Celebrating a 60-Year-Old Transatlantic and Multi-Generational Friendship: Rowland Ricketts ’57 and Peter Thiele ’57

In honor of the Class of 1957’s 60th reunion to be celebrated during Alumni Weekend 2017 festivities, Rowland Ricketts ’57 installed an exhibit featuring the work of his classmate Peter Thiele ’57, a German graphic designer. Peter was an exchange student at Moorestown Friends from the Rudolf Steiner Schule in Nuremberg, Germany and he lived with the Ricketts family during the 1956-57 school year. Meanwhile, fellow classmate Martin Lehfeldt ’57 was visiting Germany for the year as the first MFS exchange student. The exchange program between the two schools was organized by the American Friends Service Committee after World War II as part of a program to increase international understanding and friendship. The “foreign affiliation program,” as it was called then, was supported by fundraising done at an annual faculty and student-run “Friendship Fair.”

“I remember the first time I met Peter was when my mother [the late English and Drama Teacher Jean Ricketts] brought him home,” recalled Rowland. “It was long ago but I remember it was different to have another kid in the house and Peter, having grown up in Germany during World War II, had a hard time adjusting to the food here.”

After Peter returned home, the families remained in touch largely through letters, although Rowland and his wife Mary Lynn were able to visit Peter once in the suburbs of Nuremberg. But Peter also shared his artistic talents and sent many hand-illustrated gifts of beautifully designed cards and calendars for holidays and other special events over the years.

“Peter has sent gifts for a long time, but I never had the skill to send something back to him,” said Rowland. “So with our 60th class reunion coming up, I wanted to do something nice for Peter and exhibit an installation of his artwork. Now, Peter adamantly says he’s not an artist, that he is a graphic designer. And I tell him that you may not be an artist, but you’re my artist.”

Rowland’s early experience with hosting Peter ended up significantly impacting his life as he and Mary Lynn became very involved with hosting exchange students through the American Field Service. The couple reminisced about the many young people that passed through their home, whether it be for a night or for a year.

“We had hosted students from Germany, Japan, Yugoslavia, South America, Syria, and Switzerland,” said Mary Lynn. “We visited some former exchange students around the world, but, even if we lost touch, sharing and experiencing other cultures through getting to know young people is something you carry with you for the rest of your life.”

Although Peter will not be able to return to the U.S. for the 60th class reunion, over 30 alumni and spouses are expected back on campus for Alumni Weekend to reconnect and enjoy the special artwork of their classmate.

To view a gallery of photos of Peter Thiele’s artwork, click here.