By Madeline Hartjes ‘05
As reunion weekend approaches and we look forward to catching up and sharing memories, we have a heartwarming story to share with our community that unfolded because of a chance encounter at last year’s reunion weekend. The story began 50 years ago when a student showed his classmate unexpected kindness. Chuck “Wally” Waletzko ‘73 reached out earlier this year relating the story to us in an email.
Pictured above is Pete Steinkopf ’72 (left) and Chuck “Wally” Waletzko ‘73 (right)
“There was a friend of mine throughout grade school and high school by the name of Pete Steinkopf. He played football and wrestled, and even though he never got to start or letter in a sport, he made up for it with his grit and determination. Inspired by Pete’s great attitude, I decided to collect $0.25 from all of the student athletes with whom he played. I used the money to buy a tall trophy at Fitzharris Athletic Store. At the year-end sports banquet, we surprised him with the trophy which read, “The Pete Steinkopf Courage Award – 1972.” He was greatly surprised and most appreciative. I was thrilled to see him honored in this way.”
I called up Chuck to ask about the inspiration behind his gift and how he had pulled it off!
“Pete and I knew each other since grade school at St. Paul’s,” Chuck recounted. “I would see him running laps in the gym in a sweatsuit, working harder than everyone else but without the rewards the natural athletes got. I’d ask him what drove him to continue on. Pete would always say, ‘This is my deal. I’m doing the best I can, and that’s all anyone can do.’” Chuck knew that in a similar situation he would not have had the same good attitude. He wanted Pete to receive recognition for all his efforts, so he took matters into his own hands.
Chuck went around collecting money from all the athletes to pitch in towards the $18 needed to buy the trophy. “They were happy to contribute. Pete impacted all of us.”
He then contacted the head of the athletic department about the upcoming Letterman’s banquet. As a senior, Pete would be receiving a participation award. At the end of the Letterman’s banquet the head of the athletic department read the statement Chuck had written, acknowledging Pete’s dedication and hard work, and presented the trophy. It came as a complete surprise, and Pete’s parents were so proud to see their son applauded for his strength of character.
The story doesn’t end here. Last summer, Pete Steinkopf was attending his 50th year class reunion and happened to see Chuck Waletzko’s sister, Kathy McCann, who was in his class. He asked her for Chuck’s number. A week later Chuck received a call.
“Pete told me that the Courage Award had allowed him to prevail through many challenges over the years. Whenever he didn’t feel up to something or experienced doubt, he would just remember the award and would be inspired to keep going.”
I called up Pete to hear his account of how the award impacted him.
“I had the trophy displayed in my room for years,” Pete said. “I was very proud of it.” In Pete’s mind, the greatest impact he received was from his peers acknowledging his strength of perseverance. “I would stick with things until I reached my goal. After graduation, the courage award was always there in the back of my mind, reminding me to keep going.” The fact that his teammates affirmed his strength of character gave Pete the confidence that his perseverance would see him through. “It really made a difference for a lot of my life.”
After graduation, Pete spent two summers in Yellowstone National Park, inspiring in him the desire to join the National Park Service. It was a very competitive position, but Pete was determined. He served in the Navy for 4 years and worked to pay for his college degree. His hard work paid off, and he landed the job of his dreams. In the National Park Service, he worked in the great outdoors for 40 years, tending to the natural beauty of our Country at Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, and The Grand Canyon. He’s retired from the National Park Service but still works at the boat marina in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
Chuck was also impacted by the experience. He remembers the courage award as his first foray into raising money for a cause, a passion that would turn into a life-long calling. “The courage award impressed on me that fundraising is about having gratitude in giving. I was happy to make a difference for someone we all cared about. Over the years I found that people just want to know their life has greater meaning and impact, and through fundraising I could give them that opportunity.” Chuck eventually became the director of fundraising and stewardship for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, where he worked on projects like the Tom Decker memorial in Cold Spring, and the Quin Siemore Chapel at the M Health Fairview Masonic Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis. Chuck retired 7 years ago due to losing his sight.
Through a quick phone call, Pete gave a great gift back to Chuck by affirming to him that 50 years ago, his small act of kindness really did make a difference. Until then, Chuck had never known whether the courage award had the impact he had hoped for. “I expected it had sat on a shelf for maybe a year at most, then ended up in a landfill,” Chuck explained. “Hearing from Pete that the award had really made a difference in his life was like a dream come true.”
While many alumni are looking forward to making connections in person at this summer’s reunion weekend, Chuck isn’t sure he will attend. Being blind has its challenges, and he much prefers talking with people one-on-one. He’s hoping that sharing this story inspires more people to connect in deeper ways.
We couldn’t agree more. If this story is any evidence, there are great gifts we can receive through reconnecting with friends from our youth. You might just find that the kindness you showed in the past ripples right back to you in unexpected and amazing ways.
Calling all alumni! Inspired by Chuck, we are putting together class directories. Please update your contact information with your preferred email, phone number and address, and let us know if we have permission to share this info with your fellow classmates. We’re hoping that this might open the door for more serendipitous connections to be made, and for us to hear about them!
Update your contact info at: https://cathedralcrusaders.org/alumni
To read the entire Cathedral Magazine Summer 2023 edition, visit: https://cathedralcrusaders.org/cathedral-magazine