College of

In Memoriam: Peter F. Secchia, 1937-2020

The Honorable Ambassador PETER F. SECCHIA (MSU ’63, Business), philanthropist and lead champion of the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, died October 21, 2020, at the age of 83.

The impact of Secchia’s life and accomplishments on behalf of the MSU College of Human Medicine and the Spartan community are nothing short of astonishing. Secchia was not only a steadfast Spartan, he was the College of Human Medicine’s most philanthropic, visionary partner. He was the exemplar for sharing his time, talent and resources like no other.

Time and time again, Secchia demonstrated outstanding leadership — with clear evidence of that commitment to inspiring and involving others. In the early 2000s, Secchia envisioned and diligently championed Michigan State University College of Human Medicine’s presence in Grand Rapids. His vision was for MSU to be the final piece of the puzzle that could enable Grand Rapids to become a health care destination by bringing academic medicine, which would draw world-class researchers and faculty. A person deeply committed to giving back, he saw the college as a vehicle to improve the community and lives of others.

Peter shared that vision with Rich DeVos and, in true Secchia style, he worked tirelessly to make that vision a reality. Realizing that significant resources would be required, together with Rich and Helen, Peter and Joan (MSU ’64 Education) announced a $20 million naming gift for the Secchia Center in 2007. Their contribution was catalytic. With the 2010 opening of the Secchia Center, MSU’s footprint was firmly established in the Grand Rapids community. And just as Peter and Joan stepped forward with the lead gift, they stepped forward with a capstone gift of $1 million to complete the Campaign for the Secchia Center. Defining of Ambassador Secchia, he never stopped until a worthy vision was fully realized.

The $90 million, privately funded headquarters for the College of Human Medicine proved to be a successful symbol of public-private partnership, and the result of Secchia’s tenacity to move West Michigan’s economic needle. By involving partners Spectrum Health, Van Andel Institute, Mercy Health Saint Mary’s, Grand Valley State University, Grand Action and The Right Place Inc., Secchia showed what can be accomplished through collaboration. He was masterful in "maximizing impact through partnership."

In 2016, the Secchia and DeVos families announced a combined gift of $15 million to launch the capital campaign for the construction of the MSU Grand Rapids Research Center. Secchia played a significant leadership role during MSU’s Empower Extraordinary campaign—which raised $1.83 billion for MSU’s future—by serving on the President’s Campaign Cabinet and driving millions of dollars in philanthropic support to the University. 

Peter and Joan further demonstrated their commitment in 2019 by making an additional $5 million gift to complete the $30 million fundraising effort for the Grand Rapids Research Center. Peter understood the importance of establishing West Michigan as a leader in medical research in terms of economic development and job creation. He was passionate about finding new and better ways to treat disease, and he wanted the medical students training in the medical school he helped establish to have access to training in research. All were made possible with establishment of the Grand Rapids Research Center.

The six-story, 162,800-square-foot facility houses biomedical research teams focused on transforming health through innovation and groundbreaking research in the areas of cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, women’s health and more, and is the cornerstone of the MSU Grand Rapids Innovation Park.

In 2019, the Secchia family donated a grouping of sculptures to MSU as part of their Community Legends program, which honor three female scientists from Grand Rapids who discovered the pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine. The sculptures are displayed at the Grand Rapids Research Center. Ambassador Secchia wanted the ‘campus’ to provide a message to children from all backgrounds that they could have a transformative impact in health care. Peter, a beacon of hope for so many, so well symbolized this imagery for generations to follow.

Over the past 58 years, in addition to being highly generous with their time, the Secchia family has given and committed a total of $25 million across his beloved alma mater, Michigan State University. Among a plethora of memberships and board positions, Secchia was an enthusiastic and generous supporter of Spartan Athletics and the West Michigan Spartans. He boosted numerous projects and programs across campus, including the Broad College of Business Pavilion and the College of Music. Peter rarely missed an opportunity to cheer on the Spartans, both on and off the field.

A longtime businessman and close confidante of Gerald R. Ford, Secchia served as the U.S. Ambassador to Italy, and is former CEO and chairman emeritus of Universal Forest Products, Inc.

Peter Secchia is survived by his beloved wife Joan, their four children—Stephanie, Sandy, Charles and Mark—and many grandchildren.

Michigan State University College of Human Medicine celebrates the life of our greatest champion, leader and friend. A man whose legacy lives on in countless works he has influenced across Michigan State University and the West Michigan community. From the banks of the Red Cedar to the banks of the Grand River, Peter Secchia’s deep love for his alma mater will echo on for generations to come.

P.S. WE THANK YOU. We’ll miss you. We Love You.