The Story of the Institute for Global Education

What is IGE?

IGE, as the Institute of Global Education is known, is a meeting place for community groups that share our concerns about human rights and education for multicultural and religious awareness. We promote peaceful conflict resolution through training, workshops with youth and adults, and ongoing community discussion. We invite groups to use our office space to educate and organize to make the world a better place.

Mission Statement:  We support the non-violent resolution of conflicts and the pursuit of justice as the best way to achieve true, lasting peace through conscientious individual and group education and action.  

IGE is a non-profit 501c3 corporation.  We are non-denominational and non-partisan.   Our members and our board represent many different faiths, some are atheists, hold to various political persuasions and are active in other organizations and activities.

However, there is one organization that was the reason for the formation of IGE.

Before IGE, there was an office of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in Grand Rapids, maintained by the Grand Rapids Friends Meeting (Quakers).

What is the American Friends Service Committee?

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) has described itself as “a Quaker organization that promotes lasting peace with justice, as a practical expression of faith in action.  Drawing on continuing spiritual insights and working with people of many backgrounds, we nurture the seeds of change and respect for human life that transform social relations and systems.”

“The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) was founded in 1917 during World War I to give young conscientious objectors ways to serve without joining the military or taking lives. They drove ambulances, ministered to the wounded, and stayed on in Europe after the armistice to rebuild war-ravaged communities.”

What are The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)?

“The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) are a movement within Christianity that began in 1650s England. Early Friends sought to revive “primitive Christianity” by going back to the roots of Jesus’ teachings around non-violence, simple living, God’s concern for the marginalized, the immediate and equal access to God’s Spirit.”

“As a result of Quaker faith, Friends have started many organizations in response to issues they felt led to address in their communities and countries. These issues include advocacy, consultation, support, and resources, development, education (including libraries), environmental and ecojustice, investment management, retreat, conference, and study centers and service and peace work.”

About the Grand Rapids Friends Meeting (GRFM)

“Friends (Quakers) have been meeting in the Grand Rapids, Michigan, area for over 50 years. Currently, the Meeting for Worship is on Sundays on Zoom (during the Covid 19 pandemic) beginning at 10:30 a.m. following an unprogrammed style of worship that is part of the Green Pastures Quarterly Meeting and the Lake Erie Yearly Meeting under the umbrella of Friends General Conference (FGC).

An account of highlights in the history of GRFM and AFSC in the 1960s and 1970s and IGE in the 1980s and 1990s follows:

Grand Rapids Friends began to meet in the fall of 1961 at the Central YMCA on Library Street.  The Grand Rapids Friends Meeting (GRFM) was officially formed in the lounge of Fountain Street Church and they soon found a need for outreach to the community for AFSC activities through speakers, films and publications addressing issues of peace and justice in the 1960s and 1970s.  In 1980, the AFSC office was reorganized as the Institute for Global Education as a continuing office.

April/May 1962 – GRFM found a need for outreach to the community for AFSC activities.

June 1962 – The first GRFM project in Grand Rapids was the showing of two films produced by AFSC, “Which Way the Wind” and “The Language of Faces”, at the Grand Rapids YWCA, with 50 people attending.

September 1962 – Stephen and Betty Ford and their children began attending GRFM.

1963 – Martha and Olga Wagbo began attending GRFM.

October 1965 – War Toys campaign (to discourage playing with violent toys such as toy guns, GI Joes etc.)

November 1965 – AFSC, GRFM and FSC sponsored a “China Institute” at Fountain Street Church.

April 1966 – The Michigan Area Committee of the AFSC Report Meeting was held at East Congregational Church.

July 1967 – GRFM supported Vietnam Summer, a national project to raise awareness of the escalation of the Vietnam War and to end US involvement.  The Kent County Peace Council was a grassroots outgrowth of this project.

1969 – Jo Graham became a member.

1970-1971 – Ongoing peacemaking efforts by the GRFM.  Some members served on the Michigan Area Committee of the AFSC.

Fall of 1970 – Chester Graham became Clerk of the GRFM.

Fall of 1971 – Mark Kane was hired by the AFSC to be a Peace Intern in the West Michigan Area.

July 1974 – The AFSC in West Michigan was upgraded to be an office in Grand Rapids.  For the next 6 years, it would be called the West Michigan AFSC Office.  Its work, focusing first on working on hunger and the rural poor, expanded to include such issues as disarmament, apartheid in South Africa, peace education in the schools.

September 1976 – GRFM began meeting at the AFSC office, located at 28 Jefferson.

Fall of 1980 – The West Michigan AFSC Office was closed.  The Institute for Global Education was started to carry on the peace and justice work begun by the AFSC.  Mark Kane was the first Director of the IGE.  The GRFM raised funds immediately for IGE and continued as a funder of IGE for many years.  Many members of the GRFM remained active in IGE.

Fall of 1980 – Judi Buchman became a member.

1985 – IGE brought John Stockwell to speak in Grand Rapids.

September 19, 1988 – Chester Graham died at the age of 96.  For many years after, IGE presented the Chester Graham Award to community members for their notable work to further peace and justice.

IIn the late 1980’s, Judi Buchman, an IGE Board member, befriended Martha Wagbo, a former GRFM member, who owned a farm near Jordan, Michigan, in Antrim County, and Martha became a regular donor to IGE.  One day, she met with Judi and shared her wishes to leave the farm and all her assets to a non-profit peace and justice organization on condition that her farm would become a center for promoting the causes of peace and justice.  At that meeting, Martha wrote on a napkin that her farm and assets should go to IGE.  This was subsequently written into her Last Will and Testament.  Upon Martha’s death, IGE accepted the Trust in 1992.  IGE Board members went up to the Wagbo farm and cleaned it up, using money from the Trust.  The IGE Board hired Rick and Traci Meisterheim to manage the farm, which became the Wagbo Peace Center.  IGE continued to manage the Trust until the Wagbo Peace Center contested IGE for the management of the Trust.  The matter went to court in Antrim County and the Court ruled that the Trust should stay in Antrim County and that their two Boards should work out an agreement.  A proposal was accepted on April 10, 1999.  Since then, IGE has received a modest payment from Wagbo Peace Center every year.

10th Anniversary Annual Meeting – November 1991 – IGE’s office was upstairs at the office of the Eastown Community Association, 415 Ethel SE, in Grand Rapids.  Ed Prong, a founder of IGE, was organizing a series of meetings about promoting the withdrawal of US funding for the Contras in Nicaragua.  IGE could have claimed credit for in part sponsoring speakers Maria del Socorro, an assistant to ex-Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, Dumisani Kumalo, an exiled black South African journalist and anti apartheid activist and John Stockwell, a disgruntled former member of the CIA.  Grand Rapids Press, 11/10/1991.


Authored by Gerard Akkerhuis.  This history is incomplete.  There are so many people involved who contributed to countless IGE events over 40 years.  For contributions, additions or corrections, please email me at email hidden; JavaScript is required.