Stella Royce, Longtime Grand Rapids Philanthropist and Business Owner Passes Away at the Age of 92

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PRESS RELEASE — One of Grand Rapids’ longtime and dedicated community members, Stella Royce, passed away peacefully on Saturday, November 16, 2019 at the age of 92. Stella Royce and her husband Chuck Royce, who passed away in June 2015, were long-time supporters of St. Cecilia Music Center with over 60 years of service to the organization as board members, committee members, campaign chairs and dedicated donors. 

Earlier this year, SCMC announced they will pay tribute to Stella Royce as the second recipient of the Helen DeVos Legacy Award in 2020. Every year, this award celebrates a woman in West Michigan who has demonstrated exemplary service to the arts. This year’s event where Stella Royce will be honored with the award is scheduled for March 7, 2020.

A Celebration of Life for Stella Royce will take place at St. Cecilia Music Center, 24 Ransom Ave. NE in downtown Grand Rapids on Saturday, November 23 from 1:00-3:00PM, with a “Sharing of Memories” segment taking place at 1:30.

The family asks those who would like to give a gift in Stella’s memory to consider St. Cecilia Music Center or another charitable organization of your choice.

Stella Royce was born Stanislawa Kowalczyk in Hamtramck, MI. When both of her parents passed away within five years of her birth, her older sister, Mary, helped find guardians until Stella was able to work for her own room and board. She did this while attending and graduating as Salutatorian from Greenville High School. With a loan from a Greenville family she was able to enroll and receive a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin. Fluent in Spanish and interested in international relations, Stella served as a secretary in the Foreign Service in the Dominican Republic and Mexico City. On a visit back to Michigan, she met Chuck Royce, and after a brief courtship they made arrangements to marry a few weeks later in Mexico City. This began a 62-year partnership which included raising four children, operating a family business (the Royce Rolls Ringer Company) and sharing a deep love for and commitment to the West Michigan community. 

For decades, Chuck and Stella worked with a loyal group of employees to build up the Royce Rolls Ringer Company, while raising their four children – Martha, Matthew, Maria and Charlie.  Matthew and Charlie began working at the business early on, cleaning floors and making deliveries.  Following college, they grew into leadership roles, allowing Chuck and Stella to retire.

Stella enjoyed music throughout her life. She was a soprano soloist, active volunteer, and board member for St. Cecilia Music Center, as well as a multi-decade member of the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus. In addition to St. Cecilia, she served on the boards of several other local organizations, including the Grand Rapids Symphony and Opera Grand Rapids. She and Chuck attended, supported and championed numerous arts, cultural, educational and other charitable institutions and received local, state and national recognition for their philanthropy. 

The entire Royce family had a deep love of music – all four Royce children studied piano and other instruments. Early in their marriage, Chuck and Stella began supporting area music organizations. Chuck’s family traces their involvement at St. Cecilia Music Center to 1913, when his grandmother, Mrs. Matthew Lund, and her daughter, Maria (Chuck’s mother), became members. Chuck grew up roaming the halls and tunnels of the St. Cecilia building with his brother while his mother attended committee meetings and concerts. Since 1913, five generations of Royce family members have participated in programs at St. Cecilia Music Center and Chuck and Stella spent years dedicated to SCMC’s mission and to supporting its programs. 

Executive Director of St. Cecilia Music Center Cathy Holbrook comments: 

“Stella Royce has given over 60 years of service to St. Cecilia Music Center. We are so saddened by the loss of one our most important and beloved patrons and supporters. Chuck and Stella Royce are referred to as the Patron Saints of St. Cecilia Music Center and St. Cecilia wouldn’t be what it is today without them. The immense impact the Royces had on this organization is commemorated in the naming of Royce Auditorium, which will be the family’s legacy in the building forever. We are in the planning stages of the Helen DeVos Legacy Award Gala in March, where we will pay tribute to Stella Royce and all she has done for SCMC and for the arts overall in West Michigan. That event will be even more important now that she is gone, but somewhat bittersweet.”

Chuck and Stella Royce supported a variety of arts and other organizations in West Michigan. They gave money and volunteered their time not only to St. Cecilia Music Center, but also to the Grand Rapids Symphony, Grand Rapids Ballet, Michigan Ballet Academy, Opera Grand Rapids, Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, Girls Choral Academy, Choir of Men and Boys, Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts, Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, Grand Rapids Art Museum, Grandville Center for the Arts and Humanities, Michigan Council for the Arts, Interlochen Center for the Arts and Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp. They funded scholarships or contributed in other ways to many area educational institutions, including Grand Rapids Community College, Grand Valley State University, Aquinas College, Davenport University and the Student Advancement Foundation. They were active supporters of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Rotary International, Sister Cities International, YMCA, YWCA, St. Mary’s, Spectrum Health, Porter Hills Foundation, Arthritis Foundation, Literacy Center of West Michigan and Senior Neighbors, among others. 

Since Chuck and Stella were among the first residents of the downtown Forslund Condominiums, they were often referred to as “The Pearl Street Pioneers.” Living near the Amway Grand Plaza and DeVos Place, they often hosted musicians and other visiting guests, as well as fundraising dinners and post-event celebrations. For over 27 years, they opened their home to hundreds of performers, audience members, staff and other behind-the-scenes personnel, and enjoyed bringing together people from many walks in life.   

(Stella was preceded in death by her husband Charles, sister Mary Franks, daughter Martha Edwards, and son Matthew Royce. She is survived by her daughter Maria (Paul) Hesse, son Charlie (Angie) Royce, Jim Edwards, Terri Royce, nieces, nephews, and nine grandchildren.) 

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