Saginaw was enriched immensely by the inspiring citizenship and leadership of Max P. Heavenrich Sr. during his lifetime. Others of Saginaw’s illustrious sons and daughters gained their fame elsewhere for what they did with their lives. Sometimes their accomplishments, to a large degree, benefited only themselves. About all that redounded to Saginaw’s good was that these folk who became celebrities once called Saginaw their home. Not so Max P. Heavenrich, a man of foresight who thought years ahead of his time. His judgment was solid and enduring. He avoided off-the-cuff decisions in favor of considered opinion. What he did here in his lifetime lived on and likely always will. Education never had a greater advocate or friend in his native Saginaw, where he was born July 14, 1882.
He attended Hoyt and Saginaw High Schools and in 1904 graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering. His first job was a government engineering survey on the Saginaw River. He spent the next three years on engineering and construction work in various cities, first as an employee of a Canadian steel company and later of a Detroit steel firm.
Returning to Saginaw, he launched into direction of the Heavenrich clothing business, which his father and two uncles had established in Saginaw in 1882. He had given up a promising career in industry to enter the Heavenrich mercantile business. As president of Heavenrich Bros. & Company, Max P. Heavenrich built the firm into a Michigan institution—one that would serve the whole family. And he saw to it that the right sizes were in stock to accommodate the hard-to-fit. He had a deserved reputation as a canny merchandiser. He lived by a philosophy of fair dealing. He thought the dictated, printed advertising word could be effective. But he thought very highly of the value of word-of-mouth approval—that his was a good store in which to spend money for family clothing needs—that you got what you paid for and flim-flam was nowhere around.
Heavenrich was a man of medium stature, bald early in his adult life. He customarily wore a smile. His manner invariably was genial but never ingratiating. Many of his customers from the Saginaw region who came into his store became his friends. He liked to wait on them personally and inquire about their families. He could call them by name. He was an individualist. He thought for himself. He had sound business judgment and an easy understanding of people. He could put himself in the other fellow’s shoes. He was adept in public relations long before that became a stock expression.
He and his wife, the former Minna Enggass of Detroit, had four children.
Heavenrich had a lasting affection and concern for children, no matter the families from which they came. In his lifetime his help, material and advisory, was extended to hundreds of Saginaw’s youth. One of his first civic interests was in the student scholarship field. The Heavenrich firm had established the first Saginaw scholarship in 1891. When Max P. Heavenrich returned to Saginaw in 1908 he took a leading role in development of the scholarship program. As others in Saginaw followed the concept of the original Heavenrich scholarship, a United Advisory Scholarship Commission was set up in 1931. Heavenrich was a charter member of that commission and helped guide its program until his death.
He was a firm believer in community self-help. He had a conviction a community should do all it could to solve its own problems. He gave liberally of his time and ability in development of Saginaw youth programs and working for the charities. He was a vigorous leader in the Saginaw Community Chest. He served as its president and several terms as treasurer. He was prominent in the Chest’s building programs. From 1919 until he resigned in 1951, Heavenrich was a member of the Hoyt Library board of trustees and the succeeding Saginaw Public Library Commission.
In 1961, the Max P. Heavenrich school on the east side was dedicated and fittingly named in his honor. At that time, the Saginaw News was moved to comment editorially, in part: “The schools and the youth of Saginaw, including hundreds now grown, have special reason to honor a citizen who honored Saginaw by his generosity of spirit and good will as well as by his material benefactions. “Mr. Heavenrich advanced the concept of scholarship giving importantly because of an intense interest in young people and the opportunities education could bring. “But beyond this praiseworthy interest, Mr. Heavenrich was a solidifying influence in Saginaw’s business community. His good judgment, coupled with his good will, made of him a leader whose advice and counsel was sought from many quarters. “He loved his city and the people in it. In return, he commanded both affection and respect. His is a name which indeed honors the school designated to bear it.”
Heavenrich’s business interests extended beyond the mercantile clothing business. One was the Heavenrich Realty Company which he headed. It owned and controlled a number of valuable downtown business properties, including the Heavenrich store building at Genesee and Franklin.
He was one of the organizers of the Retail Merchants Credit Bureau and for years was its president. He was a director of Second National Bank and a member of its trust committee. For a time Heavenrich served as chairman of Saginaw’s seven-man board of building appeals.
Stamp collecting was his principal hobby. His collection, chosen with studious care, was both famous and valuable. He was the first Saginawian to receive an honorary life membership in the Peninsular State Philatelic Society. A year after his death, his stamp collection sold at auction for $40,000 in New York City.
Max P. Heavenrich Sr. died February 12, 1953, at the age of 70.