Sehy finding retirement busier than working life

Published 5:32 am Friday, January 5, 2007

By By ANDY HAMILTON / Niles Daily Star
NILES – The busy life for Larry Sehy began when his professional career ended.
For a portion of his career, Sehy traveled around the country spearheading fundraising campaigns for organizations like the YMCA, and for four years near the end of his business life, he commuted daily from his new home in Niles to Chicago. However, Sehy admitted he has been most active since taking on a life of volunteer activities in Niles and around the world.
"It all started by being concerned about, 'is there a role to play in a new community?'" he said. "I find that probably I'm busier now than I was in working life."
Raised in Battle Creek, Sehy attended George Williams College in Illinois as an undergraduate and earned a graduate degree as a seminary student at Yale University. In 1992, while living in Downers Grove, Ill. and working in Chicago, he and his wife Kathy purchased a home on Barron Lake to spend the weekends.
"We didn't want to have to be more than two hours away from our grandchildren," Sehy said.
The Sehys have two sons. David was married in New Orleans last weekend and lives in San Diego while his wife attends the University of California, Berkeley, and Stephen and his wife are residents of Naperville, Ind.
In 1997, Kathy retired from her position as a registered nurse at Hines Veterans Affairs Hospital and the couple permanently moved to Niles. That's when Sehy's daily commute began – sometimes on the South Shore train, but mostly by car in order to have a vehicle at the airport.
In the last 10 years of his professional life until 2001, Sehy worked at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Prior to that, Sehy was a YMCA director in Newark, N.J., vice president of student resource development at George Williams College for nine years, vice president of Roosevelt University in Chicago and senior vice president for 14 years at American City Bureau, a fundraising organization that specializes in marketing plans for non-profit organizations.
The first project taken on by American City Bureau was selling war bonds in 1913, Sehy said. The organization also led a "brick and mortar" campaign to construct in 1964 the former Niles-Buchanan YMCA on Main Street, he added.
"Our job was not to go out and ask for the gift, but to test the community to see if it could be done," Sehy said.
Around southwest Michigan, Sehy serves on the board of directors for the Niles-Buchanan YMCA, United Way of Greater Niles, the Fort St. Joseph Advisory Board and the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy. He is a member of International Partners in Mission – he recently returned from El Salvador and has been to India and Kenya – and is a former president and current board member of Fernwood Botanical Garden and Nature Preserve.
Sehy is also a Tuesday Morning Lady at Fernwood.
Before she died from cancer about a year ago, Sehy's wife Kathy would spend every Tuesday morning gardening at Fernwood. Now, Sehy continues the tradition by weeding and planting every Tuesday morning in Kathy's garden. The Entry Garden and Native Plant Garden near the entrance of Fernwood are dedicated to the memory of his wife and filled with plants native to the area and bloom a different color each month, Sehy said.
"So I'm carrying on her tradition on Tuesday mornings," he said. "It's fun. It's a good way to keep her memory fresh."
One of Sehy's other projects included raising $35,000 with the help of Cass County Commissioner and Lions Club member Johnie Rodebush and others to transform a church on Yankee Street into the Howard Township Branch of the Cass District Library. Sehy also spends most mornings at Brew Ha Ha in Niles writing letters to friends around the country, many of which are ill and unable to leave their homes.
"It's a chance to get outside yourself and be concerned about others," he said.
About 40 years after the first Niles-Buchanan YMCA project, a second fundraising campaign was needed, and once again Sehy was instrumental in measuring the interest of the community and generating the funds necessary for going forward, except this time he was a member of the YMCA board of directors. And, unlike previous projects in which he helped raise the funds but did not see the end result, Sehy was witness to the entire process of constructing the 'Y'.
"All the board members worked on it … and it was my pleasure to contribute," Sehy said. "Having a chance to work on this as a layperson was a different experience for me."
Having Sehy on the board and capital campaign committee was a bonus for YMCA Executive Director Bret Hendrie, who said Sehy was there to help guide the project from start to finish. Sehy's background in professional fundraising and experience as a 'Y' director was "perfect," Hendrie said.
"He's just been one of those assets that every YMCA director would love to have. He understands the mission of the 'Y', the history of the 'Y', the origin of the 'Y', and he understands what our organization does for the community," Hendrie said. "For me personally, he was a 'go to' guy for me. If I wasn't getting things done or getting things answered I thought I could, I would call Larry."
Sehy may have retired from professional life in 2001 and he may be on the go more now in retirement, but it's safe to say he has found a role in his community.
"People say 'There's nothing to do so I'm going to sit around and just watch TV tonight.' There's all kinds of things people can do… It's more exciting to be a part of people's lives. I just truly believe that everybody has something they can pass on to other people."