Legacy of Two Hearts

Legacy of Two Hearts

Jack and Kay Daniels' gifts to St. Catherine stand as a testament to their love and family ties to the University.
By Pauline Oo

IT WAS VALENTINE’S DAY 1939. A group of boys stood awkwardly on one side of the room while the girls sat primly on the other. Each teenager held half a paper heart, fashioned from red construction paper and decorated with unique patterns. Their instructions were simple: find the other half of your heart and you’ll find your first dance partner. John “Jack” Daniels crossed the room and found Katherine “Kay” Pieters ’48. Their hearts came together perfectly.

“I love telling the story of how we first became involved in our freshman year of high school,” he says. “Kay had another boyfriend at the time and I kind of stole her from him. We dated all through high school, and even though we would go with other people during the summers, we always were back together come fall semester.”

The rest was history.

After 62 years of marriage, Kay died in 2011. To honor her memory, Jack recently made yet another gift to St. Catherine University. He converted his estate gift to a $262,000 scholarship fund — one that bears both their names — to support current students.

Here, Jack sheds light on why he continues to give.


Jack and Kay’s connection to St. Kate’s began in 1944, when Kay enrolled in the University’s new program for early childhood education. A voracious reader with a sparkling personality, Kay wanted to teach. She lived on campus in Caecilian Hall, where she made lifelong friends and worked hard in her classes.

Jack, on the other hand, “went to the school of hard knocks,” he says. He left for Biloxi, Mississippi, shortly after Kay moved from Burlington, Wisconsin, to St. Paul. There he spent 17 months in naval training.

“We kept in touch pretty much by U.S. postal service,” he says. “If I were to get a leave, hopefully Kay could get home from college for a weekend.” Jack visited St. Kate’s once. “I remember Kay sitting on my lap,” he muses. “That was a big no-no on campus at the time.”

Upon graduation, Kay headed to East Troy. The small Wisconsin town needed a teacher — for about 30 four- and five-year-old children — but didn’t have much to offer.

“She was given a school room with a sandbox, a few books and a couple of toys,” says Kathleen “Kathy” Daniels ’73, her daughter and the director of the Catherine G. Murphy Gallery. “Fortunately, my mom could use the teaching materials she had collected from her St. Kate’s program. She ended up establishing the community’s very first kindergarten.”

Meanwhile, Jack returned to Kansasville, Wisconsin, after the war to work in his father’s grocery store. 1948 was a memorable year for him. It began with his father’s death and ended with his marriage to Kay. The years that followed saw Jack growing not only in his role as co-manager of the family business, alongside his brother, Robert, but in his responsibilities as a family man. Kay left teaching to raise their three children. But she continued her education through night school.

Tragedy struck the young family in 1960. Jack and Kay lost their first-born son to a sudden illness when he was 10. Shortly after his death, they packed up for Walworth, Wisconsin, where they had purchased the Baldwin IGA store.

“I had always dreamed of having a supermarket of my own,” Jack admits. And Walworth seemed like the perfect place to launch a business and for a family to start fresh. The town is close to beautiful Lake Geneva, a resort area popular with residents from Milwaukee and Chicago.


“It was tough sweating the first few years,” he says. “We were the little guy on the block. Kay and I worked 70 to 80 hours a week to get the business growing, and after a few years, we built a new store.”

Their 16,000-square-foot Daniels’ Sentry grocery store was the first of five under Daniels Food, Inc. Jack served as president and CEO of the supermarket group until his son, Terry, took over when he retired in 1992. “The big stores and chain stores came, opening left and right,” he says. “But they didn’t last. We had great customer service. Kay and I always knew the families who came in, and I could call almost everyone by their first name.”

In a short time, the couple went from hard-working business owners to well-respected business and community leaders.

Jack served on the Catholic Social Services Board of Directors in Kenosha and Milwaukee and joined former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson’s first trade mission to Asia. Kay served on the board at Lakeland Hospital in Elkhorn and was president of the Walworth Women’s Club, which was dedicated to community service and raising scholarship funds for high school students.

The Daniels also became generous benefactors. They established the John and Katherine Pieters Daniels Endowed Scholarship Fund at Catholic Central High School in Burlington, Wisconsin (formerly St. Mary’s High School, which they both attended), and the Katherine and John Daniels Charitable Trust to fund scholarships for young women at St. Catherine University.

“The Good Lord has greatly blessed us and we wanted to share our blessings with others,” says Jack. “We started thinking about planned giving when we were just middle aged, partially because we wanted to direct where our gifts went. You can’t take your money with you when you die, so you might as well plan on how you want to share it.”

Apart from his late wife and daughter, St. Kate’s was also the college of choice for Kay’s sister, Margaret “Peg” Pieters Stringer ’49, and three nieces, Judith Miller Stowell ’69, Catherine Stringer Shogren ’77 and Laurie Pieters ’82. These family ties are another reason Jack holds St. Catherine University close to his heart.

“St. Kate’s has been a part of my life ever since Kay began college back in 1944,” he says. “I believe, just as Kay did, in the vision and mission that St. Kate’s has embraced for over 100 years. Now, that’s a legacy!”

While two pieces of paper drew Kay and Jack together, it was true love that kept them that way. “It was pretty special to have the life and the children that we did,” he says.

Jack and Kay Daniels riding in a rumble seat.

Jack and Kay Daniels riding in a rumble seat.

, Jack Daniels and his daughter, Kathy, during a Baltic Sea cruise last year.

Jack Daniels and his daughter, Kathy, during a Baltic Sea cruise last year.


Honor someone you love:

  • Establish a scholarship or endow a program
  • Invest in a key institutional priority
  • Provide ever-important unrestricted support

Get started at stkate.edu/giftplanning.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, call Beth Riedel Carney ’82 at 651-690-6737.



“You can’t take your money with you when you die, so you might as well plan on how you want to share it.”  — Jack Daniels

Pauline Oo MAOL Cert ’14, MBA '16

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