The baby grand stands in the McNitt living room in Winnetka. Peter McNitt, 62, probably thinks of his late grandmother, “Mac” (Louise), each time he glances at the piano.
Mac produced music from the seat accompanying the instrument, well before it would start its second life primarily as a striking piece of furniture under her son’s roof.
“My grandmother lost her husband at a young age and raised three boys, all on her own,” McNitt says from a booth in Ridgeview Grill Restaurant in Wilmette, his order of scrambled eggs and a cup of fruit on its way. “She worked as an assistant in a dentist’s office. Very positive, inspirational. A wonderful woman.
“I’m going to learn to play the piano,” adds the BMO Harris Bank Vice Chair, a choral group member during his days as a soccer/baseball player at New Trier East High School. “I’m not sure when, but that’s my plan.”
McNitt, a Winnetka resident for most of his life, shifts his thoughts to the subject of Elizabeth Juarez, the mother of Abner Garcia, a former member of Urban Warriors, a YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago-based organization. The program pairs veterans with youth exposed to violence in Chicago neighborhoods. Abner was a U.S. Army vet. He’d enlisted at the age of 19. Juarez supported the decision, thinking wherever her son would serve would likely be in a safer environment than the one in Chicago. The son returned to his hometown in 2015 and joined Urban Warriors. He mentored teens from Little Village.
Abner Garcia died in August, at the age of 23 — a victim of gun violence. In Chicago.
“His mother told her son’s tragic story and the impact he’d had on at-risk kids at our recognition dinner,” McNitt, Chairman of the Board of Managers for the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago, says, alluding to the 2016 Y. So Much More Recognition Dinner held last month at the Four Seasons Hotel in Chicago. “Most people think the YMCA is about swimming and playing sports in a gym, and we’re proud of that part of the organization’s legacy. But the Y is much more than that, so much more. It’s committed to academic mentoring, to violence prevention, to healthy living and fitness, to character development.”
Other stories were told at the dinner. Moving ones. A mother raised the children of her deceased daughter and praised a local Y for assisting her throughout the years. A young man named Noah was homeless, the son of an incarcerated mother, before finding hope and inspiration at a Y. He is a rap musician today, taking classes at Alabama A & M University, hoping to become a math teacher someday.
McNitt attended the dinner to accept the Y’s 2016 More than a Partner recognition on behalf of BMO Harris Bank.
“Giving back, serving others, serving on boards of organizations … it’s what many of our employees at BMO do,” McNitt says. “We are not just committed to our clients’ needs, to helping them succeed; we’re also deeply involved in strengthening our clients’ communities.”
McNitt could easily pass for a U.S. Ambassador. He is neat from head to toe, respectful and friendly and fit, professional and introspective. If “Tact” isn’t his middle name, it should be. He belongs in an embassy in another country, representing all that is good about the U.S.
“I am a diehard Midwesterner,” says McNitt, an Amherst College graduate who attended Northwestern University’s Graduate School of Management and the Graduate School of Credit and Finance at Stanford University. “I considered looking for a job in New York or Boston [after his Amherst years], but I am grateful that I am here, still in the Chicago area, still enjoying everything about my 40th year with BMO, a bank with tremendous values.”
McNitt grew up in Winnetka and attended The Skokie School. An eighth-grade teacher there encouraged a young Peter to immerse himself in the new Science Core program, convinced he’d excel in the classes. Peter’s confidence soared. One of three sons of Bill and Charlotte (“Cherry”), Peter, a devoted Chicago sports fan, shared a house with a dog named Luis, named after Chicago White Sox great Luis Aparicio.
Years later, post-college, Peter and brother Jim, now 65, became standout paddle tennis players, achieving a national men’s doubles ranking of No. 2. Both still play regularly. So does Peter’s wife, Jane, another crack competitor in one of the North Shore’s popular winter sports. They have three children (Peter, John and Megan, ranging in age from 23 to 19), each with ties to the University of Richmond.
Peter, the father and a 1972 New Trier East HS graduate, caught up recently with one of his sons studying abroad, in Barcelona. The two-time cancer survivor — “I’m a thriver,” he says, flashing a healthy smile — also visited Italy during the trip. Peter and Jane are members of a Vacation Club. They and several other married couples like to dig up their passports and travel together, usually every other year.
“It’s been a privilege for me to be able to do so many different things,” McNitt says.
Playing the piano is a different thing.
A baby grand awaits.
It isn’t going anywhere.