Larry Griffin found his perfect career fit by accident.

After 35 years in jobs he loved, Griffin, 64, is retiring as vice president and chief operating officer of the Akron Area YMCA.

“It is a fun job. I’m still in denial,” Griffin said this week. His last day on the job is Friday.

“It’s surreal — 35 years seems like a milestone, and I still have a passion for what I do, but now’s the time. Instead of retiring, I’m ‘rewiring.’ I am an outdoorsman at heart and would like to be outside more on a regular basis,” he said.

Griffin’s favorite winter sport is snowboarding; off-season it’s inline skating. He also enjoys skiing, bicycling and hiking.

He teaches snowboarding at Brandywine, and last year his inline skating team, the Flying Fossils, won a gold medal in the 24-hour Montreal Relay Race. He contributed 16 laps to his team’s winning effort.

Griffin and his wife of 31 years, Diane, also plan to travel. She is a retired teacher.

Griffin has gone full circle at the YMCA.

He started part time at the Y in Cuyahoga Falls and eventually became its executive director. He was also camp director of Camp Y-Noah, executive director of the Canal Square Y and worked on fundraising efforts, including the $9 million Lake Anna Y in Barberton from its planning stages to its reality. It opened in 2007 with full funding through charitable contributions.

Griffin said he didn’t always know what he wanted in a dream job, but recognized what he didn’t want. He came from a long line of tradesmen and never considered attending college.

After high school, he worked a couple of dead-end jobs. After a few months in a steel mill in the Cleveland area, where he grew up, he knew that wasn’t what he wanted to do the rest of his life. He joined the Navy, where he said he matured and learned to apply himself, develop good study habits and was able to reach the highest level for an enlisted man, a second-class petty officer. He was encouraged to go to college on the GI bill and attended Cuyahoga Community College to sharpen his skills in English, math and social sciences.

“The only thing I knew was that I wanted a job in a helping profession, whatever that was,” Griffin said.

He considered the medical field as a surgical assistant, but saw one surgery and passed out. Next, he looked into inhalation therapy — to help people with breathing tubes and a variety of breathing apparatus. He volunteered at a hospital, but after a couple of weeks he didn’t feel comfortable in that field, either.

“I got a giant book from the federal government called the Occupational Outlook Book and kept going through it to find something that would make me happy,” he said. “I was literally thumbing through the book and saw a camp counselor helping a kid in a canoe and it brought back fond memories I had as a Boy Scout in elementary school and middle school. I said, ‘Wow, if I could do that the rest of my life, how cool would that be?’ What could be more fun than a career having fun.”

Griffin went to his adviser, pointed to the picture, said that’s what he wanted to do and was told about a recreation program offered at Kent State University.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in recreation administration.

Griffin got a part-time job at the YMCA in Cuyahoga Falls at the end of his first year at KSU and applied to be a summer day-camp counselor.

Instead of an eight-week summer job, the program director invited him to stay. He got his feet wet at the welcome desk, began working with after-school programs, an arts and crafts program and the father/son and father/daughter programs. He did a variety of jobs at the Y throughout his four years at KSU.

After a brief stint after graduation in New Hampshire, where he applied for a job as a park ranger, Griffin got a call about a full-time job as assistant camp director at Camp Y-Noah. He returned to the area.

His five-year plan to become director was shortened to one year, when the former camp director left. He served as interim director, then got the job.

“I was at Camp Y-Noah for 13 years, but it wasn’t 13 years of the same thing,” Griffin said. “I had an opportunity to take on new challenges, roles and responsibilities.”

Those additional responsibilities included taking on the title of development director, working with annual campaigns, capital funding and endowment programs.

In 1991, the current YMCA president and chief executive officer, Doug Kohl, wanted a full-time camp director and a full-time development director and asked Griffin which job he wanted. He chose development director.

“I really enjoyed the whole aspect of fundraising, but there was something about not being involved with a branch that I missed. In January of 1994, I became interim director at the YMCA in Cuyahoga Falls, but after a month or two I was told the job was mine if I wanted it.

“It was really quite a high point to be able to go back to the branch where I first started as a day-camp counselor to be the executive director.”

In 1998, he moved to the Canal Square Y as executive director, then in 2004 began to take on the position of vice president of operations, again holding two titles. By 2006 he went full time as the vice president and chief operating officer.

Griffin said he feels good about plans he has been working on for further improvements at the Camp Y-Noah facility and about his successor, Jill Kolesar, who has worked with him in different capacities since 1994.

“I believe the Y has a great cause and the legacy of a positive impact on this community,” Griffin said. “God really knew best: This is where I needed to be planted.

“It has had a tremendous impact on my faith, my physical health and mental well-being to be a part of this organization.”

Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or mmiller@thebeaconjournal.com.