Landlord association honors founder with endowment fund

Published 6:06 pm Thursday, April 27, 2017

Niles-based Southwest Michigan Landlord Association created a $7,500 Southwestern Michigan College endowment honoring its founder, Phillip R. Lawson, earlier this month.

Lawson, who earned an SMC associate degree in 1991, died Jan. 2, 2016. He was 71.

The nonprofit corporation was formed to help landlords be more professional and to provide tenants quality housing.

On its website,, members advertise their properties for free.

Phillip Lawson

SW MI Landlord Association, which also covers northern Indiana, advertised the website at Wonderland Cinema to make prospective tenants aware of its availability.

Documents needed to rent properties, including a lease approved by St. Joseph attorney Brian Sauer, were made available for free download.

SW MI Landlord Association also arranged speakers to serve as a resource to members, recording meetings so missed gatherings could be reviewed.

Scholarships “are for children and grandchildren of active members,” said President Glen Forshee, another SMC graduate. “Secondarily, [for] the entire community.”

A grade-point average of 2.5 or higher and graduation from a Cass or Berrien county high school are required for consideration.

President Lawson concluded his 2013 annual report at the outset of SW MI Landlord Association’s third year by writing, “We have a lot of talent we all are sharing with each other. Each of us has something we can contribute. When we all come together it brings out the best in all of us. In our association (we have) landlords with a lot of experience and landlords who are new to the business. The mix of young and seasoned landlords moves us forward in a positive way.”

Lawson was born in Elsie on April 26, 1944. His father worked for Marathon Oil Co., so his family transferred to Flushing in 1956, then to Tank Town in Niles, where he graduated from high school in 1962.

He married his wife of 39 years, Kathy Ballard, on Sept. 18, 1976. She worked for United Airlines for 36 years.

Lawson, who retired from Ameriwood in Dowagiac, worked as a National Standard draftsman for 22 years.

Lawson’s interest in real estate became a hobby that eventually turned into a business owning 40 rental houses.

His desire to share his passion and knowledge with other landlords led to creation of the SW MI Landlord Association, which he served as president until Jan. 2, 2015.

Lawson “told me over and over he wanted to provide good, decent places for people to live. He put every penny he got back into houses. I lived in hicago for eight years and moved back when we got married,” his wife said. “The first house we bought behind Brew Ha Ha I call ‘The White Monster.’ Then we bought a blue house on the corner of 13th and Broadway. It went on from there.

“Toward the end, before he passed away, he worked entire weekends on his tenant list. He loved it so much! Landlords asked him for advice. The phone rang constantly. Then he started helping when they didn’t know what to do. He was so committed. When he retired, he got his contractor’s license, got a crew together and worked for other landlords. He was gone all day, every day, like a regular job.”

Lawson’s example “is one reason I joined,” Forshee said. “I’m of the same mentality. I don’t want to rent a house I wouldn’t move into myself. I want it to be as nice as I can make it, and so did Phil.”

The foundation accepts contributions to existing scholarships in addition to establishing new scholarships.

Direct endowment donations made be made to the SMC Foundation, Director of Development, 58900 Cherry Grove Road, Dowagiac, MI 49047.

Contact Eileen Toney at (269) 782-1301 or for more information.

Southwestern Michigan College is a public, residential and commuter, community college, founded in 1964. The college averages in the top 10 percent nationally for student academic success based upon the National Community College Benchmark Project. Southwestern Michigan College strives to be the college of first choice, to provide the programs and services to meet the needs of students, and to serve our community. The college is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools and is a member of the American Association of Community Colleges.