MICHIGAN (From news reports) -- Peter Secchia -- a West Michigan businessman, Michigan State University donor and longtime figure in Republican politics -- died Wednesday at the age of 83, his wife, Joan Secchia, confirmed in a statement.
"Throughout his life, Peter was firmly committed to his family, his business, his community and his country," Joan Secchia said. "His presence in all will be deeply missed."
Secchia was diagnosed with COVID-19 shortly before his death, said Amy LeFebre, a Secchia family spokeswoman.
"Mr. Secchia had experienced health issues for several months and was receiving nursing care at home," LeFebre said. "He recently contracted COVID-19, which was a contributing factor in his death. He was not hospitalized and died peacefully at home."
Secchia's family will hold a private remembrance service because of pandemic restrictions on gatherings.
A native of Demarest, New Jersey, Secchia was part of the U.S. Marines from 1956-59, serving with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the 2nd Battalion in Beirut, according to his biography.
He studied economics at MSU, where he met his future wife, Joan Peterson. He took a sales job with Universal Forest Products in 1962 covering mobile home manufacturers and industrial accounts in Pennsylvania.
He served as the company's former chairman, chief executive and president, helping to push the company from about $1 million in sales in 1962 to nearly $386 million in 1989, when he left to serve as an ambassador to Italy, according Universal Forest Products. When he returned in 1993, he became chairman until 2002, when he started to serve as a non-employee chairman of the board.
Universal Forest Products is now a multibillion-dollar holding company known as UFP Industries that serves retail, industrial and construction markets, according to its website. Its 2019 sales were $4.5 billion.
Secchia was the "architect" of the company's early expansion, UFP said in a statement, ushering in just-in time inventory systems for the construction industry. He also delved into athletic clothing, retail and restaurants, including Pietro's in Grand Rapids.
"He was known as much for his irascible ways as for his generosity, humor and disdain for political correctness," the company said. "No detail was too small for his attention. He was impatient. Smart. Demanding.
"He required a lot of employees but no more than he required for himself. No one could outwork him."
State Rep. Lynn Afendoulis, R-Grand Rapids, did contract work for Secchia and UFP through the 1990s and worked full-time for the company from 2003 through 2019.
Much of what he did was very visible, but there were still so many other philanthropic efforts he did quietly without seeking credit, Afendoulis said. He demanded much from his employees, but also opened doors that wouldn't have been available otherwise, she said.
"If you earned his respect and you were loyal and worked hard for him ,he gave all that back in spades," Afendoulis said. "He expected a lot and gave a lot."