In the Beginning, Free Enterprise Built Northwood. Now Northwood Builds Free Enterprise.

Jennifer Panning

Chair of the Northwood University Board of Trustees

Jennifer Panning
February 27, 2024

In the Beginning, Free Enterprise Built Northwood. Now Northwood Builds Free Enterprise.

As with all storied institutions, Northwood University’s history contains a mix of different chapters. Some were written on specific dates, while others only became discernible over time.

It’s the latter that transpired when one looks at the progress made from Northwood’s beginnings to our present status as America’s Free Enterprise University. It was a time when Northwood shifted the emphasis from free enterprise building Northwood to Northwood building free enterprise.

ONE NORTHWOOD: The First Fifty Years, a publication celebrating Northwood’s 50th anniversary, dates this shift back to the 1980s, when a difficult, but ultimately rewarding, new era in the school’s history was beginning to dawn under the leadership of former President Dr. David E. Fry.

At the time, Northwood was at a crossroads: It needed to switch the focus from nurturing a new school to managing a maturing institution. It was time for new leadership, administrative transitions, institutional expansion, and program innovations. And it was time to shift emphasis from the free enterprise system building Northwood to Northwood advocating for free enterprise. Dr. Fry expertly championed the cause of free enterprise, which manifested itself in increased enrollment, strong financial footing, and remarkable expansion. Most importantly, he showed us what free enterprise, limited government and personal responsibility could do to change lives.

Dr. Fry left an indelible mark on Northwood University. Though he retired in 2006 and passed away on December 19, 2023, his legacy remains alive in our hearts and on our campus.

We continue to advance the mission personified by Dr. Fry and our founders, Arthur Turner and Gary Stauffer, who were two young, forward-thinking entrepreneurs when they founded Northwood more than 60 years ago. They saw the need to revolutionize the typical college education, and during his time at Northwood, Dr. Fry shared that vision and elevated the values we hold to this day, including the importance of business, freedom, responsibility, empathy, spirituality, honesty, achievement, integrity and respect.

We remain committed to continuing the work Dr. Fry did to advance free enterprise, and we are excited to share these ideas not only with our students, but with so many others through the following ways:

• Philosophy of Free Enterprise Online Course
This is a free online course for anyone interested in learning about the importance of business in society; the ethical foundations of the capitalist system; the meaning of free enterprise and the ways in which it benefits us; limited government and the rule of law; and the differences between capitalism and other economic systems. To access the course, click here.

• True North Free-Market Connector
We serve as a free-market connector through True North, our digital platform for advancing business innovation and free-market thought leadership worldwide. Visit for a variety of essays and articles from scholars around the globe.

• When Free to Choose Publication
This monthly signature publication is dedicated to promoting the global, diverse and multi-cultural nature of enterprise. Anyone can email to bring lessons of American free-enterprise society directly to their inbox or mailbox. Be sure to tell your friends!

• Flags Freedom and Free Enterprise Program
We provide complimentary American flags to individuals and entities anywhere across the United States. To learn more, click here.

• Signature Events
Perhaps the greatest way to experience Northwood’s values and impact is to engage with our students on campus or at any one of our Signature Events, including our President’s Freedom Celebration, which is set this year for Thursday, June 6, at Northwood University in Midland, Michigan.

As chairman of the Northwood University Board of Trustees, it is my honor to help lead this institution during such an exciting new chapter in our history. Our board members have a diverse and deep bench in the free enterprise community. Part of what makes Northwood unique is our collective commitment to employ best practices in serving the university, community and our students.

I encourage readers to reflect back with me on former President Fry’s legacy by visiting this tribute webpage we created in his honor. And I welcome you to join me, my fellow trustees, Northwood staff, faculty, students, and our like-minded supporters who are all committed to helping Northwood advance the principles of freedom, liberty, personal responsibility and free enterprise.

Dr. Jennifer Panning, president of Artisan Tile, Inc., chairs the Northwood University Board of Trustees.This article originally appeared in the February 2024 edition of When Free to Choose, Northwood’s monthly signature publication dedicated to promoting free enterprise.

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