1996 Middleton High School grad dies a hero saving a young boy from drowning

Pete Rosengren was on vacation when a dangerous riptide put several children, including his own, in danger
Published: Aug. 19, 2021 at 10:59 AM CDT|Updated: Aug. 19, 2021 at 6:20 PM CDT
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CROSS PLAINS, Wis. (WMTV) - Family and friends are hosting a special event on Saturday in Cross Plains to honor a man who sacrificed his life to save a little boy from drowning. 42-year-old Pete Rosengren died in March while on spring break with his wife and three kids in the Florida panhandle.

“It’s not just heartbreaking, it’s soul crushing,” said Gayle Rosengren, Pete’s mother.

Gayle Rosengren says Pete’s three sons ran into the Gulf of Mexico and a strong rip current pulled them offshore. All three boys were able to make it back to the shore safely, but another boy was still struggling. Pete rushed into the water, reached the boy, and told him to stay calm.

“(Pete said to the boy) ‘I’ve got you; you’re OK, you’re going to be fine. Just don’t be afraid,” said Gayle.

Other rescuers equipped with a raft came into the water brought the boy safely back to the shore. But Pete went under the water and never came up.

“All I remember saying is ‘no, no, no,’ louder and louder and screaming in the end,” said Gayle of the moment she found out her son was gone. “It’s like this is just a bad dream and I’m going to wake up. And it takes a long time to realize that this dream never ends. I mean, this is a nightmare that is going to continue.”

Pete was born and raised in Illinois but moved to Middleton as a teenager. He graduated from Middleton High School in 1996.

Rosengren was a member of the MHS basketball team. He was also a member of the school's...
Rosengren was a member of the MHS basketball team. He was also a member of the school's volleyball team.(Krista Hanson)

“If I could hug him one more time, I would say how thankful I was to have him in my life,” said Katy Ripp, Pete’s classmate at MHS and lifelong friend. “He held on a little bit longer and it was just a big ‘Pete’ hug so I wish I could hug him one more time.”

“Pete had one of those personalities that can fill a room,” said Krista Hanson, another ‘96 MHS grad and Pete’s good friend. “He just had one of those sense of humors that drew him to you immediately.”

Pete Rosengren had a big smile and even bigger heart
Pete Rosengren had a big smile and even bigger heart(Krista Hanson)

Pete was born and raised in Illinois and returned to the Chicago area after he graduated from college in Kenosha. He was living in a Chicago suburb at the time of his death. Despite the distance, Ripp and Hanson say their high school crew all stayed in touch.

Gayle said she takes comfort in knowing that her son’s last act on this earth was to save that little boy’s life.

“I will always miss you and will always love you. There is just a hole in my heart that is Pete. But I am ever so proud of him,” she said.

Ripp owns 1909 Wine Bar in Cross Plains and is hosting an event to remember Pete’s life and legacy. The event takes place Saturday, August 21 at 4pm. Tickets are still available online. There will also be a raffle and silent auction. Ripp says the public is invited to attend.

All the money raised will go to Pete’s wife Maura and their three sons.

If you’d like to attend the event or want more info, click here

Pete (top center), Katy (right in front of Pete), and Krista (center) were part of a close...
Pete (top center), Katy (right in front of Pete), and Krista (center) were part of a close group of friends in high school(Krista Hanson)

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