Distinguished Service Medal Citation
David Gardner Frey ’64
David Frey grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and he might never have set foot in Chapel Hill had his track coach not taken his charges to train here in the spring of 1958. There was snow at home but azaleas, dogwods and wisteria were blooming in Chapel Hill. Luckily Coach Ben Snyder was a UNC alumnus, and David quickly fell in love with Chapel Hill and the University.
David has since returned to Grand Rapids, but his affection and vision for Carolina can be seen and felt profoundly, particularly in his support of visual and performing arts, a longstanding Frey family tradition.
The family’s Frey Foundation was founded in 1974 by David’s parents, the late Edward J. and Frances T. Frey, and funded when they passed away in 1988 and 1989 respectively. The foundation funds programs that promote the arts, improve the quality of life for women and children, protect the environment, encourage civic initiatives and advance philanthropy.
David and the Foundation have given numerous gifts to the College of Arts and Sciences, including distinguished professorships in American art, music, dramatic art, and the Frey Foundation Distinguished Professorship. Frey also established the David G. Frey Expendable American Art Fund, given to the Center for Dramatic Art, where he led a committee to raise private funds to match a state appropriation. He also has supported the college’s Faculty Partners program, which supports research, travel, and conferences and purchases equipment.
“What this adds up to is a unique strengthening of the art programs in the College of Arts and Sciences and an amazing accumulation of results,” says Darryl Gless, senior associate dean for the college. “David thinks about providing gifts in areas where even modest amounts of money go a long way, and he’s given large gifts, and they’re going to go a long way permanently.”
Over the years, David has translated his respect for the University into action by serving on the National Development Council, the Board of Visitors, the Arts and Sciences Foundation board of directors, and steering committees for the Bicentennial and Carolina First campaigns.
With Carolina First he is, says campaign Co-chair Paul Fulton ’57, “One of the best. He’s dynamic, a very successful business person and a great leader.”
David holds a bachelor’s in English and a law degree from Carolina. He did a three-year tour with the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War, then went into business in 1971 with Manufacturers Hanover Trust in New York. He returned to Grand Rapids in 1974 to Union Bank & Trust Co., succeeding his father and grandfather, and became president and CEO in 1979. In 1983, David became president and CEO of Union Bancorp Inc. and in 1986 was named chairman of NBD West Michigan when Union Bancorp merged with NBD Bancorp.
In 1988, he became chair of NBD West Michigan, a position he held for a decade. From there he chaired Bank One-West Michigan, and then served as an advisor to Bank One-Michigan. For 16 years he also served on the board of Foremost Corp., the nation’s leading property and casualty insurer of manufactured housing and recreational vehicles.
A longstanding civic leader in the Grand Rapids area, David represents the true spirit of Carolina—nurturing leaders who go forth into their communities and really help raise them up. He’s currently co-chair of the Grand Action Committee, which was organized to build an arena and a convention center. He’s chair and a trustee of the Frey Foundation, a member of the Michigan Business Roundtable, and a trustee of the Gerald R. Ford Foundation, the Frederick Meijer Charitable Trust, the Grand Rapids Art Museum Foundation and the Cranbrook Educational Community in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.
He has been vice chair of the Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Facility Authority; chair of The Right Place Program, a metropolitan Grand Rapids economic development organization; and chair of the Grand Design 2000 Committee. He also chaired the United Way Heart of West Michigan annual campaign in 1981.
Among his many civic awards is the Business Person of the Year by the Economic Club of Grand Rapids in 2003. He holds honorary degrees from the Kendall College of Art and Design, Grand Valley State University and Davenport University.
And, his two sons have followed him to Carolina
Jerry Bolas, director of Carolina’s Ackland Art Museum, is intimately familiar with David’s work, and he sums it up this way: “David has a commitment to Carolina that is broad and goes through many different parts of the University, which sets a model for other folks to consider. He feels an entrepreneurial spirit in his giving. He’s collaborative and thoughtful and a really committed friend who rolls up his sleeves and jumps in both at Carolina and in his own community.”