COEUR d’ALENE — From newspaperman to head of one of the region’s largest charities might not seem like a natural transition for most people.
But then, Larry Riley isn’t most people.
The career newspaper executive who led The Press for almost two years was announced Monday as the new executive director of St. Vincent de Paul North Idaho. Riley, who will start work on May 20, succeeds Jeff Conroy.
A lifetime Catholic, Riley has seen the good works of the church from a perspective not many others have. As little boys in the San Diego area, Riley and his brother grew up in poverty. They spent about a year in an orphanage run by the church when their mother, a single parent, was seriously injured in a car accident.
“It was a scary and impressionable time,” Riley said. “We then attended Catholic schools and only learned later that our tuition was paid by others. So, this is a dream come true and a chance to give back. It’s the perfect place to be at this stage of my life and career.”
Riley said that from a leadership standpoint, serving as a newspaper publisher and running an organization like St. Vincent de Paul have some similarities. A publisher, he said, is essentially the CEO of an organization — and that’s basically the job he’s filling at St. Vincent.
Even though he doesn’t officially start work until Monday, he sounds like he’s already on board.
“St. Vinny’s reach goes far beyond what most people think of first — the donation arm and sales through thrift stores,” he said. “It’s so much more. It includes a dozen social service programs along with veterans support, housing and other case management assistance.”
Interim directors Jim Hammond and Sandi Bloem both had high praise for Riley’s selection from 168 applicants.
“There were some really strong candidates, but Larry has an outstanding balance, in my mind, between leadership and management,” said Bloem, Coeur d’Alene’s former mayor. “He’s well-connected in the community. He’ll work hard to tell the story of St. Vincent de Paul, which is so important because that is what engages the community to support the organization. He also understands — in his own words — the value of people, that they’re the most important asset in any organization. So I think he’ll build an incredible team here.”
Hammond, a former state legislator and city official in Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene, said Riley’s experience leading newspaper groups was a plus.
“He’s been in the newspaper business, which is almost as hard to keep afloat as a nonprofit I would think,” Hammond said. “He knows what it takes.”
Hammond also felt strongly that Riley would both reach out to improve St. Vincent’s finances and bolster the morale and effectiveness of the organization’s staff.
“He more than any of the other applicants could make the ask of people who could really help us out,” Hammond said. “The other thing is, he’ll sit down and connect with the employees, because they really need that connection and that support.”