NewsThen and Now


Then and Now: Catching up with former GR mayor George Heartwell

Posted at 9:55 PM, Mar 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-02 20:38:35-05

Former Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell has been in the news recently after being selected to chair a state commission by the governor, only to be denied by the Republican-led Senate.

But before that, Heartwell had spent most of his time since leaving the mayor’s office enjoying the outdoors. FOX 17 tracked him down at his house about an hour north of Grand Rapids in Newaygo County to see what life has been like for him since he left office on Dec. 31, 2015.

He is spending a lot of his personal time outdoors on his 30 acres of land, where taps maple syrup, keeps bees and even cross-country skis.

“I have found a good mix, I want to be as useful for as long as I can be,” he said before getting into the numerous boards on which he serves.

Immediately after he left office, Heartwell spent nearly two years working part-time at Grand Valley State University’s Office of Sustainability Practices.

“That gave me an opportunity to sort of ease into retirement, but also let me stay involved in some of the things that were important to me,” he said.

When FOX 17 met with Heartwell, he had just returned from a monthlong trip to Florida, where he spent a lot of his time, not surprisingly, on a boat.

“All of my fishing is catch and release. Wait, let me be honest, when I catch a walleye, he goes straight to the frying pan,” he said with a laugh.

He also has spent time on the State Transportation Commission, the Newaygo Economic Development Corporation Board, the Muskegon River Watershed Assembly Board, the West Michigan Environmental Action Council Board, International Joint Commission Water Quality Board, and the Environmental Law and Policy Center-Michigan Advisory Board.

When asked if he would have stayed Grand Rapids’ mayor if the city hadn’t voted for term limits, Heartwell said he still would have left when he did.

“No, and for one thing, I knew I had a competent successor who was ready to step up and do the great things that (Mayor Rosalynn Bliss) has done in the city,” Heartwell said.

Heartwell called his career journey “circuitous,” from mortgage banking, to ministry, to political office and higher education and added life as a former mayor today is great.

“It is absolutely the best, I couldn’t be happier to tell the truth,” he said.