December 17, 2021

A Lasting Legacy

Marjorie and Ernest Flegenheimer embraced For Good, For Ever with a planned gift from their estate

Marjorie and Ernest Flegenheimer in 1962 at home in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Brick fireplace in background and plant to the left. Marjorie and Ernest are seated on the fireplace hearth dressed in formal attire. Marjorie has her right arm around Ernest’s shoulder.

Marjorie and Ernest Flegenheimer in 1962 at home in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Ernest Flegenheimer was born in Zurich, Switzerland and lived in Germany, Italy and Switzerland until the age of 12, when his family fled Nazi Germany in 1939. Winnipeg, Canada became his new home and ultimately the United States in 1942, where he became a naturalized citizen a year later.


In the early 1950s, while living in New York City, Ernest met Marjorie McGinn on a blind date. In 1952, the two were married in New York City.


Ernest’s father, Albert Flegenheimer, who had been working in the sugar industry for many decades, encouraged Ernest move to Wisconsin if he was interested in working in the sugar industry as there were jobs there. In 1955, Ernest and Marjorie moved to Green Bay, Wisconsin and Ernest began working for a sugar manufacturer – learning everything there was to learn about the sugar industry.


Eight years later, in 1963, Ernest’s father presented him with an opportunity. Albert Flegenheimer had become involved with Michigan Sugar Company in Saginaw. The company was struggling financially and Albert believed Ernest was the right person to help improve the company’s financial footing. 


The sugar beet growers were skeptical that a young and unproven individual such as Ernest would be up to the task and they requested to meet with him personally before deciding to continue growing sugar beets.


In a quote from the book, The Sugar Man by Andy Bigford, Ernest said: “They wanted to meet me. They asked me if I was going to fire everyone, and I said ‘No.’ I guess I passed the test.”


One of the challenges was to convince the local farmers to continue to grow sugar beets and believe in Michigan Sugar, despite its financial woes at the time.


“The growers could have grown anything – beans, corn or wheat,” said current Michigan Sugar President and CEO Mark Flegenheimer, son of Marjorie and Ernest. “Our dad convinced them that sugar beets were the crop for them and that Michigan Sugar Company was there to help.”


After Ernest took the position at Michigan Sugar Company, Ernest and Marjorie moved to Saginaw from Green Bay. They quickly felt at home in Saginaw and became involved in numerous community organizations. Ernest served on the boards of Saginaw General Hospital, United Way of Saginaw County, Junior Achievement and the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra while Marjorie served on the board of the Saginaw Art Museum and often could be found volunteering in the Saginaw Township Schools. 


Marjorie enjoyed gardening, painting, reading and playing tennis.  She had a great sense of adventure and loved exploring many places across the globe. Her generous spirit and hospitality were legendary; this truly came to life during summers spent at their beloved cottage on Crystal Lake in northern Michigan. Today their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren continue to gather there honoring traditions while creating new memories of their own.


Meanwhile, with Ernest in charge at Michigan Sugar, the company was transformed from an industry laggard to a leader. Ernest inspired and fostered an atmosphere of mutual respect with his employees and growers. Ernest was a gentleman in every aspect who earned an unblemished reputation for honesty, integrity, and goodwill.


For Good. For Ever.

In the mid-1990s, Ernest and Marjorie worked with Saginaw Community Foundation to create a donor advised fund that would be named as the beneficiary from an IRA fund upon their passing. At the time, Saginaw Community Foundation was a relatively new charitable organization in the Saginaw area. Ernest and Marjorie had a history of giving back to the community and quickly realized that SCF was the organization that would help them achieve their philanthropic goals.


“They embraced the idea of ‘for good, for ever’,” according to their children. “The planned gift they committed to would be endowed and would last forever – and SCF would handle all the details. They understood that to attempt to do something charitable on their own would be difficult and challenging. SCF simplified the process.”


Marjorie passed away in 2017 and Ernest earlier this year in 2021. With their planned gift now fully realized, their children –
Ellen, Lauren, Eric, and Mark – will be recommending grants from the Flegenheimer Family Fund.


Through the fund, the Flegenheimer siblings will continue to look to support organizations and projects that their parents would have supported. The family agreed that each sibling, starting with the oldest and working their way to the youngest, will take turns each year making recommendations from the fund. This way, each sibling will get a turn once every four years.


“The fund has the flexibility to broadly support a variety of organizations and projects or to look to make an impact with a single project,” said Mark. “Our parents were very good role models. It’s in our DNA to continue giving back to the community.”


Three generations of the Flegenheimer Family are in the photo, taken outside with natural foliage background. The family is pictured in casual apparel.

The Flegenheimer Family.

Besides creating a donor advised fund to be later funded by a planned gift, Marjorie and Ernest also established a scholarship fund at SCF. They believed strongly in the merits of higher education and this fund would recognize the importance of education and the difference it can make in a young person’s life.


In a video interview recorded in 2020, Ernest remarked: “We felt that the area had been good to us and our family and we wanted to give back in a small way by establishing a scholarship for local students. They didn’t have to go on to become PhDs or anything like that. That was my wife’s wish that anyone that wanted to further their education or develop new skills be given an opportunity.”


The fund awards scholarships to Saginaw County high school seniors pursuing an undergraduate degree or Career and Technical Education (CTE) training at an accredited Michigan institution.


By working with the Saginaw Community Foundation, Marjorie and Ernest were able to have their philanthropic goals – their dreams for a better tomorrow in Saginaw – realized. They understood that the things they loved and the causes that were near and dear to them would continue to receive support, forever. 


Leaving a Legacy with Planned Giving 

Anyone can make a lasting gift by including a charitable bequest to Saginaw Community Foundation in a will, trust, or estate plan. SCF can help predetermine the type of fund to be established and how that fund will help our community. The fund can be set-up in the donor’s name, the name of the donor’s family, or in honor of any person or organization. Giving to an existing fund at SCF is also an option.


For more information and ideas on ways to create a planned gift from a will, trust or estate plan, visit our Donor Resources page on our website, ask your financial advisor, or contact Saginaw Community Foundation at (989) 755-0545.