"All I am is a sweeper manufacturer from Dexter, Michigan," says Phil Jenkins.
Well, not quite.
Jenkins was a young engineer working for Caterpillar Tractor in 1949 when
he got a call summoning him home to Dexter to take over the family farm equipment
business. Once back in Michigan, a call from an old classmate — an automobile
dealer — changed everything. Jenkins recalls, "He mentioned that if he
just had a sweeper on the front of his Jeep, he could sell a hundred of them."
Photo: Gregory Fox
Jenkins and his shop manager, Jim Klaperich, spent a weekend fashioning such
a vehicle, and Sweepster was born. A half-century later, Sweepster, Inc., manufactures
attachment, walk-behind, self-propelled and airport runway sweepers for all
types of equipment used in airports, municipalities, agriculture and construction
around the globe. Annual sales total about $50 million, with aviation products
generating about 25 percent of the gross revenue. And if that's not enough,
Jenkins has channeled his success into a selfless and inspiring philanthropy.
He funded the creation of the Generations Together center in Dexter where
preschool children and senior citizens enrich each other's lives. He supported
the expansion of the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum to encourage more children to
go into engineering-related fields instead of overcrowded fields like law.
But it's his commitment to health care that has proven truly extraordinary.
In 1999, Jenkins learned of the work of Mark Moyad, a young Michigan researcher,
and his holistic approach to prostate cancer research and treatment. Impressed
and eager to help, he gave $1.5 million to establish the Phil F. Jenkins Complementary
and Alternative Medicine Endowment Fund at the University of Michigan. "I did
it for Mark Moyad," says Jenkins. "He's a brilliant guy doing a great job for
breast and prostate cancer around the country and around the world. I'm just
amazed at the guy. What I want is results. I want to see the U-M get more researchers
like Mark Moyad and keep them here."
"I can't think of one person who has had more of an impact on my medical career
and the lives of my patients," says Moyad. "Phil Jenkins has set up a situation
I call 'old fashioned medicine in a modern time.' Because of his support of
my time, I can spend as much time with a patient as necessary. I can see a
retired couple who aren't wealthy but need a consultation, and I can take the
time with them they need. I can go to a patient's house, or talk on the phone
with them. People are now using this as a model of what can be accomplished
when a patient and a health professional get together and share a vision of
making health care better. Phil is a person who invests in people, not in concepts
or things that, maybe 100 years from now, might do something."
Jenkins didn't stop there. Last year, he gave $2 million to the U-M Medical
School to help build the new U-M Depression Center.
"This is a thrilling and gratifying development," says John Greden, M.D.,
the Rachel Upjohn Professor of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience in the
medical school, chair of the Department of Psychiatry and senior research scientist
at the U-M Mental Health Research Institute. "The Depression Center at Michigan
is dedicated to being a leader in the study and treatment of depressive illnesses
and to forging a new public policy toward this disorder. That people like Phil
Jenkins are coming on board in support of this endeavor truly demonstrates
that the tide has turned, and that depression is now being addressed as a chronic
disease like diabetes. This extraordinary support brings us closer to effective
treatments for this devastating disease."
Jenkins, whose wife, Lyn, lived with depression before her death in 1999,
is all too familiar with the toll the disease takes on people. "I see depression
everywhere," he says. "It's an insidious thing we really don't recognize. One
problem is that we don't admit that we have it — it carries a stigma, and we
have to get over that.
"I believe in John Greden. He's an honest and straightforward guy, probably
the most common-sense psychiatrist I've ever met."
Jenkins' gift will be used to help build the U-M Depression Center facility
— a place where research, clinical care and education will intersect in an
environment of hope.
Once constructed, the University of Michigan Depression Center will be the
first comprehensive research and treatment facility in the United States devoted
to depressive illnesses. Says Greden, "One of our goals for the center is to
diminish the stigma of depression. Other disorders, like cancer, were stigmatized
in the past. Now we have a national network of 21 cancer centers. Ten years
from now, I hope we will have a national network of depression centers; it
is our goal to catalyze this trend with our initiative at Michigan."