INTERNATIONAL CHILD AND YOUTH CARE NETWORK
Father Peter leaves bigger Girls and Boys
While serving in Iraq last year, young Marine Sgt.
Eric Eggink wrote in gratitude to the Rev. Val Peter, president and
chief executive of Girls and Boys Town.
“Thanks to the skills I learned at Girls and Boys Town, I'm able to lead
others and teach these men how to handle battle,” wrote Eggink, who
graduated in May 2001 after arriving at the institution in 1997, at age
Now Eggink is back safe in Omaha and can't believe that Peter is
stepping down as the leader at the campus that was once called Father
Flanagan's Boys' Home.
“It's his life,” Eggink said. “He's the guy who makes
Peter's been making things happen — expanding and
diversifying the institution — since he took over in 1985. Under his
stewardship, Girls and Boys Town has grown to 19 sites in 15 states and
the District of Columbia.
While in the public imagination, Girls and Boys Town is primarily
thought of as an orphanage, most of the troubled young people living on
its campus have been referred by families or social service agencies.It also has a national, toll-free crisis and referral hot line for
children and parents. Assets include a research hospital in Omaha, a
national resource and training center and a publishing arm, Boys Town
While the organization is battling four sex-abuse lawsuits and has
occasionally clashed with the local Roman Catholic bishop, its
literature says 43,654 children received direct “help, healing and hope”
from Girls and Boys Town services last year.
In addition to the task of overseeing the 500-plus children and all the
staffers at the Omaha campus, Peter has acted as an unofficial pastor to
the national parish created by Girls and Boys Town.
In one of what the Boys Town Web site calls “Father's
Letters,” Peter mixes his counsel with a little frank street talk: “If
you look like a ho, act like a ho, talk like a ho, you will be treated
like a ho. So don't go out of your way by engaging in fringe and
Peter teaches and preaches moral absolutes and the famed “Boys Town
model,” which comes from university research into “behavior-shaping
models,” stressing self-discipline and respect.
In another of his letters, he says: “Lies decrease the love we have for
one another. ... They extinguish trust and belief in one another. Lies
are morally wrong.”
Peter will remain for a year as pastor to the boys, girls and others who
attend services at Dowd Memorial Chapel at Boys Town Village, as the
Omaha campus is known. He relinquished his duties as president and CEO
to the 46-year-old Rev. Steven E. Boes (pronounced BAYS) on Friday.
The national board of trustees' chairman, former Coca-Cola division
president John J. Gillin of Atlanta, describes Peter as “electric.”
“When he walks in a room, people know he's there,” Gillin said. “But the
fun is watching kids when he enters a room. They crowd around him. They
love him. He knows their names.”
Peter also is unafraid to protect his institution. In 1994, he filed a
defamation suit against the American Institute of Philanthropy over an
unflattering institute report card.
“We think sometimes you have to restore and preserve your reputation,”
Peter said in 1996 when the suit was settled.
Also in 1994, Peter entered a national brouhaha between then-U.S. House
Speaker Newt Gingrich and then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Gingrich had praised Girls and Boys Town and, citing the movie “Boys
Town,” said it was evidence that orphanages are not a bad solution to
the problems of today's youth. Clinton and others derided the notion as
Peter waded in, inviting Clinton and Gingrich to tour the facilities.
The national shadow of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy or others in
authority also fell on Girls and Boys Town. Four lawsuits are pending
against the institution: three allege that sexual abuse occurred in the
late 1970s or early 1980s; the other alleges abuse in 1997.
Said Boys Town attorney James Martin Davis: “My advice
was not to settle any of them because there was nothing there.”
More recently, Peter and his board in 2003 risked the ecumenical wrath
of his archbishop, Elden Curtiss, over Peter's retirement and whether
the search for Peter's replacement would be national.
As it turned out, said Peter in April, “The best person for the job was
found right here in the diocese.” That is Boes, who had been running the
St. Augustine Indian Mission and School in Winnebago, 70 miles north of
Peter has loved his work at Girls and Boys Town, which was renamed from
Boys Town in 2000 by the vote of its residents. “Ever since I was young
I've loved the chaos of family life — the tears and the pain, the hope
and the hugs,” Peter said.
So what's next for the 70-year-old priest?
“Oh,” he said, “I'm gonna help the kids.”
On the Net: Girls and Boys Town:
2 July 2005