Excellence in Business Gala raised $371,000 to support student scholarships

The annual Excellence in Business Gala was held in May to raise scholarship funds to help Davenport students get where the world is going in business, technology, health and urban education. The gala was attended by 500 guests and raised $371,000 in support of student scholarships.

The event recognized community leader Dr. Jacqueline Taylor as this year’s Excellence in Business Gala honoree and featured golf legend Jack Nicklaus as a special guest.

The university also celebrated Davenport student Brianna Leesch, the 2023 Gerald R. Ford Memorial Scholarship recipient.

All proceeds from the event benefit the Davenport University Scholarship Fund, which provides critical financial support for deserving and talented students. Thanks to the generous support of our donors and event sponsors, each year foundation scholarships totaling more than $1 million are awarded to students.

2023 Peter C. Cook Excellence in Business Award Winner, Dr. Jacqueline Taylor

The prestigious Peter C. Cook Excellence in Business Award is presented annually to someone who exemplifies professional success and commitment to community service. This year, we recognized our 24th recipient, Dr. Jacqueline Taylor.

“This year’s honoree embodies the qualities we recognize with this award, so it is with great pride that we honor Dr. Jacqueline Taylor with the Peter C. Cook Excellence in Business Award,” said Dr. Richard J. Pappas, president of Davenport University. “We are inspired by her leadership, philanthropy and service to our community. It’s leaders like her who inspire the values Davenport seeks to teach our students as they achieve academic and professional success.”

Jackie Taylor is a talented executive, board member, consultant and entrepreneur. Her incredible career includes 25 years as an executive-level leader within higher education. For 11 years, she led academics statewide and internationally for Davenport. Today, she chairs the M.E. Davenport Legacy Endowment Committee for Davenport.

Following her academic career, Jackie became a business consultant and joined Pondera Advisors, a leadership consulting practice in Grand Rapids. She continually lends her talents to guide West Michigan leaders and the many nonprofit boards she serves. She has also been honored with numerous awards for leadership, excellence and achievement across academic and statewide organizations.

“I am deeply grateful for receiving this very special Peter C. Cook Excellence in Business Award from Davenport University,” said Taylor. “Having known Peter and all the previous recipients and the outstanding impact that they have made on West Michigan and beyond, I am humbled and pray that we all continue to join together to create opportunities for all, to support a strong system of education and training, and to maintain our focus on building a culture of working together as partners now and into the future.”

2023 EIB featured guest: Jack Nicklaus

This year’s Excellence in Business Gala featured golf legend Jack Nicklaus, who is considered the greatest champion in golf history. He sat down with Davenport President Richard J. Pappas for an exclusive discussion about his career as a professional golfer and renowned golf course designer.

During the conversation, Nicklaus, a multiple sport athlete in his youth, explained what led him to gravitate exclusively toward golf and how that decision shaped his life.

He reminisced about how longtime friend and rival Arnold Palmer took him under his wing when he first arrived on the golf scene, and how they became great friends despite being fierce competitors.

Nicklaus talked about his work as a golf course designer, his incredible success on the golf course and the role his lucky yellow shirt played in his 1986 comeback when he won the Masters.

He also spoke about the importance of family and how he successfully balanced his career with spending quality time with his children.

Gerald R. ford Memorial Scholarship Recipient, Brianna Leesch

Brianna Leesch, Legal Studies and Marketing Major, graduated from Cadillac High School in June with an impressive 4.0 unweighted GPA. At Cadillac, she was an active member of the Youth Advisory Council, National Honor Society and Honors Choir.

Swimming since she was a child, Brianna has a passion for the water that led her to the role of captain for the Cadillac swim team for the past two years. She’s excited to continue her swimming career, competing with the Davenport swim team.




Thank you to all of our supporters

The annual Excellence in Business Dinner Gala is possible due to the support of our community. Thank you to everyone who joined us to support student scholarships at the 2023 Excellence in Business Gala.

GOLD SPONSORS: Peter C. & Emajean Cook Foundation, Daniel & Pamella DeVos Foundation, Fifth Third Bank, J.C. & Tammy Huizenga and The Lettinga Family

SILVER SPONSORS: Gentex Corporation, Presidio Insurance, Town & Country Group, University of Michigan Health-West and West Side Beer Distributing


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