Ambassador Peter F. Secchia, distinguished businessman, community and political leader, philanthropist—and much more—passed away on October 21, 2020. He was 83.
Peter was a father, husband, friend, proud Italian, and self-made businessman who threw himself fully into everything he did—into every detail of every endeavor. He was legendary for making things happen and for his creative, hard driving, and, yes, candid ways. And for his pink memos and smiling or frowning faces on his notes. He often was described as “larger than life” and he leaves a big hole in the collective spirit of West Michigan and in the hearts of his family and friends worldwide.
Born April 15, 1937, Peter spent his early years in Demarest, NJ, graduating from Tenafly High School and then serving in the United States Marine Corps with NATO and the 2nd Battalion 6th Marines in Beirut. He went to Michigan State University, an influence and object of affection throughout his life.
In business, Peter joined Universal Forest Products (now UFP Industries) as a salesman after graduating from MSU in 1962. He took majority ownership of the company in 1971 and was the architect of its early growth and success. Today, UFPI is a nearly $5 billion corporation with 12,000 employees in 140 operations worldwide. After he retired from UFP in 2002, Peter focused on his family business, SIBSCO, a real estate development firm that has invested in properties primarily in his beloved West Michigan, sparking development throughout the region.
In politics, Peter drove Republican Party successes for decades, recruiting and electing candidates for local, state, and federal seats and ensuring that Republican ideals were represented and bolstered wherever he went. He was the friend and confidante of U.S. presidents, including Gerald R. Ford and George H. W. Bush, appointed by the latter as Ambassador to Italy, 1989-1993. In that capacity, Peter was awarded Italy’s highest public service award, the “Cavaliere della Grande Croce” (The Knight of the Great Cross). He also was granted the U.S. Department of State Distinguished Honor Award, a recognition bestowed on those who have given exceptionally outstanding service or achievements of marked national or international significance. Those are at the top of a long list of honors and awards.
In his community, Peter created opportunity and drove excitement and economic expansion. When he decided Grand Rapids should have a park bigger than Central Park in NYC, he spearheaded the development of 1,400-acre Millennium Park, one of the largest urban parks in the nation. When Michigan State University was seeking to expand its medical school, he worked to get its new campus located in Grand Rapids. Today, MSU’s College of Human Medicine is housed in the $90 million Secchia Center on the city’s Medical Mile. The list is nearly endless.
At Michigan State University, Peter was legendary for his generosity of resources and spirit. He was one of the school’s largest benefactors and was a loyal fan of the basketball and football teams, planted without fail in his front-row seats with guests he treated to the experience. He rarely missed a game. But his generosity didn’t end with sports. He underwrote opportunities for high school students to attend summer programs at MSU, provided the lead gift for a new softball field, funded scholarships, underwrote workout rooms and much more.
And he supported countless needs, initiatives and institutions, from the Boys and Girls Clubs to the convention center, and from the Kent County Sheriff’s Mounted Unit Training Center to Special Olympics. Peter often was a quiet giver, avoiding public recognition for gifts to private individuals and causes.
Most importantly, Peter Secchia was the father of four children, grandfather of eleven, and husband of Joan, whom he met at Michigan State and wed in 1964. Together, they made their life and memories at their home in East Grand Rapids, their cottage in Grand Haven, and wherever they gathered as a family.
Peter was preceded in death by his parents, Cesare (Charlie) and Valerie Secchia.
He is survived by his wife of 56 years, Joan (nee Peterson); his children and their families, Stephanie (Ken) Oehler and their children, Julia and Vivienne; Sandy (Joel) Aslanian and their children, Thea, Maggie and Elsa; Charlie (Elizabeth) and their children, Bea, Pietro, Charles, Lauren and Kristen; and Mark (Laurie) and their daughter, Stella; his sister, Gail Secchia; and countless friends.
Due to current restrictions on gatherings, the family is planning a private service of remembrance. Friends may share memories, photos and videos commemorating their time with Peter.
Memorial contributions may be directed to the Kent County Parks Foundation – Millennium Park, the Michigan State University Grand Rapids Research Center or the Peter F. Secchia Endowed Scholarship at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine.
PO Box 230165, Grand Rapids MI 49523
MSU Grand Rapids Research Center
400 Monroe Ave NW, Grand Rapids MI 49503
Peter F. Secchia Endowed Scholarship at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine