Sherwood remembered as 'quiet, strong force'

Marie Havenga • Jan 14, 2016 at 8:00 AM

Despite a keen business mind, Lynne Sherwood will perhaps most be remembered for her heart.

The local philanthropist, mentor and business leader at family-owned JSJ Corp. died Sunday at Mercy Hospital in Muskegon, leaving a gaping loss in the community that she so dearly loved. She was 74.

Sherwood was a 1959 graduate and valedictorian of Grand Haven High School, and a Hall of Fame inductee of that school.

Holly Johnson, president of the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation, spent part of Tuesday in a local coffee shop, reflecting on Sherwood's life. She cried as she reminisced on Sherwood's impact on the community.

But her tears reflected more than the $9 million community foundation fund that Sherwood oversaw on behalf of her late parents, the Marian A. and Ruth K. Sherwood Family Fund, or the hundreds of thousands of dollars that the younger Sherwood donated on her own. She was a mentor, a teacher and a motivator, Johnson said.

Johnson’s husband, Erick, is also a leader at JSJ, the company his and Sherwood's grandfathers founded in 1919, along with A.E. Jacobson.

“She didn't have children of her own, but she was always very interested in what our kids were up to, whatever their newest thing was,” Johnson said. “Lynne was not a woman of a million words. I appreciate her stoic thoughtfulness that she bestowed on everyone.”

Johnson also admired Sherwood's intelligence and innovation. In a day when women often bumped against glass ceilings, Sherwood shattered them. After graduating from Stanford University, she earned an MBA in finance from Harvard Business School, and spent 35 years working as a securities analyst and vice president for Goldman, Sachs & Co. in New York City.

“I thought of the gaping hole in our community, but on the other side, the amazing full legacy that will live on forever,” Johnson said. “She was quiet about her philanthropy and didn't like to take a lot of credit, but we'll trumpet her giving forever in this community. I was thinking about the hole she left but also the amazing footprint she left right alongside that hole.”

The list is endless, according to Johnson — the Tri-Cities Family YMCA, Four Pointes Senior Center, North Ottawa Dunes preservation project, Heartwood Lodge, Love INC, TCM Counseling, the North Ottawa Community Hospital emergency room expansion project.

“She made significant gifts to all of those projects and hundreds and hundreds more,” Johnson said. “Every philanthropic project that has happened in this community, Lynne in some way had a part in it. People who come along two generations from us will benefit from what she's done.”

Sherwood was a sounding board for Johnson, both professionally and personally.

“Weekly, if not daily sometimes, I'd say, 'Let's run that by Lynne, let's make sure we bring this up when we meet with Lynne, let's get lunch scheduled with Lynne,’” Johnson said. “That's language I used over and over again.

“The other thing I really love about Lynne was that she could really have a good belly laugh,” Johnson continued. “She kind of had the aura of the Queen of England, but she liked an inappropriate joke every now and then. You would think you couldn't say a grayish-sounding word around her, but you could.”

Nelson Jacobson, president of Grand Haven-based JSJ Corp., said the family-owned company won't be the same without Sherwood.

“She was a brilliant business person,” he said. “She was extremely accomplished, but her greatest gift was that she always played the role of mentor, of teacher, with unconditional support.”

Jacobson said Sherwood never sought the limelight, but her talents and generosity often landed her in it.

“Every time she got an award, she would be so upset that we would have to trick her,” Jacobson recalled.

JSJ staff would have to come up with a ruse so Sherwood would be at the right place at the right time to receive one of her countless awards or honors.

“She was just this extraordinary giver and teacher,” Jacobson said. “We literally have a whole new generation that's learned from her and will be able to carry on.

”She came back here after Goldman Sachs and made a real impact on helping JSJ grow,“ he continued. ”She was very actively engaged and was at meetings in December before the holidays. We're approaching 100 years (founded in 1919), and she's a huge part of getting us here.”

Pete Sherwood, Lynne's double cousin, was with Lynne when she was growing up and with her when she died. He said he rushed to the hospital after learning she had collapsed at a local restaurant Thursday night.

Pete's mom and Lynne's mom were sisters. Pete's dad and Lynne's dad were brothers.

“We were almost like brother and sister,” Pete said. “She was smart as a whip.”

As adults, the cousins traveled together — an Alaskan cruise, a winter in Hawaii — but that abruptly ended Sunday.

“We had talked about some more traveling together,” Pete said. “Of course, we never expected anything like this to happen. ... All of my memories of her are treasured. She was a beautiful lady, very giving and caring.”

Connie Rabon and Lynne Sherwood became close friends about eight years ago, when Rabon served as the hospice nurse for Lynne's sister, Mary Ann. On Sunday, it was Lynne's bedside that Rabon was tending. She said despite all the deaths she's encountered in her career, she never could have prepared herself for losing Lynne, and all that she meant to her.

“There was a sense of peace and a sense of overwhelming loss all in the same breath, the last breath,” Rabon said. “As Lynne was leaving this world, I thought this is the closest to heaven that those of us alive can be, when God throws open the gate and someone steps through.”

Still, the footprints and memories imprinted on those who called her friend, mentor, business partner and community leader are undeniable.

“She was iconic in our community,” Rabon said. “She was a quiet, strong force — and the most down-to-earth, thoughtful, intentional, kind, logical, generous soul that I've ever met. She was very humble and very unassuming.”

Rabon said the weight of her own grief somehow feels lighter knowing there's a community that shares in it.

“Her mantra was, 'I don't need much because I can do so much more with what I have,'” Rabon said, fighting back tears. “I'm sure the community feels the loss. There are very few people like Lynne.”

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