Discover more from Year Of The Opposite - Travis Stoliker's Substack
The Edward Lowe Foundation - Michigan's Best Kept Secret
What is "Legacy"? Edward Lowe shows us...
“I don't expect myself to live forever but I think that the memory or whatever I build could be so arranged that the thought would go on forever. The only way that I can do it is by developing a foundation so the land and the property out here that I have will be dedicated to the foundation that they can help people and it will go on forever.” - Edward Lowe - Inventor of Kitty Litter.
Edward Lowe invented Kitty Litter right here in Michigan. He literally and figuratively was responsible for bringing the cat indoors. Not only did he create a new product that solved a real problem, he invented a new industry worth billions today. He eventually sold his company for ~$200 million which is nearly $500 million today.
Mr. Lowe grew up so poor his family burned corn cobs for heat and had no indoor toilet. But after the sale, me spent lavishly, acquiring 22 homes, a 72-foot yacht, a stable of quarter horses, a private railroad and an entire Michigan town.
Mr. Lowe was a serial entrepreneur who secured 32 patents, 115 trademarks and 36 copyrights. But it was one of his last inventions, the Edward Lowe Foundation, that had a huge impact on my life.
During his lifetime, Mr. Lowe noticed that there was ample support available for startup companies, as well as a wealth of resources for large, established corporations. However, he identified a significant gap in resources for what are now referred to as "Second Stage Entrepreneurs." These are companies that have successfully navigated the startup phase and possess both the capability and desire to continue growing. Typically, Second Stage companies employ between 10 and 99 people and generate annual revenues ranging from $1 million to $50 million.
Importantly, Second Stage Entrepreneurs play a crucial role in job creation. For example, between 2005 and 2015, while second-stage companies made up only 17 percent of all U.S. businesses, they were responsible for generating over 37 percent of jobs and 36 percent of sales.
The Edward Lowe Foundation was established in 1985 dedicated to two primary missions.
Supporting Entrepreneurship: The foundation aims to foster entrepreneurship by providing resources, education, and support to entrepreneurs, particularly those in the second-stage of business development. The foundation recognizes the importance of these businesses in driving economic growth and job creation.
Land Stewardship: The foundation is also dedicated to land stewardship and conservation. Edward Lowe and his wife, Darlene, were passionate about preserving natural habitats and wildlife. The foundation manages the land that was once the Lowes' residence, known as Big Rock Valley, as a natural preserve and uses it as a venue for leadership retreats and educational programs.
Big Rock Valley (BRV), the Edward Lowe Foundation's property near Cassopolis, Michigan, spans over 2,000 acres and is some of the most beautiful property I have ever seen. The property features diverse ecosystems, including wetlands, forests, prairies, and lakes, which support a rich array of plant and animal life. With its unique architectural elements and recreational opportunities, BRV offers a remarkable blend of natural splendor and conservation efforts.
I am connected to the Edward Lowe Foundation in a couple ways. The first is that my wife Laken works there. Second is that I am a Second Stage Entrepreneur myself.
Michigan Celebrates Small Business (MCSB) is the most prestigious small business awards program in the state of Michigan. The “50 Companies To Watch” award recognizes that 50 up and coming businesses in Michigan. I have been blessed to win this award twice. Once in 2005 with Liquid Web and again in 2023 with Saddleback BBQ. Winning this award granted me the great privilege to be invited to spend 3 days learning and growing at the Edward Lowe Foundation property.
I’m embarrassed to admit that when we were invited in 2005 my exact words were “I’m not going to that hippy dippy shit”. Wow, was I wrong. I’m so disappointed in myself that I didn’t avail myself of the opportunity to attend the retreat in 2005.
However, I was fortunate enough to be reinvited when in 2018 Saddleback BBQ won the Small Business Development Center award for Small Business of the year. But, once again, I was an idiot and refused the invitation!
But it was the Year Of The Opposite, and my wife Laken, that helped me smarten up and finally visit the property. After Joe died in February, I was struggling with my depression and I was willing to try anything. This is when I started the Year Of The Opposite and one of the things I tried to do was say YES to everything that I had said NO to before.
Fortunately for me, there was a cancellation and I was invited to go to the foundation for the Entrepreneur In Residence program. It is not an exaggeration to say it was a life changing experience. It was the first time in a decade that I completely turned off all social media, I didn’t check email, I turned off my cell phone, I didn’t answer any phone calls or text messages. I went to the property and I was truly present. I meditated for the first time. I explored the wilderness for hours and hours.
I want to share two experiences that deeply moved me.
Ed’s Cabin is a beautiful house that overlooks 3 gorgeous ponds. Somehow I was fortunate enough to be housed in this beautiful home by myself for 3 days. I remember sitting in a rocking chair for 3 hours meditating and staring out at the ponds. It was my first time ever meditating and it was incredible.
