A Transformational Experience
Peter Wolters ’70
Lifelong Friendships, Global Perspectives and a Commitment to Serve
Attending the Prep School was transformational for Peter Wolters. “I met one of my best friends at Prep while standing in line to register for classes at Prep on Labor Day of 1966. Richie* (Smith) and I not only attended Prep, but we went on to college and law school together at Creighton University. We talked about practicing law together, but for a variety of reasons, I decided not to move to Wahpeton, North Dakota!”
For Peter Wolters, a young man from Estherville, Iowa, the Prep School not only resulted in a great life-long friendship with Richie Smith, but it also opened his eyes to the world. Peter is one of many Preps who have taken the opportunity to participate in the Prep School’s yearlong exchange in Melk, Austria. Something he recalls vividly.
“That experience expanded my understanding of the world. In fact, the day we sailed from New York City to Southampton, England was the day the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968. We honestly had no idea if they would stop at the Austrian border or if it would be the start of World War III. Fr. Jim Tingerthal, OSB and Fr. Roger Klassen, OSB, who were our faculty leaders for the experience, assured my parents who had come to see us off, that if a war broke out, the ship would turn around and we would come home.” Thankfully, for Peter and his classmates the boat never had to turn around.
The year Peter spent in Melk and the travels throughout Europe that occurred not only shaped Peter’s understanding of the world, but it also guided him in his academic pursuits. Upon graduation from Prep in 1970, Peter pursued undergraduate studies in German and International Relations before enrolling in Creighton’s Law School, bringing to realization his 4th grade teacher’s prediction that Peter would make a good lawyer. Peter would say he never practiced law in the way many lawyers do, but then again, his law career did not start out the way most attorney’s careers do either.
“My first job out of law school was serving as an associate county judge in Kearney, Nebraska. Because I had so much experience (insert sarcasm), I was sworn into the Nebraska Bar on Friday and put someone in jail on Monday! The first jury trial I ever saw, I presided over. I was only 26 at the time.”
While there is little doubt Peter would likely have been a fair and well-accomplished judge, Peter opted to move on and make his way into the financial side of law, finishing his professional career as a trust attorney with JP Morgan in Milwaukee. Whatever Peter did and wherever he went, what he learned at Prep and what he came to value while a student never left his side.
In the prologue of the Rule of Saint Benedict, Benedict instructs his follower to, “Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart.”
For years, a plaque with these words was proudly displayed on Peter’s desk, reminding him of his role in the process of helping others, whether that be in his role of trust attorney, or as Chairman of the American Cancer Society. “It probably started at home, but it was certainly reinforced at Prep that to those who much is given, much is expected. We were constantly reminded that we had an obligation to do things for others.”
Peter clearly embraced his call to serve. Not only did he serve as Chairman of American Cancer Society, he also found his way onto the allocation committee of the United Way, and the Chairman of the Milwaukee Area Chapter of the Red Cross during 9/11. “That was an eye-opening experience for me. We found ourselves raising money and providing support for something that nobody could’ve ever imagined. I was fortunate to be part of a group of Red Cross leaders who were invited to Ground Zero to experience the devastation first-hand and to see how our efforts were making a difference.”
While serving as chair of the Red Cross, Peter worked collaboratively with three other non-profits in the Milwaukee area to establish a homeless shelter for women and children. This was a personal passion for Peter. “I firmly believe that in a country as affluent as ours, nobody should be involuntarily homeless. At the time, there were nearly 2000 people living on the streets in Milwaukee. That simply wasn’t acceptable.”
Now in retirement and spending time with his wife of 46 years, Virginia, their three children and eight grandchildren, Peter has chosen to serve on the Prep School’s Board of Regents, continuing his commitment to civic engagement. “The Prep School had such a profound influence on my life and work and I want others to have that same opportunity, which is why I have chosen to serve on the Prep School’s Board of Regents and named the Prep School as the beneficiary of one of my life insurance policies. As a young kid living 200 miles from home, Prep taught me to become independent, think critically, and make wise decisions all while helping me develop a sense of self-confidence at an exceptional school. I want other young men and women to share that experience today. I am proud to call myself a Prep and hope current and future students will too.”
Peter is one more example of how Preps embrace the call to live lives of purpose, service and achievement.
Thanks for listening with the ear of your heart, Peter. You make our world a better place.
*Richie Smith passed away peacefully at his lake home on Otter Tail Lake surrounded by family on May 22, 2020, at the age of 68 of complications from a rare neurodegenerative condition.