Marvin Seppala was a high school dropout when he became the first adolescent treated at Hazelden in 1974. Nick Motu appeared 17 years later in the back seat of a Dakota County sheriff deputy's car after his mother committed him to treatment through court action.
The two Minnesota natives arrived at what is now the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation looking for help. Both returned years later to return the favor.
Chief medical officer Seppala spearheaded the Comprehensive Opioid Response with the Twelve Steps (COR-12), an effort that has changed opioid addiction recovery across the country.
Motu, chief of external affairs, worked in marketing, publishing, public policy, corporate sales and business development. He signed bestselling author Brené Brown to a book deal that included "The Gifts of Imperfection," influenced national legislation and headed the foundation's digital efforts to create a better website.
After about 50 years of combined service, the two are retiring from the company. Motu retired last month, while Seppala steps away at the end of October.
"We are living proof that recovery works," Motu said. "We're living proof of that within the organization that saved our lives."
William Moyers, Hazelden Betty Ford's vice president of public affairs and community relations, also was a patient there. He also returned to work for the foundation after recovering from addiction.
He said Motu and Seppala's personal experiences were critical to how they viewed their work and separated them from others at the foundation.
"They did their jobs, but they did their jobs with a fundamental understanding of what was at stake because they themselves had been there and done that," Moyers said. "You don't find that in a lot of professions."
Seppala didn't immediately become sober after leaving Hazelden. But after starting a job as a lab technician at the Mayo Clinic, he decided that he wanted to become a doctor and sobered up.
He attended St. Olaf College and then Mayo Medical School. It was at the latter school where he identified a major underlying reason that patients were being admitted: addiction. He felt that the medical staff wasn't doing enough to identify or address it.
He began complaining at AA meetings until two doctors who attended the meetings approached him: Why didn't he stop complaining and do something about it?
That brief aside set the wheels in motion for Seppala to dedicate himself to development of more comprehensive addiction treatments. He said he is most proud of his ability to understand, explain and blend the science of addiction with his personal experience.
"You can say that I've had a dream career," Seppala said, of his 26 years with the foundation. "I don't know how it could have been much better."
Motu, who had worked in journalism and marketing before arriving at Hazelden in 1991, said he was in and out of treatment at a few different places for a year before finding a job at a small magazine company.
He bonded with his boss, who was recovering from addiction himself. The companionship opened his eyes to the power of community among people in recovery.
After a few years, Motu received a call from a friend asking if he wanted to work for Hazelden in the marketing department. He got the job.
"It was a once in a lifetime opportunity," Motu said. "I look back and I'm so thankful I had the opportunity to do what I did."
Susan Ford Bales, the daughter of former President Gerald Ford and Betty Ford and a member of the foundation's board, said Seppala and Motu have been great spokesmen for the organization.
"I think of what someone like my mother and Marv Seppala and Nick have all contributed over the history of treatment," Ford Bales said. "They've all confronted stigma so amazingly and changed the way we talk about addiction."
Moyers said the organization is bigger than one or two people and will continue on without Motu and Seppala. But the legacy they left can be found all over the foundation and in the people who pass through its doors across the country.
"It's hard to quantify their impact," Moyers said, "but I think it's safe to say that a little piece of Dr. Seppala and a little piece of Nick Motu thrive in the lives of thousands of people who struggled to overcome addiction and have found redemption and recovery."
Freelance writer Peter Warren regularly contributes to Inspired.