Managing Director Lance Gunkel and Director of Business Development interview Peter Teahen in the This Story Needs to Be Heard podcast.
With Peter’s broad and exciting experience, Lance called Peter the “international man of mystery.” Peter is a Funeral Director, author, a mental health professional, traumatologist, and grandfather of nine. In 2011 he received the designation of Diplomate from the National Center for Crisis Management and the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. He is president of Teahen Funeral Home, and founder of the International Mass Fatalities Center and AmericaReady.
Peter is an Adjunct Faculty member at the University of Iowa. He has years of professional, community, and volunteer experience ranging from pioneering community projects, lecturing, developing mental health crisis management intervention programs, and lending his skills to both the development of disaster operation protocols, as well as, extensive volunteerism in disaster services. Peter has been involved in over 70 major disasters including 9-11 at Ground Zero, the Oklahoma City bombing, a tsunami, and the Haiti earthquake.
Peter had a dream to fly around the world and it almost came true with his Flight to End Polio project scheduled for March of 2020. Due to COVID-19, the project has been postponed until April of 2021.
Peter has a single-engine plane and he, along with his wife’s cousin, John, will fly 140 hours, travel 20,000 miles, and visit 19 countries. Only 700 pilots in world history have flown a single-engine plane around the world, with 264 of them alive today.
Peter didn’t want this trip to be just an accomplishment, but wanted it to have a purpose. He and John are both Rotarians and decided to raise money for one of their biggest causes – eradicating polio. He hopes to raise $1 million dollars. People will be able to watch part of the flight online at the Flight to End Polio website.
Peter describes an interesting call he received during Operation Desert Storm. The call was from the U.S. Army and they said, “This is the U.S. Army. If you answer “no,” we’ll end this call with no explanation.”
They asked Peter and 34 other funeral directors in the U.S. if they would say “yes” to a 9-month mission where they couldn’t tell anyone where they were, what danger they would be exposed to, and with no guarantee they would come back alive. The Army needed Peter’s answer in two hours with the assignment beginning in four days.
With his disaster experience, he always shares with first responders that they have to decide ahead of time what their answer is going to be. In this case, he said “yes.”
Peter believes there are three important parts of life:
He shared one spiritual experience that happened during his time serving in Haiti after the earthquake. He traveled on a plane (with John Travolta!) and joined a medical team of three which included him, a dentist, and an LPN. They were placed in charge of a 50-bed ICU hospital. Many patients were outside, there was no electricity, no pain medications available, and the building was structurally unsound.
One night, the team went to search for 26 IV bags for patients, and were told there were only six. It was a nightmare situation having to figure out who received the limited supplies. The heat, humidity, and stench were intense. With nothing to work with and most patients with massive injuries, much of their care was just trying to provide comfort.
With near physical and mental exhaustion, Peter and the dentist walked out at 1:00 AM in the morning, sat on the steps of the hospital, and said they couldn’t take it anymore. After all, the work was beyond the scope of their abilities and neither one of them was trained. After sitting on the steps for 1 ½ hours, they decided if not us, then who. They stood up, ripped off sleeves of their shirts, and decided it was time to take care of the patients. As they worked, miraculously Peter didn’t sweat anymore or smell the stench, and they did not lose a single patient that night! It was definitely a spiritual moment.
Peter carries a Teddy Roosevelt quote with him and wants it shared in his funeral program.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
When asked about a final message to listeners, Peter said, “Inspire others. By inspiring yourself, you will inspire others to make a difference.”
“It (flying around the world) really became a reality when we had a purpose.”
“Believe in what you’re doing, do the best you can, and then take a step forward, pray about it, and somebody else higher than you will make your trip safe.”
“We have an opportunity to train and encourage the next generation.”
“Don’t be afraid of failure and embrace those spiritual moments.”
Peter Teahen’s curriculum vitae
Flight to End Polio