Being a successful executive at Chevron for some 30 years was very rewarding for Craig Peterhansen, but nothing has brought him more happiness than making wishes come true for young children in need. When Craig retired about a decade ago, he and his wife, Pam, moved to Louisville after living all around the country. Craig knew he wanted to use his free time to give back to his community.
Next Craig began exploring a variety of children’s charities. While meeting with people from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, he realized they had a long list of children in need and were relying almost entirely on volunteers. “I looked at this list and thought, ‘I don’t know exactly what to do, but I know I can help.’ I wanted to work on the front lines with the children, not perform administrative work,” he explains.
So Craig jumped right into the mission. He met with children facing critical and often life-threatening illnesses to learn what their greatest wish would be. Then he set about making those wishes come true. The wishes generally fall into four categories: a child might want to go somewhere like Disneyworld or on an adventurous trip, others might desire something like a new gaming system, some want to meet a famous celebrity or athlete and sometimes the child just wants to be transformed into someone, like an astronaut or a fireman. Actually the first wish that was ever granted was back in 1980 for a boy who wanted to be a police officer. Out of that experience, Make-A-Wish was born.
As for his most unusual experience granting a wish, Craig smiles when he tells the story of young Natalia. She was receiving cancer treatments in Cincinnati, and on her way to the hospital, she’d pass by a group of homeless people. She knew when she got her chemo treatments, she was often cold, so she wanted to make sure these people were able to keep warm. Make-A-Wish Ohio, Kentucky & Indiana paired Natalia with a chef to create a special soup recipe. On the day her wish came true, Natalia served her soup and passed out blankets to more than 150 unhomed people at one of Cincinnati’s largest shelters.
A Winning Combination
Make-A-Wish operates both nationally and internationally. Its chapters cover every state and serve children in some 50 countries. One of the biggest boosts ever to the organization came this past February when basketball legend Michael Jordan make a record-setting donation of $10 million in honor of his 60th birthday. The gift was the largest from an individual in the nonprofit’s history. Jordan has been generously supporting Make-A-Wish for more than 30 years, and Craig points out that in addition to the money, this gift brings critical awareness to their mission and gives more children a chance to enter the pipeline for getting a wish granted.
Because of his past business experience, Craig eventually got involved with board work as well as granting wishes. He chaired the board of Make-A-Wish while living in Louisville. Now he and his wife have moved to Starkville, Mississippi, where Craig had attended Mississippi State University. The small town offered them a slower pace than anywhere they’d lived before, and they felt already connected to the community through their involvement with the school. Once more, he is serving on the foundation board, but is still intimately involved in granting wishes.
Regardless of child’s circumstances, Craig says the greatest impact a wish has on a family is that it gives them hope. Often these kids appear quite healthy, when one day they come down with something and go to the doctor. Then says Craig, “Right out of nowhere comes this body blow. One minute they’re playing sports or doing whatever, and now they’re on their way to St. Jude Hospital.” So with a wish, the child has something to look forward to, a chance to be normal, and the family doesn’t have to worry about the details. Make-A-Wish arranges everything.
Craig says in the 80 or so wishes he’s been involved in, he’s been able to grant every child’s special wish. He also points out that many medical professionals say these wishes are often a turning point in a child’s treatment. Their willingness to fight and wanting to get better makes a huge difference. “You can’t underestimate the joy a kid receives by getting their one big wish.”
Clearly Craig and his involvement with Make-A-Wish turned out to be a winning combination. While the organization gave him a framework in which to give back, it’s Craig’s personal philosophy that tells you everything you need to know about this kind and generous man. As he puts it, “We define who we are as a person and as a community by how we treat the people who are most vulnerable. And who’s more vulnerable than a small child with a critical illness? It’s our blessing to get to do this.”