Giving to Greater Detroit

Published Jan. 13, 2015: Many families recognize the importance of financially saving for the future. United Way is saving for the community's future with the help of donors like Eric Hespenheide and his wife, Judy Hicks.

Video by Charles Ashley. Story by Marina Csomor.

Eric Hespenheide is no stranger to giving. From a young age, his family instilled in him the value of community service. Decades later, his early memories of volunteering are still vivid. Sitting in his Bingham Farms home, Eric shared how these past experiences inspired his philosophy of giving and decision to support United Way.

From the beginning

“I grew up in a household where we volunteered for anything and everything in our local communities,” explained Eric.

One of his most memorable community service projects took place during high school. As part of a church youth group, Eric and his friends were looking forward to repainting the interior of a state-run mental health facility near Calabasas in California.

Eric and his wife Judy have been supporters of United Way for about 35 years.

Upon their arrival, they were hit with the stark reality of the patients’ lives.

“Seeing the kids in the institution — reflecting on what they had and what we had,” Eric said. “It was a stark reminder of how fortunate we are.”

It was just one of many volunteer experiences that reinforced Eric’s commitment to his community.

Eric’s early life took him to many cities across the United States, but he eventually settled into Detroit, earning his degree at the University of Detroit Mercy.

As a CPA and 25-year partner at Deloitte, he and his wife, Judy Hicks, have been supporters of United Way for Southeastern Michigan for about 35 years — as well as longtime members of the Alexis De Tocqueville Society, which is composed of volunteer champions who donate more than $10,000 annually. The couple was drawn to United Way because of its work to solve complex problems around Education, Basic Needs and Financial Stability through partnerships with the community, private sectors and donors.

Leaving a legacy

As Eric approached retirement, he was looking for a way his contributions could make greater impact. Around this time, Eric received a letter asking him to join United Way’s newly created Legacy Society Committee. The letter explained that the Legacy Society Committee was seeking individuals like Eric who are concerned about the future of Greater Detroit. Through endowment gifts, which the committee promotes, United Way will be able to build funds for a sustainable future and adapt to the community’s fluctuating needs.

Eric was immediately on board. Although neither he nor his wife grew up in Greater Detroit, they raised their children here and have long called Southeastern Michigan home.

“I think we hear almost every day of another success story in terms of a business opening or expanding in Detroit. We just need 10 times that and 100 times that and 1,000 times that to get the city back to where it should be based on its geographic location, its history and its cultural aspects,” he said. “I just have a strong belief in Detroit and the Metro area.”

Eric and Judy chose United Way Life to leave their legacy gift.

He continued, “So this was actually kind of a no-brainer for us.”

Eric had always made sure to financially save for his family’s future, and he realized he could help United Way do the same for his community.

Using United Way Life to make his legacy gift, he and his wife have taken out a $250,000 joint life insurance policy, which will be gifted to United Way upon their passing. Just five annual premium payments make this larger gift a possibility. 

“This was a way of putting what I preach into practice and actually making the commitment ourselves to some long-term legacy funding so that the organization has the opportunity to carry on when we’re not here,” he explained.

Eric said United Way has made it easy for anyone to donate a gift toward the organization’s future — it can be as simple as making a bequest to United Way in one’s will. Donors can also leave a legacy gift through individual retirement accounts, 401k’s, insurance policies, charitable gift annuities or trusts. In many cases, making smaller payments now allows for larger gifts in the future.

Eric knows he won’t be around forever. But with his legacy gift and the planned gifts of others, he knows United Way can continue working on the community’s most pressing issues for generations to come.

And with his gift, Eric hopes to leave an even greater legacy: belief in the strength of the Detroit community.

“It is about the people, and it is about the future.”


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