Petersen and Williamson to be inducted into HHS Wall of Fame
This year's Hudson High School Distinguished Alumni Award was presented to Wendell Petersen, class of 1962, and David Williamson, class of 1966.
They were honored in a ceremony at the school Wednesday night and will serve as grand marshals of the homecoming parade tomorrow.
Both men have gone on to become successful and innovative businessmen. That and their commitment to community and to helping others have earned them spots on the HHS Wall of Fame.
Wendell Petersen remembers his adolescent years in Hudson as a simpler time.
"You left your keys in the car and the front door open. When my mother came home, she didn't know who of my friends would be there but there was always one or more of them there every day. We were all raised that way. It was a kind of communal nurturing," said Petersen.
Today he is 64 and the successful founder and owner of Circuitech in St. Paul, a company that maintains and repairs ATM machines and is the largest of its kind in the country.
Petersen lost his father, Wendell Petersen Sr., to a heart attack when the younger Petersen was only 12. He said school provided him with the role models he needed growing up without a father in the home. He loved sports and admits that academics "weren't quite as appealing" to him, but coaches and teachers in Hudson helped him make his way.
"It was hard not having a dad around, but I remember it as a good time too. Men like Carver Fouks, the football coach, and Phil Larson. Those guys went out of their way to see that I was OK and helped steer me on a good course."
He also recalled learning valuable lessons that impacted his professional life from the late Martin Trollen, the man who built the Hudson and Afton marinas. He worked for Trollen when he was 16.
"He really showed me what service was and what it meant to take care of your customers. What I learned from him still shapes the way I do business today."
Petersen said people at school, at his jobs and around his home all helped him grow up content and with direction.
"My folks were very social people. There were always a lot of people around me. And they all helped fill the void left when my father died. There was always someone there for me to turn to. I feel very fortunate that way."
When he recalls leaving in the morning to fish all day with friends at Lake Mallalieu or the Willow River, or playing neighborhood ball games until dark every night, he knows he sounds sentimental.
"But that is really the way it was. Today things are so much more choreographed for kids. Back then, we lived a little more like Huck Finn, and it was great. It helped me become who I am today."
Who Petersen is today goes well beyond his successful company. He said raising his two children, a son and a daughter, to be the adults they are today is the greatest measure of success he knows.
"Career means nothing in comparison to them."
While he no longer lives in Hudson, many of the causes and organizations he supports are in his hometown. They include The Phipps Center for the Arts, Hudson Hospital and its cardiac care unit, and the Bridge for Hudson Youth with Disabilities.
He also sponsors an annual HHS four-year scholarship that is awarded to a graduate living in a single parent family. He said his own experience growing up without a father is mirrored throughout his family, where grandfather and father also lost a parent when they were very young.
"The scholarship recognizes the challenges kids in single-parent families face. There are no academic requirements for the scholarship, and it is open to anyone who wants to pursue some education beyond high school, not just college."
Petersen is not involved in the selection process of the recipient but does make himself available to the student in a mentoring role. The scholarship has been in place for six years.
Petersen said part of the reason he gives back to his community is selfish. "I get a great deal of pleasure out of it. With so many things like this, what you get back far surpasses what you give."
And he asks if he can be sentimental once again, "My whole family experience is Hudson. My roots are here and always will be, and I hope my actions can encourage others to find their own way of giving back to the place that gave me so much."
This is not David Williamson's first alumni honor or hall of fame award. But he says it may be the most meaningful yet.
Williamson, a talented football player at Hudson, went on to play very successfully at the University of North Dakota and was inducted into the UND Hall of Fame in 2000. But getting a place on Hudson High School's Wall of Fame holds special significance. Williamson graduated from Hudson High School in 1966.
He remembers looking up to then-senior Wendell Petersen as the kind of guy he'd like to be. Today, as they both receive the school's highest alumni honor, Williamson clearly became that guy in his own right.
While he hasn't always lived in Hudson, Williamson, his wife, Gay, and their sons have always seemed to find their way back here. Their home is here now although Williamson works on the East Coast and travels back and forth to Hudson almost weekly, a commute that doesn't seem to bother him and seems worth the effort.
Williamson said Hudson was a small town when he was growing up.
"And that kind of forced you to participate in a great variety of things from sports to band and musicals to student council. You were never focused on just one thing. It all added to the experience you got."
Williamson too noted that not much went unnoticed in Hudson in those days.
"If you squealed the tires two blocks away from your house, your mother would have heard about it before you got home."
He recalled when he was a bag boy at the H&K Super Valu in town. In addition to learning the value of hard work and hustle at an early age, he also said he made friends of everyone.
"I'd be taking out their groceries on Saturday morning and they would start talking about how I had played the night before. If I played great, they told me but they were also pretty honest about it when I didn't. But no matter what they said, it taught me how to talk with people, communicate with them."
He also credits several teachers with lessons he learned outside of their classrooms. Among them were coaches and teachers Florian Cassutt and Don Kadidlo, chorus teacher Peg Dorwin and band teacher Ed McMillan who "brought culture into our lives in a small town." He also recalled shop teacher Al Weitkamp who helped him make a laminated clipboard, his first experience making something.
Williamson taught English for a short while after he left college but has built a very successful career in the office products industry including at two Fortune 500 companies. Over the years he has worked with the Anti Defamation League and the United Jewish Appeal, most recently on a project with Chicago school children and the threat of cyber bullying.
In 2003 he received the Richard Karasik Humanitarian Award from the Office Products Division of UJA-Federation of New York, the world's largest local philanthropy. Among the organizations mentioned in connection with that award were the United Way, the Hudson Hospital Foundation and Community Action, all local organizations Williamson has a long history of supporting.
But the HHS award has special meaning for Williamson.
"This encompasses more. When you look at the people who have received it before us, it is clear that it is about so much more than sports or prominence. There are people from all walks of life, successful people who have found all kinds of ways to make a difference.
"When I look at someone like Mike Wakeling -- he was a good athlete in high school too but made so much of a difference through his work on behalf of kids in our community. And Doug Stohlberg, who gives back every day through his work on the newspaper and in the community. What a great honor to be among people from all walks of life who all found ways to give back."
Williamson said he knows things are different around Hudson these days but he believes there is still a lot of the best of Hudson still around. When it comes to students at HHS these days, he acknowledges that it can be hard to see a bigger picture.
"At that age, it is still pretty much all about them and about finding a spot where they fit. But many of them are also participating in things where they are giving back. The important thing is to find a niche where you feel comfortable enough not just to participate but to find a way to do more."
He believes the photos on the Wall of Fame say it all about what future generations of Hudson students can accomplish. "We all grew up here and found our way. I hope they know they can too."
Petersen and Willliamson were honored at a ceremony Wednesday night at Hudson High School. They will ride as grand marshals in the homecoming parade through downtown Hudson on Friday afternoon beginning at 3:30 p.m.