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HomeOpinionOp-EdConsider This | A Bahamian icon in Minnesota

Consider This | A Bahamian icon in Minnesota

• This column was first published September, 24, 2018. 

“Education is everything! Education is the only thing! It is that magic key that unlocks the padlock of poverty.”

– Prince Wallace

This past weekend, scores of Bahamians who live in Minnesota, as well as several who travelled from The Bahamas, attended a banquet at Saint John’s University (SJU) to honor Prince Wallace, a Bahamian icon in Minnesota. The banquet hall was filled with family members, the SJU president and his spouse, Elizabeth, SJU trustees, friends, well-wishers and over 50 Bahamian students enrolled at the College of Saint Benedict (CSB) and SJU. The evening received rave reviews from all who attended, with every aspect spoken of in superlatives by everyone.

When he left The Bahamas in 1964, Wallace could not have anticipated that, more than 50 years later, he would still be in Minnesota with a large, close-knit family and several successful businesses. And never in his wildest dreams would he have imagined that he would receive the highest honor bestowed upon an SJU alumnus, the Fr. Walter Reger Distinguished Alumnus Award.

Therefore, this week, we would like to Consider this… What are some of the factors that motivated Prince Wallace to become a Bahamian icon in Minnesota? 

Humble beginnings

Born in Nassau, the son of a butler and a maid, Wallace grew up on Nassau Street, a stone’s throw away from St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, where he attended Mass and served as an acolyte, and even closer to St. Martin’s Convent, also on Nassau Street.

In his early youth, growing up around St. Joseph’s, Wallace was deeply moved by the profound contributions that the Benedictine monks from SJU made to building The Bahamas in the early years of the march to majority rule and nationhood. St. Joseph’s, at the time, was pastored by Fr. Marcian Peters, originally from Cold Springs, Minnesota. Fr. Marcian, one of many dedicated, legendary SJU Benedictines, spent most of his adult life in The Bahamas, selflessly contributing to the spiritual and athletic development of the Bahamian society.

St. Augustine’s College

After leaving Western Senior School, because of his deeply rooted dedication to Catholicism and intense yearning to further his education, St. Augustine’s College (SAC) was the natural next stop for Wallace. He vividly recalls that, while he was at SAC, he was impressed by the dedicated devotion of the Benedictine monks at St. Augustine’s Monastery and their determination as teachers at SAC to challenge all students to develop a holistic approach to education. He quickly accepted and appreciated the Benedictine ethos that the most successful educational program integrated the mind, body and soul. Exercise and athletic activity were as essential to education at SAC as the students’ commitment to the academic curriculum.

 Moving to Minnesota

Wallace arrived at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota more than 54 years ago, when he was offered a scholarship by Benedictine monks to attend SJU. He has very fond and lasting memories of SJU and has always maintained that his SJU experience was transformational.

While at Saint John’s, Wallace met Sandra Viehauser Hiemenz of St. Cloud, Minnesota, who became his wife of 50 years, mother of his children and his business partner for most of his adult life.

Wallace and Sandra built several highly successful businesses in Minnesota, beginning with just two employees in 1986. The companies that they acquired and built now employ more than 200 persons with offices in seven states.

His business achievements

Wallace’s professional and business careers never prevented him from remaining devoted to his SJU alma mater. He has demonstrated a lifelong commitment to Saint John’s, having served nine years on the university’s board, where his contributions are well-documented.

Over the years, Wallace has also mentored hundreds of CSB/SJU students and alumni, many of whose educations he and Sandra personally contributed to financially. His annual post-SJU Homecoming gatherings at his and Sandra’s home, which are attended by dozens of current and former students, are legendary.

Prince and Sandra have also awarded at least 50 academic scholarships to children of his employees.

Remembering his origins

Wallace also actively participated in the activities of the SJU Alumni Bahamas Association in Nassau. He has visited high schools in The Bahamas where he has met students interested in attending CSB/SJU. Prince and Sandra have frequently accompanied the presidents of both institutions on their annual visits to The Bahamas, where they have updated alumni and parents of current students about developments at CSB and SJU and encouraged prospective students to enroll in those institutions.

