Mike Maguire celebrates with Robert Peterson on his 100th birthday.

March 24, 2022

Wisconsin receives $1.5 million donation, largest monetary gift in recent memory

Nobel Prize winner, Sir Aaron Klug said "One cannot plan for the unexpected." That may be true, but in the sphere of God, we should “expect the unexpected.”

Recently, the unexpected happened right after our February 2022 Wisconsin Conference Executive Committee meeting. During lunch, a man approached me and introduced himself as Mike Maguire. Mike informed me that he was the executor of the Robert Peterson Trust, and he was there to personally deliver (as he had done for all of the beneficiaries of the trust) Mr. Peterson’s gift to the Wisconsin Conference. In fact, there were three gifts: one for the Wisconsin Conference, one for Camp Wakonda, and the third gift to Wisconsin Academy. The three gifts totaling over $1.5 million!   

Mike explained that he knew Mr. Peterson, a successful farmer, having helped him with the business side of his farm for several years. Mike said: “I did the job Mr. Peterson asked me to do, and it took 2.5 years to complete. I didn’t want to just mail a check. I wanted the beneficiaries of the Peterson Trust to know who Mr. Peterson was and to personally hear about the potential impact of the gifts that he gave.” 

In addition to benefiting the Wisconsin Conference, Mr. Peterson also left gifts to benefit the University of Stevens Point, the Almond High School, and the local 4-H Club. These gifts were intended to encourage young people to have a career in farming. 

Mr. Peterson was born in the Town of Almond and lived there his entire life. He and his wife Esther were long-time members of the Almond Church and often attended the Wisconsin Rapids church. Mr. Peterson and Esther had no children of their own, but they enjoyed helping kids attend church school and often hired young people to work on the farm. It was also important to them to make it easier for parents to send their children to Wisconsin Academy and summer camp at Camp Wakonda.  

Mr. Petersen died in 2019 at the age of 100. Remarkably, he was still operating a working farm at the time of his death. Mr. Peterson never made a big deal about the gifts he would someday leave to his church and community. In fact, we were unaware he had a trust that named Wisconsin Conference entities as a beneficiary.  

We always encourage anyone who is impressed to leave a gift for the Lord’s work to do so. Whether one does that through the local conference Trust Department, or their own attorney, is a personal choice and accomplishes the same purpose.  

Mr. Peterson’s gift was truly unexpected. It seems that God delights in doing the unexpected, and in this instance, He used a faithful farmer. Although to us the gift was unexpected, we are sure that God has a purpose and a plan for the gift, and we are looking forward to seeing what that purpose is. This story is not just another inspiring story. What Mr. Peterson left behind will make a difference.  

Remember! “God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!” Ephesians 3:20, The Message.


Bill Ochs,  Wisconsin Conference Planned Giving and Trust Services director