Retired Wyandotte high school teacher gives $30,000 in local biz gift cards to graduating class

There are a lot of things that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken away from us, the health and welfare of our friends and loved-ones chief amongst them.

There are the smaller things, too. The places we gather, the celebrations we take for granted.

And while concerts can be rescheduled for next year, some things just can’t.

Falling into the latter category is the graduating class of 2020. Senior prom: Cancelled. Traditional graduation ceremonies: Cancelled.

Given that hard reality, something incredible happened in the city of Wyandotte in mid-June.

John Garvie, a retired teacher and coach at Roosevelt High School in Wyandotte, wanted to do something special for this year’s graduating class, to raise the spirits of that school’s 298 graduating students. He ended up doing that and a lot more.

Garvie approached Wyandotte’s Superintendent of Schools Catherine Cost about his idea. Cost contacted Love Wyandotte, the non-profit Wyandotte Independent Business Alliance, and Garvie’s plan was put into motion.

Garvie would write a $30,000 personal check to Love Wyandotte, soon gifting each of the 298 graduating students $100 in gift cards to participating Wyandotte businesses.

"Who gives $30,000 away? It’s staggering to think about," says Peter Rose, the president and founder of Love Wyandotte.

"I still can’t get over the fact that he decided to do that. It’s really cool."

On Wednesday, June 17, a drive-through graduation event was held for the seniors, with each receiving their diplomas, certificates, and awards. And, unbeknownst to them, waiting at the end of the line was John Garvie, personally handing out $30,000 in gift cards to the graduating class.

In addition to providing an emotional lift to the students, Garvie also provided an economic one to the city’s community of independently-owned small businesses.

It’s a group that Peter Rose knows a thing or two about. Rose is the third-generation owner of Chelsea Menswear, which first opened in downtown Wyandotte in 1943. He also owns Willow Tree Fashions, which got its start in the basement of Chelsea before becoming its own standalone store in 1968.

Rose believes in the power of shopping at locally-owned independent stores. It’s why he founded the Love Wyandotte business alliance.

It’s also why he’s high on the Love Wyandotte gift cards handed out. Rose organized 45 locally-owned businesses to participate in the program. Students spend their gift cards at participating businesses and then Love Wyandotte reimburses shop owners.

It’s worked so well that he’s thinking about extending the program to the general public.

"I want every locally-owned and independent business to feel like they have an advocate," Rose says.

"I’m very bullish on downtown Wyandotte and locally-owned independent businesses. I want those dollars circulating locally."

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MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.