Entrepreneurial couple gives $2 million car collection to Northwood University in Midland

Michael (pictured) and Dianne Morey, of Mt. Pleasant, have pledged 35 vehicles, worth more than $2 million, to support Northwood University and The Northwood Idea. “The Morey’s are stellar examples of how ingenuity, persistence and dedication pave the way for success in a free-market society,” stated Justin Marshall, chief development and engagement officer for Northwood University. Michael Morey is pictured with a portion of the Morey Collection

A Mount Pleasant couple who made their fortune by building a better wood chipper hopes their recent, and somewhat unusual, donation to Northwood University in Midland can help inspire and educate a new generation of inventors and entrepreneurs.

Michael and Dianne Morey gave the private university, which is about 30 minutes away from their home, most of their beloved $2-million car collection, 35 vehicles in all.

"The cars have been a large part of our lives and each tells a story," the Moreys said in a joint statement Thursday. "It’s time for these cars to write a new chapter, and support young men and women who want to work hard, build something of their own, and positively influence the communities they call home."

It's not a record gift to Northwood but a considerably large one, the university said.

However, unlike other noncash donations — such as its "Lincoln on the Prairie" statue of the young former president reading while riding a horse, which was gifted to the university in 1967 and installed on campus — Northwood said it had no need for nearly three dozen cars, but can use the cash when it sells them.

All but one have been placed in a no-reserve auction early next month in Florida.

"We are incredibly grateful to Michael and Dianne for this extraordinary gift," Northwood President Kent MacDonald said, adding that the auction proceeds will be used to "enhance our Midland campus, create scholarship opportunities, and build the university’s endowment for future students."

About half the money will go to enhance campus courtyards, the other half to scholarships.

The car collection includes street rods, pickups, coupes and convertibles, and nearly all of them are American-made.

One of the cars is a 1932 Ford Hi-Boy owned by movie star Sylvester Stallone, and at least two other classics, a 1967 Shelby GT500 fastback and a 1970 Plymouth Hemi Cuda, have been valued at more than $200,000 each, the university said.

And there's a roadster in there that doesn't really fit in with the others — a 1990 Mazda Miata convertible — but the couple told the university they weren't driving it much anymore and also threw it in to be sold at Mecum’s Kissimmee Auction on Jan. 6.

Michael and Dianne Morey, of Mt. Pleasant, have pledged 35 vehicles worth more than $2 million to support Northwood University and The Northwood Idea
Michael and Dianne Morey, of Mt. Pleasant, have pledged 35 vehicles worth more than $2 million to support Northwood University and The Northwood Idea

Bids can be made in-person, online and on the phone.

In Northwood's announcement of the donation, the university's president touted the Morey family's personal and business story as "one of success from hard work" calling it "the epitome of what Northwood strives to instill in its students, and what its alumni exhibit daily in their respective fields."

According to the university, the business story begins in 1983, with the belief — and faith — that they could "build a wood chipper better than anyone else." Michael Morey quit his job, bought a workshop, hired six people and built what became known as the Model 100 Brush Bandit, a 12-inch disc chipper.

In 1987, Morey formed Bandit Industries and Dianne Morey joined in the business.

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And then four years ago, after turning down two offers to sell to private firms, the Moreys decided their company was better off in the hands of their 462 employees and sold it to them through an employee stock ownership plan. The Remus-based company now has 725 employees.

Justin Marshall — the university's chief development and engagement officer — said the Moreys were persuaded to donate their beloved collection of automobiles to Northwood by their cousin, Lon Morey, who also is a successful entrepreneur living in Mount Pleasant.

Lon Morey — who runs Morbark, another wood chipper company — had been recognized by Northwood for his business acumen and support, and helped the university set up a meeting.

Marshall said he visited with the Moreys, walked through their impressive garage housing the collection, and told them about the university's philosophy and creed that "free enterprise, personal responsibility, free markets, limited government, rule of law and, of course, freedom are fundamental tenets to democracy and human progress."

And a day or two later, Marshall said, the Moreys agreed to donate their collection, which opens up space in their large garage for other projects and passions — or perhaps an entirely new car collection.

They are holding onto three cars that have extra sentimental value, including the first one Michael Morey restored.

The Moreys said Northwood "is a special place" with "wonderful students."

The one car the university is keeping — school officials said, it was a difficult decision to pick just one — is a silver and black 1958 Corvette. Northwood said it selected that one because the Corvette is a worldwide symbol of American innovation, a characteristic that also represents the university.

It also was the car year closest in the collection to the year the university was founded: 1959.

The 'Vette, the university added, will make quite a statement at homecoming parades and during the annual free, three-day car show on campus that students organize and run in the fall. The show usually draws more than 400 vehicles of all makes, including a few supercars.

The only other thing that might have made it more perfect is if it were Columbia blue and white, the school colors.

Contact Frank Witsil: 313-222-5022 or fwitsil@freepress.com.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Northwood University in Midland gets $2M car collection as donation