December 2002

Peter Kates - Child of the ‘50s
Man for the New Millennium

by Joseph H. RADDER

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Peter Kates was born in Buffalo in August, 1959. He likes to think of himself as “a child of the ‘50s,” having sneaked into that decade with but a few months to spare. He grew up in the Town of Tonawanda and went to Brighton School, Benjamin Franklin Junior High and Kenmore East High School. “Our family was like the Ozzie Nelsons or the Cleavers,” (Peter doesn’t look like Beaver.) At any rate, it was clearly a wholesome childhood in a much kinder and gentler era than we know today.

His mother, who still lives in the Town of Tonawanda, was a teacher in the Ken-Ton school system, and his Dad spent 34 years as a tool and die designer at Trico Products before passing from cancer in 1986. Peter has two sisters, Elizabeth, who works in retail, and Linda, who works in advertising. Both live in Western New York.
“I was a late bloomer,” Kates says. “Didn’t marry until I was 39 and became a Dad at 40.” Amy Penkacik and Peter Kates may have crossed paths several times before they met. “Although a few years apart, we went to the same high school and college. She lived two doors from one of my best friends, although I didn’t know her family. And her parents were also Ken-Ton teachers.”

Amy and Peter are the parents of two-year-old Madeleine. “My life now is centered around being a dad and a husband,” he says. And his love for Amy and Maddie shows in his eyes when he talks about them. “I used to ski, sail, windsurf and run and I still do some of that—but now my family comes first.” That’s so refreshing to hear in these days when so many parents have so little time for their kids.

Peter Kates went to Syracuse University on a four-year Oishei Scholarship to the Newhouse School of Public Communications. He told us, “The Oishei family helped many Trico workers send their kids to college.”

His delightful wit shows through when he says with a twinkle in his eye, “My very first job was in the newspaper business. I delivered the weekly Am-Ton Journal to 300 households for a penny a copy. Then I graduated to the daily Courier-Express. I was always able to earn money,” he remembered. “I bought a bike and went on two high school trips to Europe thanks to my paper route.”

Industrious is the word that comes to mind when Peter tells us about his early understanding of the work ethic and the fact that he earned the rank of Eagle Scout. “Being an Eagle Scout was a big deal. I received a congratulatory letter from President Gerald R. Ford (also an Eagle Scout),” he says.

Peter Kates’ first job after graduating from college in 1981 was with WBEN Radio and its affiliated FM station. “I eventually became Creative Director and was writing ten or twelve commercials a day, five days a week,” he said. “I learned to be creative on demand and to type very fast (about 80 words a minute). To this day I write for the ear, rather than for the eye. When you think in terms of someone hearing what you write, you tend to keep it simpler, clearer and more conversational.” That philosophy has worked well for Peter Kates whether he’s writing for print or broadcast. Readers of Living Prime Time, who enjoy his witty monthly column “Peter’s Corner,” will attest to that.

“I joined Univera Healthcare in 1995, then called HealthCarePlan.” Peter Kates was part of the team who created the name Univera in 1998 after a merger made a new name necessary. “We’re now part of the second largest health insurer in New York State and our SeniorChoice plan, with 36,000 members, is Western New York’s largest HMO program for people with Medicare.”

“I try to go through life with the temperament of a golden retriever,” he says. Again using an old TV show to make his point “I’m like Opie in The Andy Griffith Show.” Indeed there is a similarity between the adult Opie (Ron Howard) and Peter Kates. Both are very good at what they do, and have professional awards to show for it.

Philosophy of life? “I like to leave things better than I find them. It’s kind of like the old Boy Scout rule to leave the campsite cleaner than you found it. I also try to get along with people and be a good friend and a good colleague,” he says.

His take on Buffalo: “I’m here by choice—but not because I’ve never seen anyplace else. I’ve traveled a great deal throughout the United States and Europe. I’ve been to many wonderful places but I like living right here.” It’s obvious that he means it, and his comment brought to mind Marv Levy’s famous quote “Where would you rather be than right here right now?”

In our judgment, the Buffalo/Niagara region is the winner.

Joseph H. Radder is a freelance writer.


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