Alumni Spotlight: Wally Senney '73
by Debi Albrecht '85, Alumni Director
Senney Enterprises began as a three-person company in 1985. Owner Wally Senney, Class of 1973, has grown his business acquiring 20 industrial manufacturing companies across the nation, currently employing 250 people. This is a story of a man that is driven by excellence, not only in what would typically be seen within a man’s career, but also in regards to his faith, compassion, and as a sports enthusiast.
Mr. Senney enjoyed his time at Lutheran High School West (LHSW), especially in athletics. He won the first-ever home wrestling match in Longhorn history in 1969 at the 107 lb weight class. He ran on the cross-country team and as a senior in 1972 was the number one runner, capturing MVP honors, and qualified to run at the District meet. Following graduation, he furthered his education at Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) and then at Cleveland State University (CSU). At both institutions, Wally continued his athletic career. As a member of the tennis team at Tri-C, his team went on to qualify for regional matches in Dearborn, Michigan where he qualified to play at the Junior College Nationals in Ocala, Florida. Enrolling in the co-op program at CSU added a year of college, but provided Wally an internship with MetChem, Inc. and also with General Electric. In between working full time and studying, he again made the tennis team now as a CSU Viking. In 1978, he graduated with a Bachelor of Business Administration and Marketing degree. His first job out of college was with the first company with which he co-op ed: Met-Chem, Inc. In the same year, he married fellow student Joyce Swanger and they have been living in Lakewood ever since. Early in their marriage, they were members at Pilgrim Lutheran Church. Eventually, they became members at St. Thomas Lutheran Church after enrolling their children at St. Thomas Lutheran School. Now they are busy with seven grandchildren, one just born to their son Drew and wife Mandy at the end of September.
After a successful co-op, MetChem hired Senney as a full-time employee. Eight years later, in 1985, he bought MetChem and transformed the company from a manufacturer’s rep company for liquid filtration equipment to manufacturing industrial filtration products himself. In 1986, with the purchase of a second company in New York he started a trend that today boasts eight local companies and manufacturing companies in Wisconsin, Rhode Island, Georgia, Missouri, and Colorado. His two sons, Trey and Drew, as well as son-in-law, Jason Verderber, work in the family business.
Wally found himself re-involved at LHSW by way of fundraising and development prior to his son, Trey, beginning high school in 1998. “The Lord brought me to a Saturday afternoon football game on Shorthorn Day which was LHSW’s junior high football program. Our son, Trey, was an eighth grader in the program and still undecided as to where he would attend high school. Being at the old stadium on that day, I felt like I was in a time warp all the way back to 1973 looking at the worn grass fields, no field lights, the old six-lane cinder track, no rest rooms, original bleachers and a makeshift concession stand under the bleachers in the storage room. I talked to then Executive Director Dr. Thomas Ahlersmeyer about a donation to give an old friend a face lift. He mentioned Mr. Richard Luecke had already left a bequest to offset the cost of this project. That conversation spurred donations from my family and many others.” Senney’s conviction to improve LHSW facilities led to new buildings and improved practice fields. All in all, a turf field, four sets of field lights and the eight-lane, all-weather track were installed. The concession and restroom facility was built along with new spectator stands. Plus, the track & field event areas were added. “It was also the Lord’s hand in bringing us 1972 alumnus Paul Franks, who was in the business of installing sports fields, including pro stadium projects. Paul volunteered to take on the construction of this project at his cost.”
With a groundbreaking on October 30th,1999, there was a quick turnaround and the first game was played the following year on September 1, 2000. Coined ‘Light the Night,” the field was christened ‘Alumni Field’ to honor the two major gifts given by the Luecke and Senney families. Former Athletic Director Joel Gesch reminisces, “Light the Night was a tremendous night for the Lutheran West community! We hosted a pre-game barbeque dinner for Longhorn fans. The dedication ceremony first honored the donors and then introduced all former head coaches and their players onto the field. The game itself was a big victory over the Woodbridge Bulldogs! The climax of the evening was the first post-game fireworks display…” funded by the Senney family, and still part of the Lutheran West football season today.