Wallace also frequently met with Bahamian high school guidance counselors and senior Bahamian government officials to encourage them to continue to support both institutions, and his endeavors have reaped impressive dividends. Recently, CSB and SJU enjoyed the largest number of freshman students at those institutions – 25 in total – and those institutions now have the largest number of Bahamian students enrolled in the institutions’ history — 63 in total. By any yardstick, that is a monumental milestone. 

Fr. Walter Reger Distinguished Alumnus Award

Fr. Walter Reger was a priest, professor, prefect, dean and friend. For many years, he was the catalyst behind the Saint John’s University Alumni Association, fostering close ties to thousands of ‘Johnnies’, corresponding with many of them long into their alumni years. So ardent was his dedication that he became known as “Mr. Saint John’s”.

Since 1971, the SJU Alumni Association has presented the Fr. Walter Reger Distinguished Alumnus Award in honor of Fr. Walter’s dedication. The award annually recognizes outstanding service to the Saint John’s community by an alumnus and is the highest honor given by the SJU Alumni Association.

It is because Prince Wallace is the quintessential Johnnie and an enormously genuine SJU success story that his colleagues nominated him for the 2018 Fr. Walter Reger Award. He was selected for the award which was conferred on him at SJU on June 23, 2018.

The inscription on Wallace’s award reads: “For your commitment to the Benedictine values in your work, your family and the communities you serve;

“For your mentorship, hospitality and guidance to young men and women from The Bahamas who have found a home at Saint John’s and the College of Saint Benedict;

“For your diligent efforts in building bridges between Saint John’s and The Bahamas Alumni Association, the Bahamian government and institutions in Nassau and throughout the country;

“For the thoughtful and distinguished leadership you brought to the Saint John’s Board of Trustees for nine years;

“For your generous support to the education of future Johnnies and Bennies;

“For your lifetime connection to the Benedictine ideals as embodied in Father Walter’s life of dedication, service and concern;

“With gratitude and admiration, we the alumni of Saint John’s University, present to you, Prince Wallace, class of 1968, the Fr. Walter Reger Distinguished Alumnus Award.

“June 23, 2018.

“Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota, USA.”

At the awards ceremony, Wallace stated that he was truly humbled by receiving the award. He attributed his success to the education that he received and thanked SJU for the role it played in his education. He said, “Education is about academics, self-worth and dreams to imagine the possibilities. It is about creativity and innovation. It is about learning to love one another and making one’s community a better place.” Wallace also recognized the significant contribution that his wife, Sandra, play in her steadfast support of his commitment to CSB/SJU and the Bahamian students who they assisted over the years.

Wallace is truly deserving of the Fr. Walter Reger Distinguished Alumnus Award, because, as the highest honor awarded by the SJU Alumni Association, this accolade recognizes the outstanding service that Wallace has provided to the wider Saint John’s community.

At Friday’s dinner, Wallace told the students that it is incumbent on them to build on the foundation of those who provided them with opportunities that will undoubtedly transform their lives. They must accept and pass the baton to future generations of Bahamians, wherever and whenever they can.

Conclusion

Prince Wallace represents an important iconic link in the chain of distinguished SJU luminaries such as Etienne, Eugene and Pierre Dupuch; Monsignor Preston Moss; the late Deacon Leviticus Adderley and John (Fr. Bonaventure) Dean; Basil Christie; Dr. Rodney Smith and others, each with individual stories whose impregnable impressions are indelibly inscribed on many spheres of Bahamian society. Like their Benedictine mentors who spanned the gap between Minnesota and The Bahamas in the early 20th century, these iconic Bahamians, like Wallace, have bridged the gap for Bahamians who have excelled throughout most of the 20th and early years of the 21st centuries.

The role model established by Wallace continues today in young persons like Raimond Mitchell, the first Bahamian elected by the SJU Senate in 2016, and David Johnson III, the current Bahamian SJU Senate president. These young men were preceded by iconic Bahamians, like Wallace, who led the way and set the pace for them at SJU.

Prince Wallace is truly a Bahamian icon in Minnesota. There can be no doubt that so many are grateful for the enormous contributions that he has made over the decades. Wallace has played an important role not only in the development of successful individuals, but also in the positive impact those individuals continue to make in their communities and for the advancement of The Bahamas.

 

• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to pgalanis@gmail.com. 

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