Larry Bell donates $5.25M to Kalamazoo College, brewery founder’s alma mater


KALAMAZOO, MI — Kalamazoo College announced Monday it has received a $5.25 million gift in support of its Brighter Light Campaign from alumnus Larry Bell, a 1980 graduate of the school.

The gift will establish endowed funds to support the Center for Environmental Stewardship, a distinguished chair in American history and food justice and sustainability programming, a news release from the college states.

Additional funds will support the Larry J. Bell ‘80 Endowed Scholarship, established in 2017, and the Kalamazoo College Fund, which provides immediate funding toward financial aid and the student experience.

“I am proud to support Kalamazoo College with this gift and I look forward to seeing the resulting positive outcomes for K’s students,” Bell said in a statement. “I hope that the coming Larry J. Bell Library Foundation can be a help and resource to the history department in the future, and having an endowed chair there will elevate and strengthen this part of the college.”

Related: Larry Bell donates $1M to Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kalamazoo

Following the sale of Bell’s Brewery, which closed on Dec. 31, Bell also recently gifted $1 million to Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Kalamazoo. His donation there will help to fund the construction of a new club facility near downtown Kalamazoo, according to a press release from Boys and Girls Clubs.

Bell was recently named the environmentalist of the year by the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter in January for his work rallying business owners throughout the state to unify in opposition to the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline. He was presented the award at a ceremony this past weekend.

Bell majored in political science as a Kalamazoo College student, before going on to found Bell’s Brewery Inc. in 1985. Since then, the brewery has grown into one of the largest craft breweries in America, distributing to 43 states, in addition to Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.

In November 2021, Bell reached an agreement with Lion, an Australian-based brewer, for the sale of Bell’s. The move will see the Michigan-based craft brewer come together with Colorado’s New Belgium, which Lion acquired in 2019, aligning the two popular American craft brewers.

Bell officially retired from the helm of Bell’s Brewery at the end of 2021.

Related: Bell’s Brewery being bought by Australian company that purchased New Belgium Brewing in 2019

Bell has long been an active supporter of Kalamazoo College. Along with the scholarship he established in 2017 for students with financial need, in 2006 he contributed to an endowment named for his friend and mentor, Paul Todd, who graduated from the institution in 1942.

School officials said Bell’s support of the college’s food justice initiatives over the last decade has been crucial to the college’s student-led programming through the Mary Jane Underwood Stryker Center for Civic Engagement, and has allowed the center to maximize its impact throughout the community.

“Larry’s investment in Kalamazoo College has supported and will continue to support the college’s experiential education offerings, as well as faculty teaching and scholarship for years to come,” said Kalamazoo College President Jorge G. Gonzalez in a statement. “His gift to endow and name the Larry J. Bell ‘80 Center for Environmental Stewardship, for example, will help us enhance the curriculum, integrate these curricular initiatives with student organizations and provide new ways for students to engage in environmental leadership efforts on our campus and throughout the greater Kalamazoo community.

“We are so grateful for Larry’s generous support and commitment toward expanding opportunities and access for our students.”

Giving back to the community is a special opportunity he has been given since selling the brewery, Bell said in an interview with MLive last month after his donation to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Kalamazoo.

“With Bell’s, it was always our mantra for us to support the community and the community always supported the company as well,” Bell said. “I have the opportunity now to make a couple of large gifts, which is really special. So I’m just thrilled to be able to help out Kalamazoo and the surrounding area and help it be a better place to live.”

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