This is a love story that feels like a movie script set in the 1950s. A tall, handsome stranger walks into a Michigan pharmacy with a prescription for his mother. He spies a woman behind the back counter, the most beautiful redhead he has ever seen. The woman is Virginia “Ginny” Hersz. She graduated from college in 1955 with a degree in pharmacy. At the time, less than 5% of the nation’s pharmacists were female, but Ginny was fearless and ready to take on any challenge. When she sees the handsome stranger, she is definitely intrigued.

The man is Gary Albrecht. He was drafted into the United States Army at the age of 18, and his athletic abilities landed him a spot as a starting pitcher on the Army baseball team. He was later drafted to play for the Chicago White Sox, but decided to go to college after meeting his military commitment. After graduation, he goes to work as an insurance agent. On one fateful day, he walks into a pharmacy.

Gary returns later that day for his mother’s prescription and a determination to meet the beautiful redhead. He speaks to Ginny and the sparks fly. Within two months, they are engaged. For the rest of their lives, they say it was love at first “sights.”

Marriage followed a few months later, and for 60 years the love and mutual respect between Gary and Ginny Albrecht flourished. They raised five children and lived to see the birth of 12 beloved grandchildren. Together, they shared a passion for helping the most vulnerable. Gary passed away in 2019, and Ginny followed in 2020, but their legacy of love and caring for others continues to change lives in Aiken County.

Gary was raised in a modest home and showed astute business skills very early. To help pay for college, he started a chimney sweeping business. He graduated debt-free and sold his business for a profit. He joined an insurance firm even though he had no car, no experience, and no contacts. Despite these limitations, Gary became the company’s top salesman during his first year.

Gary started his own company when he and Ginny had a child on the way. It grew into multiple enterprises known as the Albrecht Companies, which continue to be successful. Gary’s business success is the financial source for the Albrecht Family Charitable Trust and the Albrecht Education Trust.

After marrying, Ginny worked until the birth of her first child. She gave up her career so that she could devote 100% of her time to her family. She was a loving mother and a wonderful cook, but her interests as a homemaker were varied — she became a beekeeper and a Master Gardener and cared for many animals while creating a loving home on the 80-acre farm where their five children thrived.

Joy Albrecht lights up when she speaks of her parents. “All of us knew that our parents loved us very much, but they always put their marriage first.” Joy fondly recalls her father coming home from work and her mother having all of the children go to greet him when he walked in the door. When they sat for dinner, her father always made sure to compliment Ginny on the wonderful meal she prepared. Joy explained, “Their love was very, very strong. They gave each other mutual respect and they grew together. Dad gave her security and Mom instilled in him the love of animals.”

Gary’s father was a foundry worker for Ford Motor Company. It was difficult work, but one that offered the Albrecht family stability during the Great Depression. Gary learned the value of working hard, and he always felt very fortunate to have achieved such success despite his humble background. It was important to him that his children understood fiscal responsibility. Joy said her parents didn’t spoil them with a lot of money. According to Joy, “We were given the basics but if we wanted more, we had to earn it.”

From a young age Gary felt a strong desire give back to those in need, and Ginny agreed. The Albrechts focused their charitable giving on the most vulnerable members of society, both the two-legged and the four-legged variety. They strongly believed that, with access to education, disadvantaged children could reach their potential and break the cycle of poverty. They were equally passionate about the welfare of animals and advocated for their humane treatment.

Gary and Ginny Albrecht moved to Aiken in 2005 to be near two of their daughters, Joy and Gayle, and to enjoy a warmer climate.

Shortly after their arrival, Gary joined the SPCA Board of Directors. New facilities were planned but money was needed, and Gary and Ginny provided substantial funding for the new facilities. Today, the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare is a state-of-the-art facility where homeless animals receive treatment and loving care while they await their “forever” homes.

During the years they lived in Michigan, the Albrechts funded educational opportunities for minority students at a local elementary school. They paid for basic needs and tuition through college. Upon their move to Aiken, the Albrecht Family Charitable Trust began providing scholarships for K – 12 minority students at Aiken Preparatory School. They also met other young students with limited resources who had a desire to further their education — Gary and Ginny provided the funding to give those students a “hand up,” which literally changed their lives.

In 2017, Gary and Ginny partnered with the Rotary Club of Aiken to expand the number of college scholarships by creating the Albrecht Educational Trust. To date, the trust has provided $250,000 to Aiken County high school seniors through the Rotary Scholarship Program.

Joy Albrecht manages the family trusts, and she said, “It was important to my parents that the students they helped be allowed to choose any course of study to further their education. They partnered with the Rotary Club because they have a strong scholarship program, which draws many qualified applicants. My siblings and I are committed to continue to help disadvantaged young people achieve academic success. We will also continue to provide financial support to the SPCA. It is what our parents wanted.”

