The University of Latvia Foundation in recent conversation with Peter A. Ragaušs – a board member of Friends of the University of Latvia and Baltic-American Freedom Foundation (BAFF), Honorary Consul of Latvia in Texas and a long-time director of various major US energy companies – talks about his connection to Latvia, his Latvian ethnicity and the local Latvian community in the US, his projects in Latvia and his belief in importance of donating to the University of Latvia and higher education overall.

With roots in Latgale

Scholarship "Ceļamaize" welcomes the newest member to join its circle of patrons, Peter Aloizs Ragaušs. His contribution, starting from 2019/2020, will provide for two additional special scholarships will be awarded to the first-year undergraduate students of the University of Latvia with origins in Latgale. The scholarship "Ceļamaize" is aimed at young, diligent, capable and socially active students to promote their growth and excellence.

Peter A. Ragaušs grew up in the state of Michigan, but his family roots come from Latgale – her mother’s – near Rogovka and his father’s – near Viļāni. One pair of Peter’s grandparents was deported to Siberia, while his remaining family fled to Germany during World War II and eventually ended up in the USA.

Growing up in Michigan, the local Latvian community had their own Catholic church, gathering around 250 people, all Catholics from Latgale. "We called it our own Lady of Aglona," Ragaušs recalls. When travelling opportunities to his homeland were opening up in 1989, Peter visited Latvia for the first time together with his mother and sister, suitcases full of cosmetics, medications and other consumer goods hard to get in Latvia during those times. In later years, he met his cousins in Latvia and remained in touch with them ever since.

A donation to UL can have a significant impact on someone’s life

As one of the newest board members of the UL Foundation partner organization "Friends of the University of Latvia" (anno 2012) P. A. Ragaušs’ vigour and dedication to improving Latvia’s higher education, business relations and culture is inspiring. In response to the question of why improve higher education opportunities, Peter A. Ragaušs cites the examples of how far energetic and bright people can go, if they receive an extra boost. Just from his experience with the BAFF’s program of bringing recent college graduates from the Baltics to the US for a 1-year internship, two recent BAFF alumni are now in Latvian and Lithuanian government. "They were already doing well in university and that’s how they were selected for the program, which helped accelerate them, and now they’re in the position they are in. Universities are usually operating at a deficit, not a surplus, and for those students to get a boost, it takes private contribution, typically," Ragaušs adds.

In Peter A. Ragaušs’ mind, if the best students – the students with the highest grades and the best performance – are the ones who qualify for scholarships, then by supporting the universities and foundations that go on to provide these scholarships, you are by default supporting the best students who are likely going to be in positions of influence later on. "So, you can almost be sure your investment is being spent on promoting the most promising students and the highest quality leaders the country is going to have in the future," Ragaušs believes.

As a Harvard University alumnus, Peter A. Ragaušs could be donating to his alma mater. But he points out that Harvard already receives plenty of funding, whereas donations elsewhere might have a larger marginal impact. "I could give here in the US or I could do it in a small country like Latvia. Giving in Latvia would pay off several times more and would create a several times greater benefit as in the US. That’s the pitch I often give – you could donate to, say, UCLA or Harvard, but if you donate to the University of Latvia, that donation will make a much bigger difference to someone’s life. That’s true of any philanthropic activity," Ragaušs concludes.

The Latvian spirit in the Houston community

Currently living in Houston, Peter has been hosting Latvian national holiday get-togethers several times a year and, more recently, Latvian movie nights for the local community of Latvians. It is worth remarking that the first film screened was the Latvian melodrama "Cilvēka bērns", which reflects the life of a Latgalian family and tells the story of traditions and values passed on generation to generation. "We have the dancing group "Matenieki" coming in May and Māris Briežkalns’ quintet "Rothko in Jazz" coming too, especially because we also have this Rothko Chapel here in Houston, believe it or not", Ragaušs shares excitedly. "We try to have a number of events so people can network and socialize – it’s pretty active, and most of the activities happen in my residence." The Houston Latvian community also gathers for Midsummer Celebration (Līgo, Jāņi) and Independence Day.

"I retired from a full-time job 4 years ago and immediately started getting involved in Latvian affairs. Latvia is a small country, so it’s is an easy place to get focused and everybody knows everyone else," says Ragaušs. During these last 4 years, Peter A. Ragaušs has made rich contributions to preserving and popularizing Latvian culture. Most notably, Peter starred as a main character in the Latvian and US film-award winning documentary "Land of fate" ("Likteņzeme"), a story of the search for his post-War War II parted lineage in Tomsk, Siberia. He has also provided English translations to Latgalian films such as "Latgalīši Pīterpīlī" and "Gambit of 1917", and books written by his Latgalian uncle Juoņs Cybuļskis. as well as supported various other projects spreading Latgalian culture – films, books, exhibits and concerts. Last year Peter A. Ragaušs helped to implement illumination of the Niagara Falls in Latvian flag colours for Independence Day. The patron has even taught himself to play the traditional Latvian string instrument kokle.