholarship, which helps retirees’ grandchildren attend GRCC.

For the Benhams, whose contributions have honored the service of others, receiving the Armen Oumedian Consecutive Giving Award was an unexpected honor.

Never have we considered how long we have been contributing, as it is just something that we do automatically," Jerry Benham said. "But it is an honor for us to be recognized for our continued commitment to GRCC students.