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Donor Story: Community honors lifetime philanthropist John G. Levy through Child Life endowment

[Left to Right] Jody Levy, Nancy Levy, John Levy, Melissa Levy, Ryan Lien

John Levy was the kind of Papa that crawled on the ground with his grandchildren, Raven and Roen. He visited them for daily walks, chased them around the house, even climbed into their cribs to read bedtime stories.

From Papa to dad and husband, to businessman and philanthropist, everything John did was from the heart.

Kids were the reason John started volunteering at Children’s Hospital of Michigan (CHM) in his mid-twenties, leading to 45 years of service at CHM and the Detroit Medical Center (DMC). Eventually he would become the hospital system’s Chair of Governing Board. He gave DMC his all up until the day he passed in June 2023 after a two-year battle with cancer.

It was John’s lifetime commitment to supporting children that inspired John’s family to establish the John G. Levy Endowment at the Children’s Foundation in support of Child Life Services at Children’s Hospital of Michigan – a cause John found so important throughout his volunteering tenure. He always wanted to ensure children felt comfortable and supported through their stay.

Studies show Child Life Services result in cost savings, including reduced length of stay, decreased sedation needs, and improved overall hospital experiences. Nevertheless, each year, these services are a vulnerable budget line item because they aren’t reimbursable by insurance. Regardless of financials, John always pushed to prioritize and preserve Child Life Services because he believed in the importance of enhancing a child’s experience and the power of creating comfort and joy.

John loved that play, art, music, and other forms of expression helped kids feel a sense of normalcy and cope through difficulty – Child Life allows them to feel like kids during a scary and overwhelming time. By establishing the John G. Levy Endowment, Child Life Services can now rely on perpetual income to support and grow their important efforts.

“John knew the value of the Child Life services,” said Nancy Levy, John’s wife. “That’s why my daughters, my son-in-law Ryan, and I established this endowment – to make sure kids today, and far into the future, will have the support of Child Life.”

Nancy and John were married for 48 wonderful years; their daughters, Jody and Melissa were his world.

To John’s family, he was the softball coach, the leader of adventures and road trips, and the mischievous instigator. His daughters reflect on how he showed up, present and with purpose to lead by example and make the mundane meaningful. He would play his favorite songs by Chicago and STYX on family road trips. He was his daughters’ biggest supporter, teaching them that there are no problems too big to solve and no goals too out of reach to attain. John was everyone’s first phone call, a first responder in all areas of life.

John with grandchildren Raven and Roen

John’s professional career spanned industries including the Motion Picture industry, entertainment and live events, athletic apparel, and distribution, and ultimately large-scale FEMA disaster recovery with his Business Base Tactical Disaster Recovery. John was an innovative and dynamic leader in the Detroit Metropolitan community and throughout the world.

Serving the Detroit Medical Center and Children’s Hospital of Michigan was John’s passion project, and everyone around him knew it.

“Dad didn’t have regular hobbies; the hospital was his hobby,” said John’s youngest daughter, Melissa.

John led DMC with as much attention and purpose as everything else in his life, helping to save the hospital system from closing in the early 2000s, tailoring the way care was delivered, and guiding the system through leadership and operational changes.

More than 130 individuals have donated to the John G. Levy Endowment. His family has heard stories about him from donors through all chapters of his life – a testament to his impact.

“He was never one for attention, but he would be so touched and amazed about how much he has inspired others,” Nancy said.

The initial goal of the endowment was to raise $250,000 for Child Life Services; five months after establishing the endowment, the Levy family has raised way above $300k and growing every day.  

“My dad inspired people to courageously be the best version of themselves,” John’s oldest daughter, Jody said. “For some, it was how he led by example; for others it was his direct action. He empowered and inspired everyone from kids to government leaders and everything in between to show up with truth and integrity — a value system that is rare and so special.”

At John’s funeral, City of Detroit Mayor, Mike Duggan, noted that “John is the greatest philanthropist you wouldn’t know existed because his name isn’t anywhere in the city.” It was this sentiment that inspired the John G. Levy Child Life Endowment. Now, John’s name and his legacy will be honored in the lobby of his esteemed “Children’s”, as he called it, for years to come.  

The culmination of gifts will lead to naming the Children’s Hospital of Michigan lobby as the John G. Levy Lobby. An interactive donor wall, designed by the family and design firm Echo Charlie of whom John was very close and worked with for decades, will be installed, including interactive play elements. As plans are coming together, Jody said that she can hear her dad cheering in excitement about how much joy this installation will bring the kids who pass by and play.

A celebration of John, his legacy at the hospital, the launch of the Child Life endowment, and a reveal of the donor wall is being planned for this spring.

“For decades, my dad watched how difficult it was for families to navigate illness and injury,” said Melissa “This endowment has spread awareness about the hospital and Child Life, and it is going to help kids for a long time – I can’t think of anything that would make my dad happier.”

If you would like to donate to the John G. Levy Endowment, please click here.

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