Gary and Ginny Albrecht believed everyone can give back to his or her community. Joy said, “My father believed you have to show people anyone can be philanthropic. His philosophy was that giving encourages giving.” He also believed in saying thank you. No matter how small the amount, many SPCA donors received personal phone calls thanking them for their donations but never realized the caller was the man whose name was on the building.

There is a line from a movie that says, “Behind every great love is a great story.” The love story of Gary and Ginny Albrecht is truly a great one. From it comes a commitment to assist young people in our community and to ensure the humane treatment of animals. Perhaps the greatest part of the Albrecht’s love story is the ripple effect it has as it continues to change lives for years to come.

Lyddie Hansen, for Palmetto Bella Magazine, February 10, 2021

Gary Alan Albrecht

1933 – 2019

Gary Alan Albrecht, 86 years, of Aiken, SC died Sunday March 31, 2019 at his home in Aiken after a brief battle with cancer. Gary was surrounded by his loved ones when he passed.

Gary leaves behind his wife of 60 years, Virginia (Hersz) Albrecht; four daughters: Dawn Albrecht-Parys (Ron, pre-deceased), Gayle Loveland, Joy Albrecht, Anne Wilson (Jeffrey) and his son, Karl Albrecht (Kelley). Gary also leaves behind 12 beloved grandchildren and a sister Sharon Kellmeyer (Bob) and many, many friends. He is pre-deceased by his beloved “scoutmaster” father, Karl, mother Elizabeth (Balfour) and brother, Doug (Laurie).

Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan on January 5, 1933, Gary was born during the twin shadows of the Great Depression and WWII. As with so many who lived during those times, they had a profound effect on shaping the man Gary would become. Aside from the values of hard work, self-reliance and frugality he also developed a life-long compassion for those less fortunate.

His father, Karl, was offered a highly sought-after job at the Ford Motor Company’s River Rouge Plant as a foundry worker- the $5.00/day wage supported not only his parents, his brother and himself but also his grandparents and an aunt. The opportunity to work at Ford provided stability during the darkest days of the depression. Gary never forgot what Ford did for their family and so for the rest of his life he would only buy Ford vehicles. Gary often said, “Ford kept my family fed during the Depression”– Loyalty.

Gary grew up attending Detroit schools- Huber Elementary and later, Redford High School. His happiest memories during his childhood were of the boy scouts where his father was his leader and playing baseball.

At the age of 18, Gary was drafted into the army during the “police action” in Korea. He attended training in San Antonio, TX Fort Sam Houston. Fortunately, the Army discovered that Gary was an exceptional baseball pitcher and quickly enlisted him to play for the Army’s team. A baseball standout, he was scouted by the pro’s during his 2 years in service and ultimately was offered a contract with the Chicago White Sox. His father had other plans though and encouraged Gary to “Use your GI Bill and go to college” which Gary wisely did.

During his years at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan Gary became president of his fraternity, started a business cleaning out furnaces (he also employed other members of his fraternity) which gave him the opportunity to leave college debt free. Gary graduated from the university with a degree in business.

Upon graduation Gary, a natural people person, accepted an offer at C. Carroll Otto Assoc Insurance Company. Despite having no car, no contacts and no experience he was the top-selling agent in the company his first year.

During that first year in insurance, Gary was sent on an errand to pick up his mothers’ prescription at Detroit’s JL Hudsons pharmacy. “The best thing my mom ever did for me” Gary got a glimpse of the most “beautiful redhead I have ever seen.” She was the pharmacist. A mere two months later Virginia Hersz and Gary Albrecht became engaged. On January 31, 2019 they celebrated 60 years together, they were everything to each other and their love was a rare thing to see.

Gary never slowed down during the intervening sixty years. He only knew one speed: Full speed ahead.

Gary and Virginia had 5 children together- dad being a very ‘hands-on’ father, not typical in the 60’s. He gave his children the irreplaceable gift of time.

Family always came first to Gary so despite have a two hour commute each day they chose to raise their children in the country instead of the city. They chose a small town called Chelsea near Ann Arbor, Michigan and bought 80 acres to raise their large family on.

While living in Chelsea and having a 60-80 hour work week, Gary still gave back. He worked for the United Way, the Boy Scouts and little league. One particularly fond memory was the year Gary helped actor Jeff Daniels (also a Chelsea native) win the soap box derby. His “claim to fame.”

Gary believed “Its not what you say, but what you DO that counts. Anyone that knew Gary will attest to that and his deeply-felt need to “give back.” It were these convictions that led him and Virginia to establish educational scholarships at his old alma mater, Huber Elementary School. His belief was, if you wait until a child is in high school you are probably too late. The scholarships provided financial resources for the children to have all their supplies, tutors, even food if needed – anything that would help them to succeed. This fit perfectly with Gary’s firmly held belief that “people don’t need a hand out, they need a hand up.” Support was given from Kindergarten through 12th grade. Those who graduated High School would have their college tuition paid for. Some of “their” kids didn’t make it to graduation but an impressive number did- some even going to Ivy League schools.

