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Ray Duckler

Citizen of the Year George Segal: Sanel Auto Parts giant, a lot more

  • George Segal is surrounded by family after being named Concord's 2013 Citizen of the Year by the chamber of commerce, receiving the recognition to a standing crowd on Thursday night, November 14, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

    George Segal is surrounded by family after being named Concord's 2013 Citizen of the Year by the chamber of commerce, receiving the recognition to a standing crowd on Thursday night, November 14, 2013.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

  • George Segal stands with his wife after he was named Concord's 2013 Citizen of the Year by the chamber of commerce while surrounded by family on Thursday night, November 14, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

    George Segal stands with his wife after he was named Concord's 2013 Citizen of the Year by the chamber of commerce while surrounded by family on Thursday night, November 14, 2013.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

  • George Segal makes his way to the stage through a crowd of applause after being named Concord's 2013 Citizen of the Year by the chamber of commerce on Thursday night, November 14, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

    George Segal makes his way to the stage through a crowd of applause after being named Concord's 2013 Citizen of the Year by the chamber of commerce on Thursday night, November 14, 2013.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

  • George Segal is surrounded by family after being named Concord's 2013 Citizen of the Year by the chamber of commerce, receiving the recognition to a standing crowd on Thursday night, November 14, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

    George Segal is surrounded by family after being named Concord's 2013 Citizen of the Year by the chamber of commerce, receiving the recognition to a standing crowd on Thursday night, November 14, 2013.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

  • George Segal is surrounded by family after being named Concord's 2013 Citizen of the Year by the chamber of commerce, receiving the recognition to a standing crowd on Thursday night, November 14, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)
  • George Segal stands with his wife after he was named Concord's 2013 Citizen of the Year by the chamber of commerce while surrounded by family on Thursday night, November 14, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)
  • George Segal makes his way to the stage through a crowd of applause after being named Concord's 2013 Citizen of the Year by the chamber of commerce on Thursday night, November 14, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)
  • George Segal is surrounded by family after being named Concord's 2013 Citizen of the Year by the chamber of commerce, receiving the recognition to a standing crowd on Thursday night, November 14, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

A slide show and two big screens showed the future of downtown last night during the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce’s 94th annual meeting.

A packed ballroom of diners could see an artist’s rendition of the Main Street redesign, with its widened sidewalks and newly planted trees.

After dinner, a huge symbol of the city’s past stood in front of those screens, as George Segal, CEO of Sanel Auto Parts Co. and a dedicated philanthropist, was named the chamber’s Citizen of the Year.

Former chamber chairmen and chairwomen form a committee each year and accept nominations before voting on a winner, who is not told about the honor until the announcement is made at the annual dinner.

Deane Morrison, Concord Hospital’s chief information officer, read a list of accomplishments by Segal, gradually releasing information until the local business giant knew the spotlight was on him.

“It started my mind thinking that that sounds like my life,” Segal said moments after accepting the award. “In a situation like that, where someone springs something on you, your train of thought sometimes gets lost.”

His accomplishments obviously did not. About 100 years ago, Segal’s grandfather, Benjamin Sanel, founded what would become a car parts corporation with 39 branches in three New England states.

In the 1930s, Segal was a little boy when he accompanied Sanel to a junkyard, the predecessor to the car parts operation.

Benjamin Sanel’s son and Segal’s uncle, Ed Sanel Sr., took off from there, introducing new parts for sale as opposed to used parts and buying another company to help establish the present model.

Meanwhile, Segal swept floors and drove trucks during his teen years. He paid his dues and rose through the ranks, from purchaser to warehouse manager to board member to treasurer to, finally, president in 1988, a post he held until three years ago.

At 86, Segal has scaled back his schedule, working three days a week and quipping last night, “I’m tired, but I’m not retired.”

Now his twin boys, Bobby and David Segal, run the show, the fourth generation in a sturdy family business.

“He set the policies for growth and hired the key people,” said Bobby, Sanel’s chief financial officer. “He set a culture of empowering people, making people feel good about themselves.

“But the award is also for a belief in giving back,” Bobby continued, “of encouraging people to give back from both an economic perspective and a time perspective.”

Friends and family described George Segal as a soft-spoken man with a quick wit who fostered a charitable personality within his staff.

The Sanel company raises about $20,000 per year for Granite United Way, said Patrick Tufts, CEO of the statewide organization. Tufts added that Segal has given more than $20,000 to the cause from his own pocket.

“We meet great people, and when someone impresses us and has gotten our attention, we will nominate that person,” Tufts said. “We worked with his family to recognize the great things he’s done in this community.”

The other organizations Segal has donated to reads like a who’s who of local compassion and art: Concord Hospital, Capitol Center for the Arts, the Friends Program, the Friendly Kitchen, the Concord SPCA, the League of NH Craftsmen and youth sports groups.

Those who know him best said Segal has always shied away from the spotlight, that he’s never wanted credit for the good he’s done.

“This is not an area he would seek out,” Bobby said, referring to last night’s honor. “We were never brought up to be braggadocios, a trait that is contrary to who he is. Self-promotion has negative connotations as far as he’s concerned. He did things because he wanted to, not to hear ‘thank you.’ ”

Thank you was unavoidable last night. After comedian Juston McKinney of Newmarket joked about a wide variety of state topics, from the aging Legislature, to loose gun control, to the scary wolfman at Clark’s Trading Post, Morrison called Segal’s name, and the winner received a standing ovation.

Before the dinner, Bobby noted, “My father will see the award as having his picture taken with all his kids and grandkids. The plaque? He’ll say, ‘Whatever.’ ”

Segal got what his son said he’d hope for, as his five children, all from Concord and Bow, walked in a single file to the front of the room, along with Segal’s 10 grandchildren.

The group then posed for pictures.

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

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