Bill Piper is not a musician. In fact, by his account, he doesn’t have a musical bone in his body. But for 26 years, he has committed to supporting budding performers in their artistic journeys through his contributions to the Seeing Stars! Tuition Assistance program at Flint School of Performing Arts.

His wife, Joyce, was the musician in his family. He met her at his first day on the job at Genesee Bank, where he would stay for the next 30 years and eventually become its president. But after they were married, Joyce left the office to raise their children, teaching them and countless other students to play piano in their home. When she passed away too soon in 1998, there was no question about how to honor her legacy: Bill would invest in the music instruction to which she had devoted her life. Just one year after the new Seeing Stars! Tuition Assistance fund was established at FSPA, he began making yearly donations and attending the annual showcase and benefit in February.

His memories of FSPA began long before Seeing Stars, however. His own children were involved in music lessons and ensembles at FSPA throughout their youth. He, like so many parents of young performers at FSPA, considered it a second home. “Sometimes I joke that all I remember of those years is the back of my steering wheel!” he says of his time in transit to rehearsals and lessons for his three kids.

But that’s not all he remembers of that time. He distinctly recalls a performance in which the conductor of the Flint Youth Symphony addressed the audience to declare that the kids in the ensemble were not “wayward kids.”

“These were the good kids. They had an outlet in their music,” he says. That moment reinforced the importance of investing in music instruction. First, for his own kids, and later, investing in programs like Seeing Stars that provide the same opportunities to kids who couldn’t otherwise afford them. “Kids in Flint Schools, where they are cutting funding for arts and whole arts programs, they aren’t getting the same opportunities as kids who have those things in their districts. Through the tuition assistance program, FSPA provides opportunities for them to participate. And it’s so important.”

But his generosity to FIM doesn’t stop with Seeing Stars. Mr. Piper also supports the Flint Symphony Orchestra and a general fund at FSPA. He also credits his long-time service as a trustee of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation for allowing him to expand his personal philanthropy through the Foundation’s trustee advised grant program.

His philanthropic spirit was fostered long before his 40-year tenure on the Mott Board, however.
As a youngster and a member of a strict Methodist family, he was taught to reserve a measure of his allowance for the church. And beyond monetary contribution, he learned early the value of hard work and the reward of contributing to your family and community. Mr. Piper recalls how his grandfather would wake him at 6 am each morning to help maintain a garden he’d created on a vacant lot in what is now Flint’s College Cultural Neighborhood. “I thought I was so put-upon. While all my friends were sleeping, he’d get me up to help him hoe the garden,” recalls Piper. “But I remember looking up as the sun was rising and thinking how beautiful it was. I’ll never forget that.”

“Of course, I never told my grandfather that,” he adds with a chuckle. “I wanted him to think I was miserable!”

And what did his grandfather do with the fruit of all that labor? He gave it away. He’d stop by the homes of his family members, who all happened to live in the surrounding neighborhood, dropping off freshly harvested fruits and vegetables as a casual excuse to check up on them.

It’s no wonder that family has continued to be one of Bill’s motivating forces, and he has worked hard to instill a message of philanthropy and connection in his kids and grandkids as well.
When asked what fuels his optimism and drive to support organizations like FIM, Mr. Piper acknowledges that he was gifted with a life of privilege. And while he has certainly encountered his share of tragedy over time, he never feels less than fortunate.

“I realized as a very young man that you find whatever it is you’re looking for,” he says. “If you’re looking for misery, you’ll find it. If you’re looking for happiness, you’ll find it. And the more you look for it, the more you’ll find.”
And like that sunrise he secretly admired over the gardens of his youth, he looks for beauty in the city where he has spent 90 years establishing roots.

“I got to see the city at its best,” Mr. Piper insists. “I got the best of the world, and as a result need to find ways to make it better for folks who may not have had the opportunities I did. I always tell my children that you can’t change the whole world, but you can change your piece of it.”

FIM is grateful that Mr. Piper considers us a piece of his world. And we are proud to have him in ours.