WALKER, Mich. (WOOD) — Fifteen years after it opened to the public, Kent County’s Millennium Park has a new statue honoring a man who helped turn the 1,400-acre site into park space.

The sculpture features Peter Secchia’s likeness, wearing a hoodie from his alma mater, Michigan State University, surrounded by children at play.

“To my grandchildren, I hope you understand the value of something this dear,” Secchia, the longtime Grand Rapids businessman, philanthropist and former U.S. ambassador to Italy, said to the crowd at the statue’s unveiling Tuesday.

The DeVos family paid for the statue in front of the Millennium Park Pavilion.

Secchia and the late Richard DeVos shared a decades-long friendship and a commitment to the community that resulted in projects like Millennium Park.

 Secchia helped raise tens of millions of dollars for the project.

But it wasn’t just about the fundraising.

“He loves the engagement of people. I don’t think he ever had a vision that was so defined that it’s only his,” said Amway Co-Chair Doug DeVos. “His vision is what’s best for the community? How do you get people engaged?  The end result is a place where people can come and celebrate together. We’re very blessed, thankful for that.”

In 2000, it was 1,400 acres with gravel pits on the surface and gypsum mines below.

But there were those who had a new vision for the site stretching from Johnson Park in Grandville to John Ball Park on Grand Rapid’s west side.

Secchia was one of them.

24 Hour News 8 was there in July 2000.

Secchia had gathered his Millennium Commission for a tour of the site.

By the end of the day, Secchia was confident the vision would be realized.

“Probably before we even start the fund drive, we’re probably going to be very close to our goal for the first phase,” Secchia told 24 Hour News 8 on that day in 2000.

By 2004, Millennium Park was open.

“This park would not have happened without him,” said Sam Moore, executive director of the Kent County Parks Foundation.

Millennium Park remains a work in progress.

And the momentum created by Secchia continues. 

Moore says a new fundraiser is set to start in about six months for more land and amenities.     

“We’re still working through the list right now. Some additional enhancement in the beach area. Some added enhancements with the land and additional trails throughout the park,” Moore said.

There’s also talk of Millennium Park as a possible site for a 12,000-plus seat amphitheater proposed by the Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority.

A CAA committee could make a decision on a location of the amphitheater as early as October.

Of course, it takes a commitment to the community to make these things happen.

And that’s something not lost on current and future generations.

“And to think that wow, in our generation and in future generations, we have a chance to be part of that in so many ways. It’s a pretty exciting opportunity,” Doug DeVos said. “So, I think it continues. It’s an element to that special sauce in West Michigan.”