Wally recalls, “On opening night, I looked down from the pre-game barbeque tent and saw a stadium filled to capacity, fans wearing all red & white - 45 minutes before the opening ceremonies were to begin and an hour before any football would be played. I heard comments like ‘I can’t believe I’m at Lutheran West’, and ‘Pinch me, am I really at LW?’ This successful project opened all of our eyes to see that God doesn’t deserve second best. We realized we can stretch our minds and reach for excellence in everything we do. In essence, making future campaigns a reality. I’ll never forget that night seeing a past teacher and coach Mr. Roy Bunevich. I was feeling pretty good, satisfied with not only the funds, but also the time, energy and ideas I had contributed. Coach Bunevich, who I hadn’t seen since 1973, put things in perspective when he said ‘Hey Wally, this is a great thing you did here! We must have taught you something when you were here!’ Wally continues, “Obviously, the Lord had a plan when He brought me up to the old stadium that day in October, and He had already made the decision as to what high school our boys would attend.”
This project was the catalyst used to unroll two more capital campaigns. After such a successful campaign, Wally was sought after as a co-chair for Vision Alive!, a $7.2 million capital campaign, and Unleash the Spirit, a $5.5 million capital campaign. Included in the latter, he was also instrumental in funding the Honors Academy at Lutheran West in 2014, which is named in his honor. Wally provides two Presidential Scholarships for each incoming freshman class as part of the Senney Honors Academy. Moreover, the Senney Family Scholarship, begun in 2013, provides 16-20 scholarships annually for students at LHSW. He is also generous with his time, serving on the CLEEF Finance Board for ten years. As a member of the St. Thomas Lutheran School Board, he served as chair for part of his tenure, and on the Vestry Council for many years. Presently, he is the board treasurer at Luther Memorial School. For decades, Wally has invested his time, talents, and treasures in Lutheran education in the Cleveland area. Fittingly, he was awarded the CLEEF Outstanding Lutheran School Leadership Award in 2016. Recipients of this award have shown an exceptional dedication to Lutheran education.
His interests and philanthropy go far beyond the walls of LHSW. The Senney family has been faithful benefactors of the Beck Center for the Arts in Lakewood, including Creating Our Future: The Campaign for Beck Center. Wally serves on the President’s Advisory Board. The new YMCA in Lakewood was built with Senney as one of the main contributors. Locally, the Senneys volunteer at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church’s food bank in Lakewood. As part of the Caribbean Children’s Foundation in Haiti, Wally has participated in eight mission trips before and after Hurricane Sandy. Wally worked at the orphanage and elder care housing. The foundation added a trade school that was spear-headed by Senney, who assisted with the planning and implementation of this new program. There are no public schools available for children in Haiti. By way of scholarships, Wally makes it possible for fifteen Haitian children to attend school where they receive an education, a uniform, and most importantly, possibly their only meal of the day. The Senneys split their time between Key West and Lakewood. Wally is on the renovation and planning committee to restore St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Key West as well as a supporter/advisor of the non-profit Tropic Cinema there. Key West is also the location of his first restaurant, Sara Beth’s.
When asked why he keeps working when many people his age slow down to relax and enjoy the fruits of their labor, Wally replied “The Lord has given all of us talents in different areas. My talent has been to grow and acquire companies in the industrial sector that allows me to not only earn more money for myself and my family, but to also provide employment opportunities for more people and be more generous in my charitable giving. I’m always reminded of Jesus’s parable about the landowner who gave his three servants ‘talents’ to steward when he was away. I want to be one of the two who used the talent properly and grew it, not the one who buried his talent instead of using it.”
His talents go to good use in hobbies that include swimming, golf, participating in Iron Man competitions and marathon races -- logging thirty-five! Each year Senney runs with his daughter, Sara, in the Dopey Challenge at Disney World, which is a 4-consecutive-day race including a 5K, 10K, half marathon and marathon!
Wally gives credit for his success to his wife Joyce and their family for all of their love and support over the years, but most importantly he honors our Triune God who always has had a plan for him!