1957 – 1984
Peter grew up near Grand Rapids, Michigan. He graduated from Putney School, worked as a forester, attended Marlboro College, and graduated from the Univ. of Michigan in Natural Resources.
At 25, he joined the PC and was assigned to Guatemala at a site near El Salvador, where his job was to educate the community about conserving their dwindling fisheries resources on which they depended. He learned that there was a strong conservation movement in Guatemala, but that organizations didn’t cooperate with each other so were often ineffective. The Guatemalan Tourist Department, under which he worked, reassigned him to Guatemala City to help the organizations coordinate their missions. After he died, the organizations followed up by forming an umbrella group, the Peter Wolfe Guatemalan Natural Resources Association. (His name has since been dropped.)
Peter was murdered as he walked home one night. No one knew why, and several conspiracy theories arose. The State Department wouldn’t investigate or prosecute the known killer until finally Loret Ruppe, Peace Corps director and PC Guatemalan Director Ron Arms camped outside State Dept. Director Schultz’ office. The killer was connected to families in high places, which evidently paid for Guatemala’s best defense attorney. The prosecution got nowhere.
His friends will be glad to know that Peter’s brother made it his mission to find out what happened. His original research did seem to support a conspiracy. However, John took a former Guatemalan judge to Guatemala and together they made an extensive investigation, including interviewing witnesses, the lawyers, etc, and checking documents. (By this time the killer had died in a motorcycle accident) They concluded that there was no conspiracy against either the PC or Peter. The young killer–a menace to his own neighborhood–acted on his own on the spur of the moment when he accosted Peter on the street.
As Peter’s parents, we want to tell about Peter in the words of others who wrote or spoke about him after he died.
(Note: our family has lost touch with many close to Peter. We would love to know what you are doing. We are Willard and Joan Wolfe, PO Box 191, Frankfort, MI 49635. 231-352-6803.) The following seem to sum up the many comments we received:
Peter’s Peace Corps Work
Words spoken at the memorial service by Ron Arms, Country Director, PC Guatemala:
“…the wire rimmed glasses, the tuft of black hair, the sparkle in his eyes encased a sharp mind. His energy and enthusiasm gave witness to a large capacity for work. The quick sense of humor earned him friends in many places…
Peter gave his life to the work of peace. In one of God’s beautiful places he worked to preserve its flora and fauna. When local bureaucrats quarreled over jurisdictional issues, he used his negotiating skills to help people explore avenues of cooperation. He urged his fellow workers and himself to greater efforts when frustration blocked progress. When resources were scarce he wrote letters, knocked on doors and did all he could to gather what help was possible. He invested time and energy in organizing an international conference aimed at improved coordination of conservation efforts. (Another) of his cherished projects was the creation of (an environmental reference library). In more ways than I have time to mention, Peter spent his life to help others…
I can pay him no higher tribute than to encourage us all to continue to work for peace wherever we are…”
–from a Peace Corps volunteer:
“I will always remember how he lit up a room with his presence and was always there to listen, offer guidance or help. He brought out the best in everyone.”
–from a Guatemalan:
…I feel happy inside because I can tell you how much I learned from him in a few months… The task does not end, and the more Guatemalans care and do for the conservation and protection of their heritage, the more strong we will all feel Peter’s presence among us.”
–from a conservation researcher in Guatemala:
“Peter was one of the most dedicated and delightful people (my colleague and I) met in 10 years of conservation work in Latin America…so incredibly gifted at analyzing a difficult environmental situation and presenting a sequence of ideas on how to cope with it. His dedication to aiding Guatemala’s beginning environmental movement is unmatched by anyone. Peter seemed destined to become one of the most influential international conservationists in America.”
“A walking definition of gusto”
— from one of Peter’s friends from the University of Michigan:
“…We (his friends) remembered some of the good times as well tough times we shared at U of M and wound up having a pretty good laugh. It seemed a bit ironic considering the circumstances, but not out of place. When I think of Pete, I can’t help but feel good because that is the emotion he was consistently able to create. It’s unfortunate that so many people in an academic setting like Ann Arbor lose sight of the purpose behind their education and become self-centered, while more important values diminish. Pete, on the other hand, saw something else. It seemed the more Pete learned, the more he wanted to share that knowledge and the more he wanted to help people. If only more people had that insight, it wouldn’t be necessary to have to pray so hard for peace.
