Sheridan Plans On Giving Back

July 12, 2002
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MUSKEGON — After more than 40 years away from his hometown, Dennis Sheridan is back in Muskegon doing what he loves best — helping people plan their finances and trying to make a difference.

The 63-year-old Muskegon native this spring joined the Community Foundation for Muskegon County as director of development and planned giving, a position where he works with benefactors to plan their gifts.

The position not only brought Sheridan home to Muskegon but also furthers his "second career" in the nonprofit and philanthropic field, a career he entered after two decades of working in financial and estate planning.

Eight years after he changed careers and at a time when he began to consider his eventual retirement, the Community Foundation for Muskegon County position offered Sheridan the opportunity of "coming back home and being able to do what I know how to do and doing it with a mission, and it's something I can sink my teeth into from an altruistic standpoint," Sheridan said.

"I feel I'm blessed with a second career that I love as much as the first one," he said.

That first career began when Sheridan was working in Detroit for General Electric and he decided to go into business for himself. He became a partner in what turned into a successful practice in life insurance and financial and estate planning in suburban Detroit.

By the early 1990s, with the industry changing as financial institutions began to venture into each other's turf following a wave of deregulation, he was ready for something different. He sold his share of the practice and sought new work.

"Everybody was getting into everybody else's product. It wasn't fun anymore, so I decided to do something different," he said.

Sheridan in 1994 landed at Star Commonwealth in Albion, a not-for-profit agency providing daycare and youth services in three states, where he served as director of planned giving and coordinator of the organization's endowment program, which grew from $40 million to $70 million from 1994 to 2001.

Working in planned giving in the nonprofit sector was a natural, Sheridan said, because it enabled him to continue using the same skills required in private practice. At the Community Foundation for Muskegon County, for instance, helping people plan their donations, particularly when written into their will, trust or estate, is much like helping them plan their private finances, he said.

"I realized by its very nature, a community foundation is planned giving. We help people plan their gifts," he said.

Sheridan came to the foundation after he started thinking last year about slowing down and preparing for his eventual retirement. During a meeting in Grand Rapids, he mentioned his plan to a colleague.

That tidbit was passed on to Chris McGuigan, the president of the Community Foundation for Muskegon County, which was looking for a new director of planned giving. McGuigan called Sheridan and asked if he was interested in the job.

Sheridan, who had given to the foundation in the past, agreed to a talk. The discussions culminated with his hiring earlier this year.

Even though he's spent most of his adult life and career working elsewhere, Sheridan says he's always held an affinity for Muskegon. Joining the foundation fulfilled a desire for both he and his wife, Susan, who's also a native of western Michigan, to return to Muskegon.

"I certainly have always cared for this town, and what a great place to retire," Sheridan said.

The current wave of new investment coming into Muskegon and the community's emerging renaissance makes the job even better, Sheridan said. He's impressed with "how people have pulled together to make the town something that is really happening."

"It's got people here who care and people here who are making things happen," he said. "This town has tremendous potential."           

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