College of Human Medicine

Donor Profile

The Philanthropist of the Year is awarded every fall at the MSU Alumni Association Grand Awards Gala. The award honors those who have demonstrated outstanding philanthropic responsibility toward MSU and whose generosity inspires others. This year the award was given to Peter and Joan Secchia.

Peter Secchia entered Michigan State University after a three-year stint in the U.S. Marine Corps. In 1963, he earned a bachelor’s degree from the Eli Broad College of Business, majoring in economics. The following year, he married Joan Peterson. She was a newly-minted graduate of the College of Education, where she majored in elementary education.

They raised their four children in Grand Rapids. Joan taught school while Peter began a successful business career, highlighted by numerous corporate chairmanships. Both have extensive board and trustee experience spanning more than half a century.

Peter was a close friend and confidante of U.S. President Gerald R. Ford, and was later appointed U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Italy in 1989 through 1993. Francesco Cossiga, former president of the Republic of Italy, called Secchia “the best U.S. ambassador to Italy I have ever known.” Joan has served on various philanthropic and organizational boards both in the U.S. and abroad. 

Their accomplishments on behalf of the MSU community are astounding. A recent $3 million gift endowed a defensive coordinator position for Spartan football. Over time, this endowment will prove just as valuable as the team’s existing Secchia Travel Fund for recruiting purposes. 

Peter and Joan also made the lead gift to build the Secchia Stadium—at Old College Field—for the varsity softball program. Theirs was the largest cash gift to a women’s sport in MSU’s history. Additionally, Peter co-chaired the fundraising campaign for the Clara Bell Smith Academic Center. The Secchias were visionary community champions of moving the College of Human Medicine to its current Grand Rapids location. The Secchias donated time and financial support to the College of Human Medicine’s campus in Grand Rapids with its centerpiece Secchia Center. The move provides the college access to top-tier talent, a broad community base and proximity for building new partnerships with medical, research and economic resources. 

Among a plethora of memberships and board positions, Peter currently serves on the Athletics Director’s Campaign Leadership Council. Joan is on the Collegeof Education Campaign Committee. In their positions, they provide philanthropic leadership, insight and support to MSU programs. Both are honorary chairs of President Lou Anna K. Simon’s Campaign Cabinet for Empower Extraordinary, the campaign for MSU.