TUSTIN - Beautiful warm sunshine, sounds of nature and blooming trilliums made for the perfect afternoon at Kettunen Center when colleagues, family and friends gathered to express nothing short of admiration for retiring director, John Grix.

Celebrating Kettunen Center’s 50th anniversary in 2011, John Grix has been the director for nearly half of that time with a tenure of 24 years.

Grix was employed as a 4H agent in Hillsdale County, when he left to take on what would turn out to be a very influential role in the center’s history.  He and his wife, Andrea, currently the program coordinator, not only put in a full day’s work at Kettunen, they also lived in an earth sheltered home on the property. Surrounded by forest, scenic trails and waterfront, this workplace was also a home to Grix and his family.

In the time Grix filled the role or director, Kettunen has seen many changes. He was instrumental in the creation of a master plan, ” Vision 2021”, one of the largest 4H fundraising campaigns for a center of development.

This campaign concluded in 1997 and raised $4.3 million for the addition of the Mawby Learning Center, Red Oak Hall and new dining and administration facilities. Following the mission of the 4H foundation, which owns and operates the Kettunen Center, Grix was influential in creating an environment that was so inviting, youth and adult groups return year after year to conduct their educational programs. Don Yost, former executive director of the 4H foundation responsible for hiring Grix, explains the complexity of the position.

“It takes a special brand of person run an educational center with the hospitality of a hotel and yet the uniqueness of its 160 acre property, complete with the attractive waterfront, which also has its own safety issues.  To have the community relations required to work closely with partners at the MSU extension and the 4H community, educational groups and other groups across the state. To recruit and nuture a wonderful group of staff.  It was more complex of a job than it seems on the surface, and John excelled in every part of the role.”

Fellow employees of MSU extension, 4H foundation, Kettunen Center and 4H board of trustee members filled the room at the Mawby learning center to create a heartfelt send off.  Influential donors including Mr. and Mrs. Russ Mawby and Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Kirch made an appearance along with Martha Kettunen, daughter in law of AG Kettunen for whom the center is named.

Speech after speech praised the work of Grix during his tenure. “He brought a unique perspective to a director’s role. Since he started out as a 4H agent, he was able to completely understand the important yet difficult roles 4H leaders and volunteers played.” Julie Chapin, head state 4H leader, speaks highly of her former coworker. Cheryl Howell, executive director of the 4H Foundation continues, “Johns leaving a legacy. It’s not just what he did in the time he was here, but the vision he is leaving behind for the future of further growth and improvement.

Grix’s passion and love for the work he did is evident when he talks about his time at the center. “How can you not enjoy this job when the surroundings and staff make it the best place to work and live.”

Currently, Grix is keeping his options open for retirement, not making any commitments at the time.  Once settled in his new home and the idea of not having to work, he mentions he would like remain involved with youth somehow. At this time the replacement for the director’s role has been narrowed down from 3 candidates, however nothing is official.

“I am confident my replacement will do an excellent job. After having so much vested in this place, I want to see it continue to grow and get even better.” Grix adds.

Kettunen Center was opened its doors in 1961 as the first volunteer and youth training center in the nation. 24 years ago it opened its doors to a man who would continue on the dream of AG Kettunen and who would have such an impact on the centers future.

It now hosts about 250 attracting thousands of visitors every year. Retiring Director John Grix leaves not only his coworkers, but people he calls friends; not only his workplace, but the place he calls home.  He also leaves proud to know he was a very important part of what the Kettunen Center is today and what it will continue to be.