BAY CITY, MI — As the founder of Wirt Financial Services, Steve Wirt often had tasks for his employees to accomplish.
When his employees would respond with “I’ll try,” Wirt fired back with, “Don’t try, do” – referencing a Yoda quote from the Star Wars franchise.
It’s a phrase Donna Bacigalupo, who worked with Wirt for 29 years, still holds to this day. She said Wirt always challenged his employees and often looked to them for ideas and input.
“He liked to work behind the scenes and he wanted everyone to excel,” Bacigalupo said. “He pushed everyone to achieve their best.”
Wirt died on Sunday, July 16, at the age of 70 after battling brain cancer for the past two years. He leaves behind a legacy of donations and philanthropy to various organizations in Bay City, a community he deeply cared about, Bacigalupo said.
“He’s given so much to the community, he’s put so many kids through college,” Bacigalupo said. “He was a wonderful man who put others before himself. He was an amazing person. Bay City is going to miss him.”
Wirt was born on March 9, 1947, in Bay City to Alice and Jack Wirt — for whom the public library on Center Avenue is named after. After graduating from Bay City Central High School, he earned a bachelor’s degree in business from Eastern Michigan University.
After spending some time in Detroit, Wirt and his wife Dena started Wirt Financial Services in 1985 out of a spare bedroom in their Bay City home. The financial and leasing services company eventually evolved into the Wirt-Rivette Group with business partner Clarence Rivette. The business is currently housed at 3520 Davenport Ave. in Saginaw.
Steve Wirt’s philanthropic contributions led to the creation of the United Way Non-Profit Center, 900 Washington Avenue. Wirt also supported the Bay County Public Library System, Bay Area Women’s Center, the Boys & Girls Club and the Bay Area Community Foundation.
Steve Wirt helped establish scholarships at Michigan public universities and was a member of the Bay City Elks Club. Wirt also served as a member of Temple Israel, where he served on the dues and assessment committee.
It was his father who instilled a desire to give back the community, his wife said.
“(Steve) was a very unique person,” Dena Wirt said. “He never cared about how people looked. He treated everyone equally. He respected ambition and he liked to help people who were trying to get somewhere.”
Wirt suffered from both prostate cancer and terminal brain cancer. While he recovered from prostate cancer, he often walked outside or on a treadmill.
Dena Wirt said her husband suffered setbacks while walking, including breaking his hip and pelvis. But when he decided to do something, he would take it on fully.
Steve Wirt did not have an office. His wife joked that his cell phone was where he would conducted his business — all while walking or exercising on the treadmill.
“He just wanted to be active and he never let anything get him down,” Dena Wirt said.
Despite losing strength on the left side of his body, Wirt walked as much as his body let him. During his son Daniel’s wedding last year, the couple walked their son down the aisle.
“He did what he could do physically, and then he did a little more,” Dena Wirt said.
Wirt’s other son, Matthew Wirt, preceded him in death.
Mike Bacigalupo, husband of Donna Bacigalupo and chief operating officer of the State Theatre in Bay City said Wirt made several donations to the theatre over a span of eight years and donated the equipment for Movies in the Park at Wenonah Park on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“Just the smile on his face was worth the time I was able to spend with him,” Mike Bacigalupo said.
“He will be missed by his family and the community greatly.”
Donna Bacigalupo said Steve Wirt never wanted to be in the spotlight. He didn’t even want to be called boss, she said. Donna Bacigalupo said Wirt became part of her family.
“He’s going to be forever in our hearts and missed every day,” she said.
Dena Wirt said her husband never accepted the “status quo.”
“He always tried to move forward and improve whatever situation he was in,” she said.