“I truly feel richer for having known Pete. He was a walking definition of gusto. Pete had a rare gift of being able to lift people from terrible moods by making you laugh from the pit of your stomach. He was just plain good to be with and I will treasure his memory greatly. … We learned about the genuine values in life from him, and for that we raise our glass to him.”
— from his brother John’s eulogy:
“It is difficult to write a eulogy for your only brother, made many times more difficult because my brother, Peter Harper Wolfe, had a personality and soul so complex and encompassing that I can convey only small fragments…
“Peter lived fully. He packed more self-imposed suffering and self-doubt into his life, as well as joy and good times, than most who live two or three times his age. He wrote a note that I found in a cigar box in his bedroom. It said, simply, “I don’t want to be mellow. (signed) Peter Wolfe.” His gift was to take from that cauldron of pain, frustration and despair, from those very dark moments of the soul, to extract from this a joie de vivre, a gusto, and a remarkable sense of humor and understanding that touched many people, many, many times. …
My parents and I have received many beautiful letters from people sharing their grief with us. The most comforting to me came from Peter’s kindergarten teacher, who reminded all of us:
“No good, having been given,
no love, having been shared,
is ever lost.”
Additional Comments about Peter:
Dear Willard, Joan, and John Wolfe: Peter and I were friends during his time at Marlboro College, and he was among my best friends at that time. He brought many, many laughs to us, and offered wisdom in his understated way. I still think of him often, and still miss him. I’d like you to know that even after all these years, Peter’s touch on some of us is still very strong.
Dear Dr. & Mrs. Wolfe and John,
Found this page sort of by accident this morning, and it made me so happy, and so sad. I wanted to let you know that I still think of Peter, especially in the spring when I drive past the apple orchard in Marlboro that he took me to one evening when it was in full bloom. What a gift he was. I still miss him.
It is people like Peter in this world who make it a better place. Knowing his parents, I think he had the best childhood one could have and a sense of being so he was able to give to others as he did. God Bless Peter and God Bless the Peace Corps.
Peter was my best friend, and in some ways mentor at Marlboro.
I still think about him often. Halloween is never as fun as it was before… But I still put on a mask and dance like a fool just so that I know he’ll be laughing.
Dear Friends and family of Peter,
I did not know him well at all but his manner made an impact on me and I still think of him after all these years. Fallen Peace Corps Volunteers are just as heroic as fallen soldiers and they should be recognized for their service. Whenever I meet an RPCV I say to them “thank you for your service” just as I do any military person.
1/2018 I just came across this site and have wondered since back in the day what came of the investigation. I was assigned to the town Peter was in just before he moved to Guate City. He gave me my introduction to the coast towns when I arrived in country, told me he was moving to the capital so I could have his house and I stayed three years. I wish he could’ve continued the experience of working in an awesome country and be fortunate to look back fondly. Thanks Peter for introducing me to the south coast!!!
WOW after 40 some years I still remember peter. At watervalle from the early 70’s I had the row boat and his rubber raft, we would explore all over. One time we went up the creek to upper herring . like “the african queen”
Oh Peter, retrospect has truly grabbed me by the tail. All I can think is how much you tried to show me, and how long it took me to get the reality of poverty. You were a brilliant light, one that I will always remember. You read out loud your short story about you and your brother on a bus trip. How much I remember of you, and later, my own daughter chose to go to Marlboro College. I always think of you in fire station. Yet, for me, everything at Marlboro meant Peter Wolfe. Whenever I hear The Putney School I think, ‘Peter Wolfe!’. You will never be forgotten. Your love for the world, it lives on, and on! Thank you Peter.
I always wondered what had happened to Peter. I knew he had been murdered but we never were told any details, probably because at that time, there were none. I didn’t known Peter for a long time but he was always such a sweet guy, (and funny), when our group got together for our monthly attitude adjustment hour at the Peace Corps office in Guatemala City. I remember seeing him off, one last time, at the airport with some other volunteers when his body was shipped home. I know that it has been a long time, but I just wanted his family to know that he was not alone that day and I still say a prayer for Peter and his family whenever I think of him.
Peter was killed just as my husband and I swore in to Peace Corps Guatemala in October 1984. Several weeks later on All Saints’ Day, a day when the children fly kites to commune with the saints, a neighbor boy beckoned to me and showed me the tail of his kite fashioned from strips of newspaper. There was Peter’s picture. I was touched by his inclusion of Peter. On November 1st I always think of Peter.