38 n July / August 2014 n www.faith Today.ca
the brothers borrowed the money to finance the purchase
of the nursing home. Within a couple of years, they bought
another one, and then another. A few years after that, Reg’s
brother asked his younger sibling to buy him out. Reg did,
and suddenly found himself president of a nursing home
business. He left his accounting job.
“I realized I was all alone,” he says. “I remember – very
distinctly – deciding that my new partner was God.” It was
a pragmatic decision, born of the recognition that he would
need help. But Petersen is a pragmatist. He’s also an opti-
mist, and a visionary. “I thought, ‘Well, now I’m into it.
We’re gonna make this thing grow.’”
And grow it did. By the time Petersen sold Versa-Care
in 1997, it included 47 facilities in three provinces – 5,000
employees cared for more than 6,500 residents. It was the
largest nursing home company in Ontario and the second
largest in the nation.
But it was well before all that growth occurred that
Petersen had decided to do something tangible to demonstrate God really was his partner. That something was
Bridgeway Foundation has donated more than $32 mil-
lion to date (mainly to Christian nonprofit organizations
throughout Canada), supporting roughly 75 organizations
each year. Ten per cent of what Bridgeway gives is put back
into the Petersen family’s community of Cambridge, sup-
porting the local food bank, the community hospital and
other such organizations. Another 5 per cent goes into a
family fund in which each member of the Petersen family,
children, spouses and grandchildren over the age of 13, is
allotted money annually – to give to their favourite char-
ity. The family fund was established to bring Petersen’s
family together around giving, “to focus on others rather
than themselves,” he says.
One year after selling Versa-Care, Petersen directed his
efforts to investing to ensure continued income generation
for Bridgeway. This led to developing a management holding
company, which would eventually morph into the wealth
management firm known today as Southbridge Capital. One
hundred per cent of Southbridge profits go to Bridgeway.
In his memoir Building Bridges (Heritage Memoirs, 2011)
Petersen observes that he drove Southbridge much harder
than he ever did Versa-Care. The reason? The profits would
“have a direct impact on people’s lives around the world.”
God is not only Petersen’s partner in business. He is his
partner in life. Petersen worked hard at his day job, but
his priority was faith and family, and his family knew it.
Eldest son Mark says his father “was always home for
dinner. He was always around. He didn’t disappear into
Petersen seldom missed church, where he would take
meticulous notes during every sermon.
“My dad’s not a contemplative [person],” Mark says. “He
wasn’t one to have family prayer times. He wouldn’t play worship music. He’d just hear it on Sunday and try to live it out.”
Petersen retired recently from his generosity empire.
Southbridge is thriving. (His second son, Mike, who restructured the organization into a wealth management firm, has
taken over as president and CEO.) So is Bridgeway. (His
eldest son, Mark, is executive director.)
It was weeks after my meeting with Reg that the penny
dropped. One morning, I awoke with a vivid memory of the
chivalrous fellow who’d helped guide me out of my parking jam. An email confirmed my suspicion. It was Petersen
who had come along in answer to my adrenaline-fuelled
prayer. He hadn’t known it was me he’d helped, but he
remembered the incident.
It was a small gesture of kindness he extended that
day. But small gestures can reveal much bigger things. In
Petersen’s case his good-natured willingness to help a stranger in need was intuitive – and representative of a lifetime
of generosity and stewardship.
“When Christ was on Earth, He set an example of reach-
ing out to the poor and needy,” Petersen says in his memoir.
“As a follower of Christ I am committed to helping those
same people. That’s my role and that’s what drives me – to
see our companies grow and give to the needs of people
throughout the world.” FT
PATRICIA PAddEy of Mississuaga, ont., is
a senior writer for Faith Today.
Institute for Marriage and Family Canada
urban promise toronto
Context with lorna Dueck
Mission Aviation Fellowship
Save the Mothers
Redeemer university College
tyndale university College & Seminary