The Best Gift of All
OWU's Pete Kakel '69 Honors Treasured Faculty and Coaches
By Pam Besel
Learning has been a lifelong journey for Pete Kakel '69, and he's learned from the very best professors and coaches while at Ohio Wesleyan. Inspired by history professor Robert Kragalott's love for history and historical inquiry during class discussions, as well as soccer coach Fred Myers' winning strategies on and off the field, Pete was well prepared to pursue his interests after graduating with a major in history.
Today, Pete, a research historian and lecturer at Johns Hopkins Center for Liberal Arts, has authored two books in the field of Holocaust and Genocide Studies. His prior 37-year career as an insurance broker segued into a decision to pursue graduate studies (including a Ph.D. in modern history at the University of London).
"I wanted to see how history was being studied and taught in the 21st century," Pete explains.
Influenced in part by his OWU professor's teachings, Pete also wanted to do concentrated reading, thinking and writing about the blight on human history we call "genocide".
His fond OWU memories have inspired him and wife, Lois, to join Ohio Wesleyan's Tower Society and support named endowments for both Kragalott and OWU men's soccer coach, Jay Martin. Notes Pete, "Jay has always remembered and recognized Fred's contributions to OWU's legacy of success in men's soccer. Fred built OWU into a regional soccer power, and Jay built it into a national soccer power."
The Jay Martin Endowment focuses on faculty support and curriculum development, while the endowment honoring Kragalott rotates annually between a lecture and funded student research on the topic of atrocities and genocide.
"Dr. Kragalott challenged us—the students of the 'bourgeoisie' as he liked to say—to rethink our accepted, comfortable and inherited ideas and worldviews, and to learn about and respect the histories, cultures and viewpoints of others around the globe," asserts Pete. "He exemplified the student-mentor relationship, which lies at the heart of the Ohio Wesleyan experience."
Similarly, as Pete reminisces, Coach Myers was a coach, mentor and friend to his student athletes. "He liked to win, but he was also interested in helping all his players get better, be they starters or reserves."
As an assistant soccer coach at a girls' private school in Baltimore, Pete tries to emphasize Myers' hierarchy of priorities: academics first, followed by soccer and then social life.
He visits OWU regularly, whether to watch the men soccer team play or present a history lecture.
"While the campus looks quite different than 50 years ago, it still feels the same: It feels like 'home.'"
Pete is reminded that OWU's most important asset has always been—and remains—its faculty.
"The quality and accessibility of the faculty, to be sure, still drives the Ohio Wesleyan educational experience," he says.
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