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.’