LANSING — Brothers and businessmen Jim, Tom and Mike Schwark of Macomb County have established an annual college scholarship in honor of their parents, especially their late father’s highly successful career in furniture retailing.
The new Kenneth A. and Margaret Schwark Legacy Scholarship will be awarded for the first time in May 2016 as part of the Michigan Retailers Association (MRA) regular scholarship competition. It will be one of approximately 35 $1,000 scholarships awarded annually by MRA and its Michigan Retailers Foundation.
Mr. Kenneth Schwark, who died in March 2014 at the age of 89, was the founder of the former Schwark Furniture store chain and the Sycamore Hills Golf Club. Margaret Schwark is 92.
“We want to find students looking for a better education who need some help,” said Jim Schwark in explaining how he and brothers Mike and Tom decided on the scholarship. “We want to help them out as best we can and honor our parents’ names in doing it.”
The $1,000 scholarship provides a boost Mr. Schwark never had, his sons say. A child of the Great Depression, he could never afford college and taught himself business.
After World War II, Mr. Schwark, who had served in the Army Air Forces, opened two Army surplus stores in downtown Mount Clemens. He then transitioned into the sporting goods business, selling that business to his father and brother when he decided to give furniture retailing a go.
Mr. Schwark and a partner, Bill Dopp, opened the Dopp and Schwark Furniture store in downtown Mount Clemens in 1957. When the partnership ended in 1962, Mr. Schwark took his furniture sales know-how to downtown Utica, opening the first Schwark Furniture store.
Satisfied his concept was working, Mr. Schwark left that rented space in 1966, building a standalone store in Shelby Township. In 1972 the store at 23 Mile and Van Dyke Avenue became part of the Shelby Square shopping center that the Schwark family constructed.
The Schwarks added a store in St. Clair in 1984, one in Mount Clemens in 1989 and a second Shelby Township store in 1993. The Shelby location, at 23 Mile and Schoenherr roads, also housed the corporate offices.
The family also developed the Sycamore Hills Golf Club in Macomb Township, opening the 27-hole course in 1989.
The family closed the furniture chain, which had 90 employees at its peak, in 2003, after the auto industry slowdown affected furniture retailing. They retained the shopping center and the golf course, and Mr. Schwark remained active in both.
The brothers remain involved in the ownership and operation of the course and the shopping center.
The MRA scholarship competition runs from January 1 to April 1 each year. High school seniors and college freshmen, sophomores and juniors who are dependent sons and daughters of owners or full-time employees of MRA’s 5,000 member businesses are eligible to apply. Part-time employees who are full-time students also are eligible.
The program has provided 465 scholarships to students since 1999.
Named scholarships such as the Schwarks’ can be established under the “Links to a Legacy” initiative that enables major donors ($10,000 and above in contributions over their lifetime) to leave a lasting legacy through a named scholarship. With the addition of the Schwark scholarship, 20 of the MRA awards will be Legacy scholarships.
Additional information about the program is available at MRA’s website, www.retailers.com, under the Education & Events pulldown menu near the top of the homepage.
Michigan Retailers Association represents nearly 5,000 member businesses and their more than 15,000 stores and websites. MRA has been a trusted business resource for 75 years and provides profit-boosting membership services such as legislative advocacy, expert credit card processing, business and personal insurances, and shipping discounts.