The first time Pete Lothes experienced firsthand what Accent on the Individual truly means, he was wearing an apron.
“As a senior in high school,” he says, “my mom wanted me to learn some practical household skills. So, she made me take what was called Senior Living, where you learned how to sew and cook.” He was pulling a pie from the oven when the late Ashland football coach Fred Martinelli walked into the room. “He laughed and said this was a recruitment first,” says Pete. “I was impressed by him even being there, telling me why I should choose to play for Ashland over several other Division I schools recruiting me as a running back.”
After this moment, he says, the choice was simple. The next fall, he was on the field wearing purple and gold. And while football brought him to Ashland, it would be the community he became a part of that would set the trajectory for the rest of his life and position him for the success he’s experienced since his undergraduate days.
After graduating in 1988 with a degree in business management and marketing, Pete would spend the next three decades working in the optical industry. He is currently the global COO of Advancing Eyecare, which partners with firms in the eyecare instrumentation marketplace to provide products and service solutions in the ophthalmic equipment industry.
While a profession in the optical industry was always a logical choice–growing up, his father owned a business selling equipment to ophthalmologists–a large part of his success is rooted in an on-field injury he sustained as a sophomore.
“This was long before CTE and concussion protocol were household topics of discussion,” Pete says. “When I got hurt, the doctor looked at me and asked if I was planning to play football professionally. I said no, probably not, and he told me that, because of the concussions I’d sustained, my playing days were done.”
What sounded initially like the end of the world for him, though, soon turned out to be an unmitigated blessing.
“I had to stop being a jock,” he says, “and start being a dedicated student.”
Through this new academic focus, he connected with the Ashland professors and staff who would help shape him into the husband, father, boss and philanthropist he is today.
Some relationships started on a high note and sustained this positivity from that point on.
“I had a really good relationship with Mary Miller in academic advising,” he says. “I’m good friends with her son Jason”–Ashland’s current Chief Advancement Officer– ”and I tell him all the time that I know he’s a good guy because his mom is such a great lady.”
Additionally, Dr. Thomas Shockney quickly became an important influence, taking him under his wing and offering wisdom he still applies to his career and family life. As the president of Sigma Nu, Pete connected with Dr. John Gilbert, who served as fraternity faculty advisor and head of the music department. This relationship, he says, gave him insight into the importance of intentional community and leadership. His relationship with Ralph Tomassi was also crucial to his development as a man and continues to this day.
Other relationships, however, started on slightly rockier terrain.
“I skipped Dr. Fraas’s class one day,” says Pete. “The next morning, I saw him as I was walking across the Quad. I figured he hadn’t noticed I wasn’t there the day before, but as he got closer, I saw he was making a beeline directly toward me. He said, ‘Pete, are you feeling better?’ I said, yes, thank you. ‘Good,” he said. ‘I’ll see you tomorrow, then, right?’ I was kind of shocked. One, he knew my name. And, two, he was interested enough to notice I wasn’t there. That was a big deal.”
Decades later, this moment still serves as a defining example of why, exactly, Ashland is such a special place for him.
“I work with people with all kinds of educational backgrounds,” he says. “And I tell that story to people who graduated from the University of Texas, Ohio State, Columbia, even Harvard, and they’re shocked, absolutely shocked, that a professor would care enough about your individual success to hunt you down and hold you accountable. That just doesn’t happen anywhere else.”
In his role as COO, the lessons he learned at Ashland are still relevant.
“I see my job, principally, as helping others to see better. That’s what I get to do every day. Communication and trust are crucial to what I do. I saw both values lived out in the lives of the people who influenced me so much at Ashland.”
While he resides in Texas with his family, Ashland still feels like home. His connection to this place and its people still impact his life. Pete served on the Alumni Association Board of Directors for six years, as board vice president and president, and also received the University’s Outstanding Alumni of the Year award in 2016.
He has also been a faithful financial contributor through the years; he and his wife, Kris, who ran track at Ashland, established an endowment for student-athletes. His reasons for giving are as simple as they are powerful.
“I believe in fate,” he says. “Everything happens for a reason. There was a reason I came to Ashland and formed the relationships I did. Ashland is special. I think we kind of lose track of that sometimes. The focus on the individual, the professors who spend their entire careers here, the lifelong relationships you’re able to build and sustain–those are just a few of the many, many reasons why giving back and providing opportunities for the next generation of students is such a worthy cause.
“I give,” he says, “because I want others to have an even better experience here than I did.”