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Getting to know our members Pete Peetra

Where did you grow up?

I was born northern Minnesota (thank god my parents had the good sense to leave there). We lived in western Washington until I was 10; then we moved to San Jose. 

Where did you go to school?

I went to school in Santa Clara. Then after only one semester of college, the "Hippie Era" hit, and that was the end of my formal education.  But I'm a reader; I always have my nose is a book, and if I'm interested in something, I go find out about it. 

Tell us about your family

My parents were dirt-poor and not well educated, but they worked hard and gradually improved their situation. I had four sisters, and one older brother. My kids are the most important thing in my life. I have four step-sons, and I was a scout master for 10 years. I moved to Visalia when I retired because one of my boys, his children and grandchildren are here.

What is your profession?

I worked in auto parts sales and distribution for 15 years, but lost that job because of my drinking.  Then I was in microwave antenna assembly for a number of years before going to work at Home Depot (which I do not recommend).

How did you get past your alcoholism?

It all started out harmlessly in my early 20s. I left home and got my first apartment, laid in a supply of booze and thought, “I'm a grown-up now, and grown-ups drink.” It got worse and worse. The last time I tried to quit, I couldn't, even though I wanted to, and by then I was drinking in the morning. I was drinking one Sunday morning to take the edge off my hangover, and one of my boys asked me in kind of a disgusted tone, “Are you drunk again?” I had been thinking about calling AA, and that was the nudge that I needed to get up and make the phone call. The bottom line is that AA works for most people; it becomes a way of life.

What are your hobbies/interests?

When I was a teen, I bicycled a lot. When my boys were little, we went camping once a month, all year 'round, sometimes with the scouts and sometimes without them. I love the out-of-doors. 

I’m the facilitator for the Nooners’ AA group, take AA literature and the message of recovery into the jails every Thursday night, lead a class on the "Big Book" Alcoholics Anonymous every Saturday at noon, was just elected to the Alano Club board of directors (the Alano Club is a drop-in center for people in recovery) and volunteer there. I was just elected to the board of directors for my PFLAG chapter


Now that I'm not so physically active, I read about science, medicine, history, ancient history and I like a good biography once in a while. I've recently been doing some tutoring at the Literacy Center to help folks improve their reading skills.

What got you interested in studying religions

When I was 15, I felt something was lacking in my life, so I got “religious,” thinking that would fill the void. I've been a Baptist, Methodist and Lutheran. But nothing “worked” for me, so I started searching. I studied all the major religions and most of the minor ones and came to the conclusion that religion is man-made nonsense. 

I finally found what I was looking for when my AA sponsor steered me to the Advaita-Vedanta philosophy of Ramana Maharshi (Hindu mysticism). A lot of what Ernest Holmes teaches comes straight out of Eastern philosophy. The idea that there is only ONE and you are part of THAT. Everything is a manifestation of the ONE, the ALL.

What brought you to the Center?

I got fed up with “good people” judging and condemning, trying to force me into their mold, but I needed someplace to go on Sunday mornings, and the people at the Center are really nice and welcoming. I was exposed to this philosophy when I lived in the Bay Area, but my first couple of experiences didn't really suit me. When I was “shopping” for a church home here in Visalia, I knew that RS/SOM was as close as I could get to the Eastern teachings that really speak to me, so I have been coming off and on for several years. I've made some good friends here who really care about each other.

How are you involved in the Center?

Barry Klein pointed out to me that the yellow cards in the Sunday bulletin can be used over, and since then we've gone to a month-long bulletin to save paper and money. I figured that collecting them would save someone else a lot of work each week, and it’s an easy way for me to get involved and participate.

What have you learned in your religion and spirituality study.

The common thread that I found in most religions is the “Golden Rule,” which is not a Christian concept. Buddha was teaching it 500 B.C., and it is found in some form in all the major religions. Heaven and hell are in your mind. You create your own heaven or hell right here, right now, by your attitude and actions. The only “sin” that I can think of is being selfish and self-centered to the detriment of others. It wasn't until I got sober at age 35 that I really found what I was looking for –spirituality without “religion.”

Gary “Pete” Peetra