'It all happened so fast': Daily Herald executive dies rescuing children
Pete Rosengren, the vice president of sales and digital strategies for the Daily Herald Media Group, died Sunday during a family vacation in Florida after he hurried into the Gulf of Mexico to help his sons and other children being carried out to sea by a rip current.
Rosengren, 42, had been appointed to his current position in December after five years as vice president and director of advertising and had been associated with the company for more than 20 years.
Douglas K. Ray, chairman, publisher and CEO of the Daily Herald Media Group, said Rosengren's sales leadership and technological insights played a key role in helping the company succeed during years of challenge in the newspaper industry.
"It wasn't just a job or career. It was in his heart," his wife Maura Rosengren said.
His boss agreed.
"Pete was always there for others -- employees, peers, family and friends. That was his DNA," said Scott Stone, president and chief operating officer. "Pete had an oversized personality, quick wit, humor and unique compassion for others. It's no surprise his final minute was spent helping others."
Joined by three other families, Pete and Maura and their three sons had driven from their home in Batavia to Florida, for what was expected to be a week of fun in the sun and surf. Instead, Maura spent their 18th wedding anniversary Monday trying to figure out how to get her husband's body home.
He died while saving children struggling in dangerous waters Sunday morning.
"They were caught in a rip current and Pete went out to rescue them," said David Vaughan, beach safety director for South Walton Fire District at Miramar Beach, just east of Destin, an island resort community off the coast of the Florida panhandle.
The beach was open, but the water was off-limits with a double red flag warning, the most severe limitation Florida has for water.
"We had only had been there a couple minutes. The kids ran into the water right away," said Maura, adding their sons and others stepped into the waves before she had even set up a beach chair.
The children were in trouble instantly.
"It all happened so fast. I ran toward the water," Maura said, noting the boys were trying to help each other work their way back to shore and a friend's 9-year-old son was struggling.
"We could see one little boy couldn't get in and ... (Pete) went out there," she said, her words interrupted by tears.
Her husband was able to get the boy to adults who run the operations for chairs, umbrellas and towels on that private beach, Maura said.
Vaughan said Rosengren was on the beach when lifeguards from the nearest tower about a half-mile away arrived and performed CPR before an ambulance took him to a hospital.
Lifeguards also pulled two boys from the water, both of whom recovered.
The medical examiner has not yet determined whether the cause of death was drowning or perhaps a cardiac issue. But the heroism that led to Rosengren's death did not surprise his friends.
"That was Pete. Such a hero. He gave you everything he could," said Joe Shaker, a longtime friend who, as president of Shaker Recruitment Marketing, did business with the Daily Herald through Rosengren.
"There isn't one person who doesn't have a Pete Rosengren story," Shaker said. "He made you feel special. He lived as we all should live."
While the COVID-19 pandemic wore on everyone, Maura said, "I feel this sense of gratitude that Pete worked from home last year."
She said their sons Gavin, 14, Charlie, 12, and Grant, 7, loved having their dad involved with their baseball games and everything they did.
Pete and Maura met as students at Carthage College in Kenosha, where Pete played on the basketball team. As an alumnus, he served on the school's President's Leadership Council.
His love of basketball led him to coach his sons and other kids.
Rosengren interned with Paddock Publications, owner of the Daily Herald Media Group, in 1999 while a student at Carthage and then took a job with the company after graduation in 2000. He served in a variety of sales and managerial positions prior to his appointment as vice president in 2015. He worked for the Chicago Tribune from 2011 to 2013.
"I knew Pete when he was an intern in the advertising department, and of course he rose through the ranks to become our revenue leader and manager," Ray said. "Great with clients, technologically savvy and smart. Pete led us through some challenging years, but established a bright future in all of our revenue areas. But more importantly, I know he was a great dad, husband, friend and fellow colleague."
Rosengren was the vice chairman of the board of directors for the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce and had served as a member of the board for the Schaumburg Business Association.
Having met Rosengren in college, friend Brian Ilc of Geneva said they were like brothers, and Rosengren always set a good example.
"I always admired the way he took on his career. And how he was such a family man," Ilc said.
Rosengren was the grandson of the late Ann Paddock, wife of Stuart R. Paddock Jr., publisher and patriarch of the company during the second half of the 20th century.
"Pete was incredibly energetic, with a large capacity to be helpful to family and friends," said Stuart R. Paddock III, vice president of digital technology and information, who knew Rosengren and his family since Pete was a child. "Pete lost his own father to cancer when he was a young teenager. Through his years, he became the stalwart of his own extended family and to his grandfather's business."