Bell’s Founder, Author to Earn Honorary Degrees at Commencement

Alumnus Larry J. Bell ’80, founder of Bell’s Brewery, Inc., will be welcomed as Kalamazoo College’s 2023 Commencement speaker on Sunday, June 11.

Bell majored in political science at K before going on to found Bell’s Brewery Inc. in 1985—one of the earliest craft breweries in the Midwest. With popular and award-winning beers like Two Hearted Ale, Oberon and Hopslam, Bell’s Brewery grew into one of the largest craft breweries in the U.S., distributing to 43 states. In 2010, Bell was honored with The Brewers Association Recognition Award for his innovative brewing and dedication to the industry. He was also recognized in 2010 by Kalamazoo College with its Distinguished Achievement Award, which honors those alumni who have achieved distinction in their professional fields. Upper Hand Brewery, a sister company based in Escanaba on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, opened in 2014.

In November 2021, Bell reached an agreement with Lion, an Australian-based brewer, for the sale of Bell’s, and Bell officially retired from the helm of the company at the end of 2021. That year he was also named environmentalist of the year by the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter for his years of advocacy work, which included helping found the Great Lakes Business Network, a non-partisan business group that advocates for thriving ecosystems, economies, and communities in the Great Lakes Region. Since retirement, Bell has remained active philanthropically, making more than $14 million in donations to local organizations, including Kalamazoo College. A longtime supporter of the College, Bell has helped to fund food justice and sustainability programming, including support for The Larry J. Bell ’80 Environmental Stewardship Center in 2022. He also established a distinguished chair in American history, and in 2016, he endowed a scholarship fund for students needing financial assistance. Bell has also been a strong supporter of the arts in Kalamazoo, serving as Past Board President for the Irving S. Gilmore International Piano Festival; in 2022 he made a gift to The Gilmore to establish two awards for exceptional jazz pianists. He has also established the Larry J. Bell Library Foundation, which is developing a research library in downtown Kalamazoo to host Bell’s extensive collection of historical books and art collections. In addition to serving as the Commencement keynote speaker, Bell will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the College.

Along with Bell, author Jaroslav Kalfař will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters degree from K. His debut novel, Spaceman of Bohemia, was the Summer Common Reading book for the incoming class of 2018, and Kalfař visited campus in September of that year to discuss his book as part of new student orientation. Per K tradition, he returns to address this same class of students at their commencement.

Kalfař was born in the Czech Republic, moving to the U.S. at age 15. He earned an M.F.A. from New York University, where he was a Goldwater Fellow and a nominee for the first E.L. Doctorow Prize. In 2018, he was a recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship. Spaceman of Bohemia was a finalist for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, The Arthur C. Clarke Award and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and a nominee for the Dublin Literary Award. The book has been published in fifteen languages. A film adaptation directed by Johan Renck, starring Adam Sandler, Carey Mulligan, and Paul Dano, is coming to Netflix in 2023. Kalfar recently released his newest novel, A Brief History of Living Forever.

Past Kalamazoo College honorary degree recipients

Commencement speaker Larry Bell with his wife, Shannon Bell, and President Jorge G. Gonzalez
Larry Bell ’80, founder of Bell’s Brewery, Inc., will be welcomed as Kalamazoo College’s 2023 Commencement speaker on Sunday, June 12.
Commencement Author Jaroslav Kalfař
Author Jaroslav Kalfař will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Kalamazoo College during Commencement on Sunday, June 12.