Donor reflects on time at CMU, life serving in US Army



Though his name is on a residence hall, the events center and an endowed professorship title, John G. Kulhavi became who he is because of the U.S. Army and Central Michigan University. 

Born in Hamtramck, Kulhavi and his parents relocated to Skidway Lake when he was 13 to run a grocery store they bought. When it came time for college, Kulhavi said he applied to CMU because he thought he would be able to get in and afford it.

Kulhavi didn’t have a lot of money for school. His father, whom he said he wasn’t very close to, paid for his first semester of college. However, in the following years, paying for college was all up to Kulhavi. 

“From the day I started until the day I graduated, I never had fewer than three jobs. At one time I had five,” Kulhavi said. “My budget was $10 a week. I lived on a lady’s back porch on a World War I cot for $5 a week. I had $2 for gas. I had a ‘52 Chevy that I bought from a buddy. It was all rusted out, but it was transportation and I needed it for my jobs.”

Now living in White Lake and married with two daughters, Kulhavi didn’t want his family to struggle the way he did. 

“I came from a family that had very little. I didn’t want my family to endure a lot of the hardships that I did,” he said.

During Kulhavi’s time at CMU, he was in the ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) program, which allowed him to attend class while preparing to be in the Army on the weekends.

CMU was selected to have the first ROTC flight program in the country, Kulhavi said. He applied to be in the program, and he and four others were selected. They took their lessons at the airport in Mount Pleasant. It was his first time in an airplane. 

Kulhavi’s time training in the flight program led him to become a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War, which he entered following graduation.

In time, his service led him to become a general. He said less than one half of 1 percent of all career officers attain that title.

“(Becoming a general was), probably next to my family, my proudest accomplishment,” Kulhavi said. “I would gladly (serve in the military) again, I stayed in almost 33 years, and it was the best experience of my life bar none.” 

Kulhavi admitted his experience with serving in the military during war time was a positive one.

“I’m not one of these guys who had any nightmares, to me it was the best experience of my life— I could tell you some great stories,” he said. “It helped make me the person who I became.”

After his service in Vietnam, Kulhavi became fascinated with finances which led him to a career as a financial consultant. 

Kulhavi is now the managing director and senior consultant of the Kulhavi Wealth Management Team through Merrill Lynch in Farmington Hills. 

When it comes to finances, Kulhavi believes everyone should be financially literate. He stresses the importance of knowing both how to manage money and the basics of investing.

He added that finances aren’t nearly as complicated as everyone thinks and advises people to invest in stock shares on things they like, because if they like it, it’s likely other people do too. 

While current college students may think it is difficult to work their way through college, he explained it is possible. During his time on the Board of Trustees, he commonly heard students say how they couldn’t make it through school, but there was always more than 100 vacant jobs on campus. He advised students to cut their study load in order to work to get through college. 

“There are jobs available if you want them,” he said. “You’re making a sacrifice, you’re giving up a class and it may take it a little longer to get through, but the means to pay for it are out there if you want to find them.” 

Kulhavi is recognized as CMU’s single largest donor. 

With a renovated events center, a neuroscience professorship and a residence hall, the list goes on for what his donations have accomplished. Kulhavi said when choosing where to give money to, he looks at who needs it and donates accordingly. 

President George Ross said Kulhavi “understands the spirit of CMU” and the process of student success. 

“John exemplifies the success that CMU alumni achieve and the boundless generosity with which alumni give back to students, changing lives for generations to come,” Ross stated.

Kulhavi expressed how he has been fortunate enough to give back to this university he attended at one time. He credits many of his achievements back to where it all began, CMU. 

“Everything that I accomplished in life started here at Central,” he said.



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