Prologue: On Sunday, October 4, 1981, the Tridge, Midland’s defining landmark, was officially dedicated to the citizens of Midland. The introduction of the Tridge marked a triumphant moment in Midland’s history – signifying the community’s commitment to collaboration, long-term transformation, and beautification through local resources and initiative. The Midland Area Community Foundation opened a project fund and led community efforts to raise $366,000, earning a matching challenge grant from the Gerstacker Foundation. Although the Community Foundation wasn’t the largest funder, this project displayed the Foundation’s ability to cultivate the power of giving in our community. Frank Gerace was named the general contractor on the project. The ripple effects of the Tridge’s construction can still be felt throughout Midland, exemplified by Frank Gerace’s legacy and the Community Foundation’s position as a community leader.
“Blessed Are Those Who Plant Trees Under Whose Shade They Will Never Sit” by Renee’ Deckrow
“So I always like to say that someone with true humility is someone who would plant a shade tree that they know they will never sit under. I love that quote and seeing how the Tridge really has been that for our dad.”- Greg Gerace, son of Midland’s 2010 Philanthropist of the Year
We sat huddled closely together around Camille Gerace Nitchsky’s propped-up iPhone on a Video Call. Greg’s joyful face beamed with pride as he shared stories of his dad’s great achievements and, more importantly, great character. I couldn’t help but think of what a remarkable legacy the Gerace family has left in Midland. The quote, “Legacy is not what I did for myself; it’s what I’m doing for the next generation,” by Vitor Belfort, rang in my mind.
Camille & Greg talked about how hard their father, Frank Gerace, worked to build his company, take on challenges, pioneer new visions, and raise his family, all while investing in Midland’s legacy. Midland’s beloved Tridge was not only an incredible engineering and construction feat but also a model for how art, science, and technology work together to create iconic community landmarks. “The Tridge is Public Art, like a functional sculpture,” said Camille Gerace Nitchsky, “and to me, each arm of the Tridge represents creativity, care & community.”
“He started in a basement with a wheelbarrow and a pickup truck,” Greg Gerace said with deep appreciation and admiration. Greg went on to share how passionate and determined his dad was to get the opportunity to construct the Tridge. Greg recalled all the hurdles that had to be overcome to get each of the arches through town and put in place on each bank. “Weaving the arches through town in the middle of the night was something else!” Greg remembers the energy of that defining moment when the river banks were lined with cheering spectators, and they successfully created a secure connection by placing the pin between the three arches.
Camille added, “Probably one of the biggest tasks was building the center foundation that the arches meet in the middle on. The Gerace team sent their own trained divers down to engineer that whole process. My dad actually acquired his diving certification just for this project. Naturally, he wanted to be part of everything. I think I remember Galen Turner, the main mechanic, doing this certification with Frank. I’m not sure Frankie actually dove but he was ready to if they needed him.”
Greg laughed as he recalled that moment and many others leading up to this pinnacle moment. “It warmed my dad’s heart so much to hear all of the community excitement, support, and joy from school children brainstorming names for this memorable project. My dad always felt so proud to be a part of something so unique and special.”
Frank was a brilliant man with great ambitions and a vision to improve his community through collaborations, personal investments, and a strong work ethic. Throughout his career, he contributed to iconic landmarks and invested in the lives of his children and staff. Many businesses and a nonprofit in Midland were started because of Frank Gerace’s positive influence. In Camille’s words, “he planted a lot of apple seeds…”
“Many referred to my dad as Mr. G. and my mom as Mrs. G. His employees were his family. They truly were, and they were family to me. People were the most valuable aspect of the Gerace Team, and my father lived and breathed that value. Maybe that’s part of the legacy he passed on to me…..I feel the same way about people.” – Camille Gerace Nitchsky
Camille and Greg went on to discuss their gratitude for Midland Area Community Foundation and the Gerstackers for not only making the Tridge project happen but for the countless ways they not only “fund projects, but fund people through providing educational opportunities like DEI and wellbeing workshops.” says Camille. “And now, even with the mission statement for Midland, ‘together forward bold, an exceptional community where everyone thrives’… they are doing so much to build that sense of creativity, caring community, with the people so that everyone can have that sense of belonging.”
“Through awesome programs that are teaching youth to be philanthropic through MAYAC (Midland Area Youth Action Council) and the inspiration of Ripple Effect. Most foundations don’t that I know of, have those kinds of programs. I think, quite honestly, Sharon Mortensen’s the drive behind a lot of this and has made a substantial impact. I went to her the first day when I was thinking, maybe I should start a grief center. You know, if she hadn’t said that day, ‘I think it’s a great idea,’ the Grief Center would not be where it is today.”
The Children’s Grief Center was founded by Camille Gerace Nitchsky in honor of her sister and parents, carrying on the legacy of care for countless community members who are on their journey through grief by providing a healing environment through peer support for children, teens, and their families grieving a death.
The ripple effects of Frank Gerace’s legacy are easy to see everywhere, not only in Camille and Greg’s endeavors but in our entire community and beyond. When I asked Camille and Greg what defines a strong community, they listed these characteristics: “Generosity, humility, hard work, selflessness, stewardship, creativity, and courage.” Greg elaborated by sharing this principle he thinks we should all carry in our hearts if we genuinely want to improve our communities, “Our common welfare & unity has to come first. If you can put that first, you are willing to do more and be more self-sacrificing.”
“To paraphrase John F Kennedy, ask not what your community can do for you, ask what you can do for your community.” – Greg Gerace
I cannot help but think of the true humility and beauty in countless community members contributing year after year to projects and funds that may provide shade they may never sit under. I am reminded of this quote by Coretta Scott King, “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.”
I always like to finish an interview by asking what’s next. What future dreams do you have for Midland? Camille was quick to share her big and innovative idea, “Why can’t we have a tram? A solar-powered, circular tram? My dream is to see improved accessibility and empowered mobility within Midland so that everyone thrives.” Together, Forward, Bold…. we go….