Peter Heegaard, in partnership with his wife, Anne, gave retirement and money a good name.
Armed with an Ivy League MBA, Heegaard, who died this month at 85, founded and ran the high-end wealth management business for a decade at-then Norwest Corp. before he retired in 1996 at age 60.
Heegaard also invested in the have-nots, especially in his retirement chapter. The coalitions he joined — or formed — and Twin Cities neighborhoods he helped are better for his work.
He not only gave money, he used his “connections, communications and cache” to bring nonprofits, donors and the people needing help together, said Sondra Samuels, chief executive of the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ), which works with partner schools, nonprofits and others to help families bridge opportunity and income gaps to break generational poverty.
“Peter would meet with some of our families. And he would bring those young bankers and his friends to learn about us. And meet people whose houses were flipped or foreclosed. He saw the damage and listened to people who wanted to do better,” she said. “And that connectedness is essential. And how we must interrupt life patterns … so that we can help people change their lives.”
Peter and Anne Heegaard also helped Samuels replace federal “empowerment zone” seed capital of about $28 million a decade ago with $35 million in private capital in a several-years effort concluded in 2021.
While their philanthropic work ramped up during retirement, it started way before then, said Anne Heegaard, Peter’s wife of 63 years.
Their Presbyterian minister in the early 1960s recruited them to serve women at a Hennepin County correctional society, she said. By the 1970s they were helping to house Central American refugees.
“We started out playing [the Whist card game] with ‘ladies of the night’ at the workhouse and ended up [befriending] some of them and helping with their problems, and sometimes training and jobs,” she said.
“We always enjoyed people of different ethnicities and backgrounds,” she said. “We had similar interests and a passion for people who wanted to give and for people who were down on their luck and needed a hand-up.”
The couple hosted gatherings with a guest list that included both affluent and low-income folks. More than one affluent donor confessed that it was the Heegaards who inspired them to engage, beyond writing a check. And he analyzed and embraced effective nonprofit businesses such as NAZ, the Project for Pride in Living housing-and-careers developer, Neighborhood Development Center and many others.
“Peter helped a lot of people make money during his investment-management career,” said Joe Selvaggio, a retired nonprofit executive and Heegaard friend. “He was a pragmatic business guy with altruistic bones … who believed in investing in poor people and their communities and creating opportunities.”
The Heegaards have a cabin near Lutsen, a retreat from the world of work and volunteerism. But they never took an ocean cruise and could never stay away too long from their work, paid or otherwise.
They traveled to El Salvador, Nicaragua and elsewhere in the 1980s — taking some of the trips through the Center for Global Education and Experience at Augsburg University — to learn from impoverished folks and political dissidents in dictatorial societies.
Peter Heegaard started urban-education seminars for business and financial professionals in 1997. He called the on-the-street education and engagement sessions “urban adventure.”
Most of the professionals enrolled knew little of poverty and neighborhoods on the edge. Heegaard encouraged investors to work with nonprofit and foundation leaders, as well as local governments, on economic development, training and self-sufficiency initiatives. One example: the Phillips Neighborhood Partnership that yielded thousands of jobs, homeownership programs, the redevelopment of the abandoned Sears building on East Lake Street and small-business revivals.
This kind of work also proved critical for Twin Cities economic growth, as minority enterprise and employment outpaced overall labor market growth in the past 20 years.
“Peter’s passion was persuading people that there was an undervalued market in certain neighborhoods,” said Mike Christenson, who partnered with Heegaard when Christenson served in Minneapolis and Hennepin County economic and workforce development departments.
“Peter was right,” Christenson said. “The first business loan might be through a nonprofit and then the second loan for an expansion or second small restaurant might be from a bank. … Peter set things in motion.”
In 2019, Heegaard’s Urban Adventure program, renamed “Urban Investment,” found a permanent home at the Sabo Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg, where students and professionals now work together on projects.
Heegaard wrote three accessible, anecdotal books in retirement. The first was about a dozen social entrepreneurs. The second helped donors use cost-benefit analysis to get more “bang” for their philanthropic buck.
The last, in 2015, was “Turnabout,” stories of people Heegaard befriended who moved from lives of underperformance and dependency to self-sufficiency. And the lessons we can learn from them.