We Celebrate Spartans and Friends of Spartans
Eaton supports Michigan State University financially as a member of the MSU Beaumont Tower Society, the MSU President’s club, the John Hannah Society and through various other fund raising initiatives. He has been a supporter of the MSUBA since its inception. He supports a number of humanitarian associations ranging from the Ronald McDonald House to the Boys and Girls Club of America.
On April 23, 2014, I had a conversation with Greg Eaton, 75, who is inarguably one of Michigan State University’s staunchest supporters and in a class of his own when it comes to providing unwavering support, financial and otherwise to the MSUBA. Eaton spoke to me by phone while sitting on his patio looking out over the flower garden of his Florida home.
The Supreme Court recently ruled that Michigan voters had the right to change the state constitution to prohibit public colleges and universities from considering race in admissions decisions. What are your thoughts on this?
At my age, I’ve seen a lot of discrimination. Look at [the number of] Blacks on TV. We’ve [Black people] come a long way, but we still need help. The Supreme Court was wrong. This [use of affirmative action in admission to colleges] should not have ever been changed.
On September 24, 2013, a Bloomberg.com article reported that Black enrollment at Michigan State University was 8.8% in 2006, 6.2% in 2012 and projected to be 7.5% for 2013/2014. What are your thoughts on the decline of Blacks enrolled at MSU?
I did not know that. MSU was one of the first [colleges] to reach out to minorities. We had more Blacks than any other Big 10 school. This is disturbing. I give scholarships to Blacks every year and I will look into this.
What can be done to remedy the declining enrollment of Blacks at MSU?
Black alumni should get together and talk to the school and put pressure on MSU. We need to march and protest.
While we are on the subject of deciding policies at the ballot box rather than in the courtroom, in your opinion what is next for same sex marriage?
I have friends and relatives that are gay. Clergy are against same sex marriage, but it’s a different world today. We must adjust.
In 1960 you started Greg's Janitorial Services. How did that come about?
I always wanted to be independent. I started working with my Dad at an early age shining shoes at a private club. When I started my janitorial business, I received contracts from the people I met while shining shoes at that private club.
Tell me more about your dad.
My dad was born in Lansing. He had a shoe shine shop in downtown Lansing. He dyed shoes and shined shoes for all the shoe stores in Lansing. He also worked at private clubs -- the Country Club of Lansing and the Press Club. He knew about everybody in town. I worked with him and I learned a lot from him.
You worked for Oldsmobile at one time?
I worked there three years after high school. I put every dollar I made into my business.
In the 60s you joined Karoub Associates and became the first African-American lobbyist in the state of Michigan. I understand that this was not a part of your game plan.
My good friend, Gil Haley, who was the executive vice president for the Michigan Automobile Dealers Association (MADA) at that time, approached me one day about becoming a lobbyist. I had real estate investments and several business ventures at the time. I told Gil I didn’t want to be a lobbyist, but I want the [maintenance] contact for your business. I got the contract, but he kept on me about becoming a lobbyist. He told me he liked the way I handled myself. I told him I didn’t understand what a lobbyist does. He told me that since I could count, I could be a lobbyist because you’ve got to be able to count your votes. So, that’s how I got started as a lobbyist.
What advice do you have for young Black people?
Go to work and be one time. Don’t wear sagging pants – that’s a prison thing.
You have been a big supporter of the MSUBA in many ways. The Friday Happy Hour event at Gregory’s, the restaurant you founded in 1972 has become a Homecoming weekend tradition. When did you start hosting that event?
That tradition goes back to when the Michigan State University Black Alumni organization was started. That was 1980.
When you look back over your life what are the things that stand out in your memory?
My family has been in Lansing since 1884. I was one of eight children. I come from a family that believes in giving back. My parents took in MSU students during those years that Blacks were not allowed to rent in East Lansing. One of the students my family took in was in Don Coleman, who played football for Michigan State from 1949 to 1951 and went on to play for the Chicago Cardinals. He became the first Black teacher at Flint Central. He was the first Black on Michigan State's coaching staff.
I was a football and basketball player in high school. I am a member of the J.W. Sexton High School Hall of Fame. (Eaton was inducted into the Greater Lansing Area Sports Hall of Fame in 2002. In high school, he was the captain of the football, basketball and track teams. He was fourth in the state the high jump and in the top ten in sprints and broad jump.)
The private club where my father worked? I became a member. My father was so proud when I was admitted to the Lansing Country Club. I got in five years after the first Black person was admitted which was five years after I put in my initial application, which was rejected. Lots of whites wanted me in but the board voted against me.
What don't people understand about you?
People tend to put me in an elite category. I am a regular, hard-working person.
What is next for you?
I didn’t think I could do it, but I’ve slowed down. I’ve been in Florida since Christmas.
What are your plans for this weekend?
I’m flying home to receive a Community Pillar Award from the Lansing Black Chamber of Commerce at the country club in Lansing where I shined shoes as a kid.