I’ve been an atheist for most of my life, but I was raised catholic. Ed was a catholic and the foundation features the most incredible and exquisite metal sculptures and recreation of the Stations Of The Cross showing Jesus’s last day and his subsequent resurrection. At the end of the stations of the cross is where Mr. Lowe is buried. Walking the stations and sitting in Mr. Lowe’s tomb was enough to make this atheist start attending church again. It was incredibly powerful.
So after turning down invitations to the foundation multiple times between 2005 and 2021, I have now become a “frequent flier.” In less than 2 years I have been fortunate enough to attend 7 different events on the beautiful grounds and I anxiously await my next opportunity to visit.
If you yourself are invited to go, I encourage you, no, I plead with you to be smarter than I was and take the time away from your company to go. I guarantee you it will be worth it.
Following my 6th visit, I was inspired to write Darlene Lowe the following letter that I think encapsulates what the Edward Lowe Foundation means to me.
My Letter to Darlene Lowe thanking her for the Edward Lowe Foundation.
Dear Mrs. Lowe,
I wanted to take a brief moment to thank you and Mr. Lowe. I didn’t know what “Legacy” meant until I visited the Edward Lowe Foundation.
I am now leaving the Edward Lowe Foundation for my second Entrepreneur In Residence program and I have now visited the property six times in less than two years. I can confidently say, I am eager to return again anytime I am offered the opportunity.
When I first visited the Edward Lowe Foundation, it was during a time of deep personal hardship. I had recently lost three of my friends, all passing away tragically young between the ages of 41 and 45, and I found myself grappling with depression for the first time. My life was at a low point. It was during this difficult period that I visited the Edward Lowe Foundation. It offered a beacon of hope and positivity. Its profound influence on me helped to alleviate some of my depression, bolstered my business, and set me on a transformative journey towards better health and well-being. Influenced by my time at ELF, I've managed to lose 40 pounds, rectify my high blood pressure, resolve my high triglyceride levels, and get my high cholesterol under control.
During my inaugural visit, I had the privilege of staying in the cabin that you and Mr. Lowe so warmly offer to guests. Within the comforting confines of this cabin, I found solace in a delicate rocking chair, where I spent three uninterrupted hours in meditative contemplation, all the while observing the abundant wildlife right outside the window. This tranquil interlude remains one of the most profound and moving experiences of my life. My exploration didn't stop within the cabin's walls; I had the opportunity to walk the breadth of your stunning property. I devoted hours to discover the natural wonders so meticulously preserved and graciously shared by you and Mr. Lowe, immersing myself in the serene beauty that your efforts have nurtured.
Mrs. Lowe, your remarkable taste for design and aesthetics leaves an indelible impression. With each visit, whether I stay in any of the meticulously appointed buildings or stroll through the exquisitely landscaped grounds, I am left utterly spellbound. From your carefully chosen books to the evocatively hung pictures, the seamless flow of the rooms, and the thoughtfully incorporated relics of American industrial history, your attention to detail reaches perfection.
For the longest time, I thought that the idea of having a legacy was a pointless endeavor that only served to fulfill one’s ego. You and Mr. Lowe have shown me that I was completely wrong. More than two decades after Mr. Lowe‘s passing, I can positively and undeniably guarantee that you and Mr. Lowe have a legacy that has positively impacted many lives. I didn’t know what “Legacy” meant until I visited the Edward Lowe Foundation.
Every single entrepreneur that I meet on one of these retreats shares with me stories of how the Edward Lowe Foundation has had a tremendously positive impact on their life in very personal and spiritual ways. We truly think of the Edward Lowe Foundation, its staff, the grounds, the other entrepreneurs that we meet here, and you and Mr. Lowe – as Family.
The stories that are shared between the entrepreneurs at these retreats are some of the most powerful and moving stories that I have ever heard in my life, and they are deeply deeply personal. They are the kind of stories that someone would only reluctantly even share with their own priest. But somehow the environment that you have created with Mr. Lowe gives us the comfort and security and safety to feel truly vulnerable and share in ways that we would never share outside of this place.
Your staff and your family are truly one of a kind. I cannot say enough positive things about Dan Wyant. I have been so fortunate to get to know him through my experiences at the Edward Lowe Foundation, where he has taught me about the conservation efforts, told me the history and stories about Mr. Lowe and yourself, but also I have had the great pleasure of getting to know him on a personal level. I am truly in awe of Dan. But it doesn’t just stop there from Colleen, Rhonda, Dino, Rita, Robin, Jose, and every single other person that I have met through the Edward Lowe Foundation has been one-of-a-kind.
My family feels so fortunate to have met you through my time as an entrepreneur at the Edward Lowe Foundation but also through Laken‘s employment with this incredible foundation. I just wanted to take a moment to tell you how incredibly grateful I am to you and to Mr. Lowe. You truly have a legacy and you have impacted me and many others, in profoundly positive ways that I cannot even begin to express adequately.
On Mr. Lowe’s Headstone it reads: “He lived his life for America. Hail Entrepreneur!” I think it is just perfect. Just perfect.
Thank you, Mr. Lowe.