Sometimes, a man’s legacy is just too big for its own good.
Chester E. “Chet” Peters, who started working at Kansas State in 1953, was the only individual at the university to hold the office of Vice President of Student Affairs.
He remained in that position from 1967 until his retirement in 1985.
Peters, who died in 1995, has a lecture series, scholarship and recreation center named after him on campus.
Chet’s hobby — wood sculptures — became something like a lost part of his legacy.
Despite the presence of many of his works on campus, both K-State officials and his family felt his creations weren’t being displayed to their full potential.
THAT’S STARTING to change, with a Beach Museum of Art exhibit planned for the fall that will feature his work.
“When Chet Peters’ widow passed away a couple of years ago, the family contacted us about donating some of Chet’s carvings,” museum director Linda Duke said.
“Life Forms: Chet Peters” will be displayed in the Vanier Gallery this fall as a companion piece with “Tree of Life: The Life of Charles Bello” in the Hyle Gallery.
Friends and family said Chet’s carvings reflected his love of nature (and wife Doris’ love of owls), had Christian and family themes, and were often used as educational tools.
Chet’s son, Steve, said Bello’s work is similar to his dad’s in a way he hasn’t seen from any other artist.
“Interestingly, both men are of substantial stature,” Steve said. “To be a talented wood sculptor, it requires a lot of physical strength. Charles reminds me of my father that way.”
This is also an opportunity to create an archive of the work.
Duke said the goal is to document where Peters’ gifts are by reaching out to others.
“We would like to know where it all is,” said his daughter, Karen Hartner. “My dad gave a lot of his sculptures as gifts.”
HARTNER SAID her brother estimates that her dad has hundreds of sculptures across the country as gifts.
There isn’t even a fully accurate account of where all of Peters’ sculptures are on the K-State campus.
“There are a lot around,” Duke said. “A lot are probably in people’s offices.”
Somebody in recreation center director Steve Martini’s office might see a letter opener that Peters made him in 1986.
Martini arrived at K-State when the rec center was built in 1980.
When Chet retired in 1985, K-State dedicated the Chester E. Peters Recreation Complex in his honor.
The university dedicated the Doris Peters Lounge for his wife in November at the complex.
THE LOUNGE features a showcase of three of his works created to promote education: a globe, book and molecular structure made from a 150-year-old Honey locust tree that died in 1992.
“For me, since I knew him, it was always pretty important that there’s a place,” Martini said. “The building is named after him and I always wanted to put them in a manner that he intended to display them.”
Peters’ “Achievement” sculpture, which is the rec center’s logo, remains a feature of the complex.
Martini said he believes Chet’s spirit lives at the center.
“It was important to me to carry on his memory,” Martini said. “Bring it back to life.”
Pat Bosco, vice president for student life, was a recipient of numerous carvings related to personal growth and leadership.
“His wood carvings spoke volumes to inclusive, personal motivation, family and a commitment to getting the most out of every day,” he said.
Bosco began his personal and professional relationship with Peters as student body president in 1970-71.
“He became my longtime mentor and colleague for nearly 30 years,” he said.
Bosco said Peters provided a great guide for how to live.
“He also was a great role model to having great balance in your life,” Bosco said. “He prided himself in having a balance between his work and his family, which in student life is important.”
Chet named his company, Chdokas Woods, after himself (Ch), Doris (Do), Karen (Ka) and Steve (S).
Peters’ work benefitted his family in more ways that money. He also built furniture, which the family house contains including dressers, china cabinets, desks, tables and shelves.
Chet did so much work, he eventually had to get his own studio, which was built next to the house.
“Mom got tired of the dust coming up from the basement,” Hartner said as the reasoning for the studio.
The studio is still filled with many carvings.
PETERS SPOKE about his passion in a video made around the time of his retirement in 1985.
“Each person has a tremendous amount of talent, but none of us know what’s there,” he said. “The only way we find it is to experiment with different kind of things and do different types of activities.”
Peters attributed his interest in wood sculpting to a 1957 talk he made to a student group.
“I came up with the idea of the three thirds,” he said.
Peters said people spend 30 years of life preparing for their life’s work, retire 30 years after that, and 30 more years of life after that.
“You better be preparing for that last part of your life,” he said. “Something that can be productive, creative, interesting, that you can pick up and lay down, that you control and that you can get a little income out of it.”
Peters said one of the reasons he ran was to stay active and reduce the effects of arthritis.
“There’s a little method in the madness of it,” he said. “People think you’re kind of crazy sometimes, but I like to achieve whatever it is.”