Ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr. is the inaugural Vandenberg Prize recipient

Photo of Ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr.

The World Affairs Council of Western Michigan (WACWM) has announced that it will begin awarding an annual Vandenberg Prize to a national or international leader who has been influential in developing global understanding and collaboration on the world stage.

The inaugural recipient of the Vandenberg Prize is Ambassador (ret.) Jon M. Huntsman, Jr. He is the former Ambassador of the United States to Russia (2017-19) at the appointment of President Trump, to China (2009-11) at the appointment of President Obama, and to Singapore (1992-93) at the appointment of President George H.W. Bush.

Ambassador Huntsman was also the 16th Governor of Utah (2005-09) and a 2012 candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.

The Vandenberg Prize is named after Michigan Senator Arthur Vandenberg (1881-1951), the inspiration for founding the Council in 1949 by Grand Rapids attorney (and later Federal Judge) Douglas Hillman and businessman Edgar Orr.

In addition, the Council will present the annual Hillman-Orr Award to a West Michigan individual or institution that mirrors the intent of the Council’s founding leaders to bring global awareness and international understanding to the West Michigan community.

The first recipient will be Ms. Birgit Klohs, president and CEO of The Right Place, Inc., the regional economic development organization for Greater Grand Rapids, which has from its beginnings featured a global reach and international mindset.

The Ambassador and Ms. Klohs will receive the awards at a luncheon at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel on Tuesday, January 14, 2020.

“Ambassador Huntsman has demonstrated a lifelong interest in forging strong international ties for the United States, and his bipartisan service shows a willingness, like Senator Vandenberg, to bring people together for good of the country and the world,” said Council board president Dick Gauthier.

Hillman and Orr were inspired by the life and work of Senator Vandenberg, an isolationist who became a strong advocate of internationalism in the wake of World War II. Vandenberg forged bipartisan support for the Marshall Plan and NATO and was appointed one of the first U.S. delegates to the brand-new United Nations. Senator Vandenberg has always been considered the “patron saint” of the Council.

“Birgit Klohs credits the work of Senator Vandenberg as a key reason she was able to move forward and prosper after WWII, allowing her to grow up in a peaceful country with opportunity,” said WACWM executive director Michael Van Denend. “We in West Michigan are deeply fortunate she chose this area to use her gifts to bring global business to the region.”

The Council is grateful for a formational gift by The Meijer Foundation to launch this special recognition of the importance of global connectedness to West Michigan. Longtime World Affairs Council corporate supporters Amway and Bank of America are also major sponsors.

More information on the Vandenberg Prize event can be found at or by calling Michael Van Denend at 616.776.1721.