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Fred & Virginia Thornthwaite


Fred and Virginia Thornthwaite came of age during the Great Depression and World War II. From these experiences they concluded that existing economic systems had failed. Further study convinced them that a cooperative commonwealth could better meet basic human needs. Suiting action to philosophy, in 1942 Fred helped organize a dairy cooperative in the Downriver area of Detroit. After he and Virginia married, their house became the co-op's rent-free office and home to a series of student co-op employees.

In 1960 the cooperative added optical services. A consumer-oriented approach made eye care affordable to those who could not afford it before. Over the next 30 years Co/op Optical Services opened 11 retail centers to serve Michigan families. Next the Thornthwaites turned their attention to affordable housing for the elderly. The first venture, Wyandotte Co-op, opened in 1965. A second was finished in 1971 after the couple pledged their own house as security for the construction company's bond. The founders retired in 1981, but the housing co-op they nurtured continued to flourish. By the 1990's, Cooperative Services, Inc., with 30 buildings in four states, had become a national model of excellence, and an inspiration to cooperators across the country. For nearly 5,000 residents, the Thornthwaites' dream of the cooperative commonwealth was a reality.

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