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Alumnus and business college namesake dies at 95

Oct. 26, 2006

Gerrard Wendell "G.W." Haworth, founder of Haworth Inc. and a 1937 alumnus of Western Michigan University died Oct. 25. He was 95.

An influential entrepreneur, he established Haworth Inc., a manufacturer of office environments that grew from a garage-shop venture in 1948 to a $1.4 billion global corporation. Haworth, a former high school teacher, maintained a lifelong passion for education, encouraging continuing education among his employees and making personal and corporate donations to promote higher education.

In 1989, the Haworth family and company gave $5 million to Western Michigan University. In appreciation, the University named its business college the Haworth College of Business.

"This is sad news for our University since we all loved that great gentleman who did so much for Western," said WMU Interim President Diether H. Haenicke. "We take great pride in the fact that his life was truly a celebration of his love for learning, and he was committed to the notion that education allowed the power of the human spirit and intellect to realize its potential."

"G. W. Haworth is a role model for all of our students," noted Darrell G. Jones, professor emeritus of business information systems and former dean of the Haworth College of Business. "An entrepreneur who started with little, he exemplified how intelligence, honesty and integrity can find opportunities in our society."

Born in Alliance, Neb., in 1911, Haworth and his family moved to Michigan when he was in high school. Upon graduating in 1937 with a B.A. in education from WMU, Haworth moved to Holland to teach industrial arts at Holland High School. In 1940, he earned a Master of Arts degree in educational administration from the University of Michigan.

In the 1940s, Haworth began to build special-order wood products as a sideline enterprise; this eventually led to the formation of a company that has ranked among the 400 largest private companies in the U.S., according to Forbes magazine. His son, Richard Haworth, who has led the company since 1976 and now serves as chairman, is credited as the visionary who grew the company to a global corporation and for revolutionizing the office furniture industry with the invention of the pre-wired office furniture panel.

"My father was a distinguished business leader, but more importantly, a great man," said Richard Haworth. "He followed his natural instincts as a thinker and a teacher. His philosophy of satisfying customers and his high regard for people and their skills are still the core values of our company."

G.W. Haworth was a recipient of WMU's Distinguished Alumni Award in 1986 and was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids in 1987. In addition to being named Entrepreneur of the Year by the University of Michigan Business School in 1993, Haworth was named Manufacturer of the Year by the Michigan Manufacturers Association in 1995.

Haworth is survived by his wife, Edna, five children, 19 grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, as well as 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday at the Haworth Inn and Conference Center at Hope College. Services will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Dimnent Chapel at Hope College.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Boys and Girls Club of Holland.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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