Once Gary and Virginia moved to Aiken they created scholarships at the former Aiken Preparatory School (currently Mead Hall). Wishing to increase opportunities for minority students their trust established several K-12th grade scholarships which continue to this day.

Gary and Virginia’s current and largest scholarship program partners with the Aiken Rotary Club which developed the Albrecht Educational Trust. This trust provides scholarships to Aiken County students in need of financial assistance. Gary insisted that these scholarships not be dependent on the students field of study but rather on the students pursuit of excellence in any chosen field.

Gary has told his children many times over the years that his deep love for animals sprung from his wife Virginia. Her devotion and love of animals certainly rubbed off on him. While Gary’s many concerns during his life was helping the weak, helpless and underserved it should come was no surprise that the prevention of animal abuse and neglect have been a life-long commitment. Adopting countless beloved pets and years of volunteering at shelters lead to the enviable creation of a dream for them- a state-of-the-art, no-kill shelter to serve the many homeless animals in the Aiken community.

Gary and Virginia provided funding to be able to build the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare. Anyone who has visited this amazing building- with its caring staff, open and airy pet areas, full medical clinic, low-stress design knows what a truly wonderful place this is. “LET LOVE LIVE” is more than a catchphrase- it is a mission statement. Gary was not only involved in the funding (of course). Gary served on the Board of Directors, only recently dropping off when the pain of his cancer spread to the point, he could no longer be mobile. He participated in fund raisers, played and read books to his ‘buddies’ (dogs) and sat on the couches with his kitties to scratch an ear. He loved chatting with the staff and bringing them boxes of donuts. He personally called countless donors- whether they gave $5 or $500- it was all the same to him. He repeatedly said, “thanking people is the most important thing I can do.” He never asked for a penny when he called, he just said “thank you.”

These animals were very dear to him. Through his kindness and generosity, he ensured there were countless ‘second’ and sometimes ‘third’ chances for a homeless animal to become a family member in a loving home.

How does one summarize the life of such an extraordinarily good man? A man who consistently placed the needs of others above his own? Someone who felt it his duty and responsibility to help and protect the weak and less fortunate? If you were exceptionally lucky you were able to call him ‘friend’ and those of us truly blessed called him ‘father.’

Virginia “Ginny” Lillian (Hersz) Albrecht

1932 – 2020

The world lost a passionate advocate for animals on Thursday, March 12, 2020. Her family lost a loving mother and grandmother (Oma). Ginny was born an only child on September 2, 1932 to William and Marianna (Bartkowiak) Hersz in Detroit, Michigan.

Ginny became one of only a few female pharmacists when she graduated from Wayne State University in 1955. While working at the famous JL Hudson’s Department Store in Detroit, Ginny met her future husband, Gary, when he came in to pick up a prescription for his mother. “It was love at both sight” they both frequently told anyone that asked.

Gary and Ginny quickly married on January 31, 1959 and started their large family under a year later. Once child number three came along, Gary and Ginny moved to a small town called Chelsea outside Ann Arbor, Michigan. They bought eighty acres so that their five children would have “room to roam.”

Ginny gave up working as a pharmacist once they started a family. Never one to sit still, she became a beekeeper, Master gardener, incredible cook and baker, hobby painter and became a very active scuba diver, even though she never learned to swim. Later in life, Gary and Ginny traveled the world extensively. They created numerous charitable trusts to help children who had the drive to attend college and always there were animals in need which really drove Ginny.

In 2009, Gary and Ginny made Aiken, SC their home. They quickly set about putting in place their passions for education and animal welfare. The Aiken Rotary Club Foundation was a perfect fit to grow their scholarship program to help graduating high school students attain their dreams of continuing their education.

Our father often said that mom taught him a lot but she was his guiding force for his enduring love for all creatures, especially those dependent upon the kindness of humans. Growing up we always had numerous cats, dogs, occasional snakes, and even a bird. All of mom’s pets were incredibly long-lived. The SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare certainly would never have come into existence without our mother’s passionate love and advocacy for animal welfare. Our parents left a large legacy in Aiken that will continue many years into the future.

Once her beloved Gary passed after sixty years of marriage on March 31, 2019 our mom lost her zest for life. It is incredibly difficult to say goodbye to a woman who truly lived life to the fullest, but we take comfort she is with the “love of her life” and all the many fur family members she loved so much.

Our mother leaves behind to mourn her passing, five children: Dawn, Gayle, Karl (Kelly), Joy, and Anne (Jeff); and her twelve beloved grandchildren.