Secchia, Peter

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
West Michigan
Mr. Secchia was active in downtown Grand Rapids revitalization. He led an initiative to convert a former gravel-mining pit into the Millennium Park recreation area, and he gave significant gifts to Michigan State University.

Biographical Highlights

Born in New Jersey in 1937, Secchia went to work for Universal Forest Products and eventually owned the company. He served as the U.S. Ambassador to Italy for four years. He became a major philanthropist in Grand Rapids, Michigan, especially benefiting Millennium Park and the MSU College of Human Medicine in Grand Rapids.

Historic Roots

Peter Secchia was born April 15, 1937, and grew up in New Jersey. His father, Casare (or Charlie) worked two jobs, including delivering newspapers. His mother, Valerie, worked at the high school. Peter served in the Marines from 1956 to 1959, attaining the rank of sergeant. He graduated from Michigan State University in 1962 with an economics degree. Directly out of college he went to work at Universal Forest Products—a wholesale lumber business—and had a forty-year career there. In 1971, he purchased 51 percent of the company. Secchia also owned River City Foods, which included twenty-one restaurants and catering facilities, and Sibsco, a family real estate development company doing work in downtown Grand Rapids. He was named United States Ambassador to Italy under President George H. W. Bush from 1989 to 1993. He chaired the Secchia Commission I and II, whose goal was to make state government smaller and more efficient. He is also a fundraiser and very active in the Republican Party.


Having found success at Universal Forest Products and other businesses, Secchia became a force for federal and state Republican political causes. He was a lead supporter of developing the recreation area called Millennium Park and the MSU medical school in Grand Rapids.

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

Secchia is involved in a variety of community philanthropy. He started a project that provided a free Thanksgiving meal at Pietro's Restaurant for the less fortunate in Grand Rapids. He chaired the Gus Macker basketball tournament for the Grand Rapids Schools and served on the board of the Youth Commonwealth. A large gift to Grand Valley State University prompted them to name a residence hall after him. He chaired a group that raised money and led an initiative to convert a former gravel-mining pit into Millennium Park. In early 2007, MSU alumnus Secchia gave the lead gift toward the construction of a building to house the university’s college of human medicine in Grand Rapids. Secchia gave other significant gifts to MSU. He played a role in community building by offering his assistance to a number of important Grand Rapids institutions.

Key Related Ideas

Raised in an Italian-American family struggling to survive the Great Depression, Secchia came to Grand Rapids and found success in business. He became active in Republican Party politics. He also found important ways to give back to the community through volunteering and philanthropy.

Important People Related to the Topic

  • John Canepa: Canepa moved to Grand Rapids in 1970 to lead Old Kent Bank, and he was a principal figure in the development of many of the city’s business and cultural institutions.
  • Dick DeVos: Richard, Jr. is the son of Amway co-founder, Richard DeVos. Dick DeVos spearheaded Grand Vision and then, with Canepa and David Frey, formed Grand Action. Dick DeVos served as CEO of Amway and ran for governor of Michigan in 2006.
  • David G. Frey: Frey Foundation trustee. David Frey, along with John Canepa and Dick DeVos, spearheaded and co-chaired Grand Action.
  • Joan Secchia: Joan (Peterson) is Peter’s partner in philanthropy and was also active in a variety of community organizations including the Red Cross, Opera Grand Rapids, the Women’s Resource Center, and the Dorothy Swift Hospital Guild.

Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • Boys and Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids Youth Commonwealth provides programs in the areas of education, the environment, health, the arts, careers, alcohol/drug and pregnancy prevention, gang prevention, leadership development, and athletics for children between the ages of 8–18.
  • Grand Action is a non-profit organization that identifies and supports downtown building and revitalization projects, including the Van Andel Arena, DeVos Place convention center, Grand Rapids Civic Theater, Michigan State University Medical School, and others.
  • The mission of the Kent County Parks Department that includes Millennium Park is to establish and maintain outstanding parks that provide recreational, environmental, and social benefits.

Related Web Sites

  • Grand Valley State University: Grand Valley offers a strong liberal education, fostering critical thinking, creative problem solving, and cultural understanding. The mission is to educate students to shape their lives, their professions, and their societies. The university website is at
  • Michigan State University College of Human Medicine: MSU is opening the Secchia Center, a medical education center in downtown Grand Rapids with state-of-the-art instructional technology.
  • River City Foods includes twenty-one restaurants and catering facilities.
  • The Secchia Family website at includes biographies of both Peter and Joan, pages on the ancestry of each, pages on Peter’s businesses, and full details about their community involvement and charitable giving.
  • Sibsco: While Secchia’s children were in college, he started a small real estate management company in order to teach them business skills, especially the risk and responsibility of investment.
  • Universal Forest Products: Universal Forest Products is the leading manufacturer and distributor of wood and wood-alternative products.

Bibliography and Internet Sources

Maine, Donald. Maine Street: A Tribute to 27 West Michigan Entrepreneurs. Boston MA: Pearson Custom, 2002. ISBN-13: 9780536679918.

Clipping file and oral history in the SOUL of Philanthropy collection in the Grand Rapids History and Special Collections of the Grand Rapids Public Library