Becky Calsbeek Bell ’92 counts herself lucky that a lot of what she calls her “whimsical, impractical business ideas”—an antique store, an art gallery, a mail-order pie factory—have never panned out. This one came to her differently: in a burst of gratitude and joy.
“We were driving home from Chicago and the sun was so sparkly on Lake Michigan,” Bell remembered. “I was silently praying, ‘Thank you, God, thank you, this is such a great city and the lake is so good … .’ And then it hit me: ‘Lake is good.’ I thought of the T-shirts that say ‘Life is good.’ Well, yeah, life is good, but it’s even better at the lake.”
The next morning Bell was on the phone with a Grand Rapids lawyer asking how to copyright a new line of “Lake is good” shirts and other wear.
“I have trouble putting on the brakes,” she admitted. That was late May 2008. By mid-July Bell was selling T-shirts to friends and family. She also sold some on consignment to a gift shop in her hometown of St. Joseph, Mich.
“That’s where it all started,” she said. “I grew up on the bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. My earliest memories are of coming out of the cold water and basking in the warm sun. I didn’t know it then, but now I know that feeling as resting in God. When I’m by the water I have the experience that ‘All shall be well and all things shall be well.’
“I think a lot of people have had that experience and other experiences of peacefulness by a lake. ‘Lake is good’ wear is all about helping people remember and celebrate the peacefulness.”
By the summer of 2009 Bell was spreading that message further. She had received legal trademark recognition for her brand and was driving to west Michigan coastal towns selling T-shirts to store owners from her car. She stuffed receipts in an envelope and didn’t keep track of her mileage. In the fall, leftover shirts went back to “corporate”—her attic—and she turned her energy to teaching students in educational support services at Grand Rapids Christian Middle School.
“It probably would have stayed just a fun summer outlet,” Bell said, “if I hadn’t met Linda.”
Business and marketing consultant Linda Klein Kenney ’82 saw a mutual friend wearing a ‘Lake is good’ shirt, who then told her about Bell’s summertime startup. Kenney offered help, and the two women are now partners.
“I had no business experience, no business plan,” Bell said. “I was just going on my gut with everything from hiring graphic designers to marketing. Linda had the wisdom and experience to take it to the next level.”
That next level includes new designs, new retail outlets and plans for growth.
“‘Lake is good’ resonates with people way beyond west Michigan or even the Great Lakes,” Bell noted.
Tempering her easy excitement about growth is Bell’s practice of praying about every business decision.
“I feel this business has been such a God-gift,” she said, “so I want to give back.”
Besides giving back through the employment they create, Bell and Kenney donate a portion of sales to Freshwater Future, a nonprofit that works through small, local groups to protect the Great Lakes.
“I want our great-grandkids to know that ‘Lake is good,’ too,” Bell said.