Foundation names Uptons distinguished philanthropists

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — The St. Joseph Public Schools Foundation selected Stephen and Elizabeth Upton as the 2016 recipients of its Distinguished Philanthropist Award.

This award was established in 2014 by the Foundation Board to honor an individual, family, association or foundation with a proven record of providing major, ongoing financial support and leadership to the SJPS Foundation.

Stephen, a lifelong St. Joseph resident, attended SJHS his freshman through junior years and graduated in 1943 from Deerfield Academy in Deerfield, Mass.

After graduation, he served his country in the U.S. Infantry for 2.5 years and participated in the Battle of the Bulge. He returned to Michigan and began his studies at the University of Michigan, graduating with a degree in business in 1949.

Elizabeth, whom Stephen knew growing up, graduated from Lyons Township High School in LaGrange, Ill., in 1947. She, too, attended the University of Michigan, graduating in 1951 with a bachelors of education.

Her interest in education led her to participate in many childhood development and adoption-related workshops.

While at U-M, as Steve puts it, “Cupid’s arrow struck.” They have been married 65 years and have five grown children and many grandchildren. Through the years, they have been involved in the Twin Cities.

Steve, who led the Frederick S. Upton Foundation for 55 years, said he is proud of its continual contribution to the area schools and organizations. Elizabeth took in foster children, in addition to her own children.

“I love being a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and foster mother,” Elizabeth said. “Guiding our children through the process of accepting and including foster children into our home/family was (a) heart-warming accomplishment.”

The Uptons opened their home to 15 foster children over a period of eight years.

Why they’re here

The Uptons’ upbringing and belief in education is what led them to contributing to the SJPS Foundation.

That’s why the two St. Joseph residents will be honored at a Sunday reception in the SJHS Student Center with this year’s Distinguished Alumni and later that day at the commencement ceremony.

Though they have funded several projects and experiences for St. Joseph students, Stephen said he believes the planetarium project at Upton Middle School is one of their favorite contributions. Elizabeth said they also take joy in bringing in speakers, which included Dr. Ben Carson, who visited in 2014.

“We believe in education, so we have tried to support the education system,” Elizabeth said. “My father was on my board of education for 16 years, so I knew the importance of education.”

While he feels as though there are others that have done more, Stephen said he and his wife are very appreciative of the honor.

“When my father first started, Whirlpool had maybe three or four people,” Stephen said. “Now nearly 90,000 work there. My father’s credo was to reinvest in the people here. So, we wanted to use our success to give back to others.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on June 4, 2016)

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