WORTHINGTON - Today, Dale Peters and Dorothy Graf are both residents of Ecumen Meadows.
Nearly 46 years ago, they were both at the scene of the one of the most notable bank heists in regional history.
Peters, now 87, became a resident at Ecumen Meadows on Sept. 5, 2017, and Graf moved in the latter part of the following month. She began meeting her neighbors, and the gentleman in the apartment two doors down brought an instant recollection.
“Jodi (Ecumen Meadows Marketing Director Bentele) had told me he was here, and when I saw him I knew him right away,” Graf said.
Peters remembered Graf, too. How could he not, given what transpired that day?Dec. 20, 1972
Peters, who became Nobles County Sheriff in 1966 and remained in that office for 28 years, recalled that he’d been in Mobridge, S.D., with his wife, Donna, on Dec. 20, 1972 picking up a prisoner - “it was a really bad icy, rainy day,” he recalled - and was on his way back to Worthington when he learned about the robbery over the radio.
He called into dispatch and requested a car be sent out to Diagonal Road and old Nobles County 16, in order to pick up the prisoner and Donna. After that transpired, he went on to Brewster.
“I got in to Brewster and came slowly up to the bank and pulled a shotgun out of the car and went on in,” Peters explained. “It was supposed to be closed at that time of the day. I got in there and saw a man laying on his stomach with what was supposed to be a bomb on his back. There were others employees were sitting around there in chairs... . I don't remember a lot because it all happened pretty fast.”
Three female bank employees - two tellers and Graf, the bookkeeper - had been tied up with clothesline rope with their mouths covered by tape, as had bank president Hal Ray. They’d been told not to move, as the robber had pretended to connect them to the apparent bomb. They had been told the bomb would detonate if they moved or at 6 p.m., whichever came first.
One of the tellers who had been tied up, Francis Harms, was able to wriggle and place the first call for help.
“Somehow Francis was kind of skinny and she squeezed out of the rope,” Graf said. “We were so happy when he (Peters) came to the bank. It seemed like we had been tied up there forever … and then he just let us free.”
Peters said the bank robber had already left the premises by the time he’d arrived, and that no one had seen the car or any other clues that would assist in apprehension. The robber had been around the bank for a couple of days, the former sheriff added, staking out the future scene of the crime.
Still, Peters believed he had to act quickly, given the situation.
“I just looked at them (tied-up employees) and then looked at the guy who had the bomb on his back,” Peters said. “I knew he wasn’t going to make it there very long.
“I looked closer and didn’t think it was a bomb. I grabbed it gently, went out the back door and placed it outside near a large tree back there. Then I took my patrol car and drove over it, so if it did go off, much of the force would be absorbed by the car.”
As the Worthington Globe later reported in its Dec. 21, 1972 edition: “Four tubes of newspaper from the Minneapolis Tribune were rolled up and wrapped in a reddish brown waxy paper almost the exact color of dynamite. Four “D” size flashlight batteries were connected into the package with multiple strands of wire, and the entire bundle was wrapped with black electrician’s tape and aluminum foil.”
Peters then went back in and freed the employees, and got whatever information he could those who had been inside. Even people outside failed to get a glimpse of the suspect, he added.
The interaction that day between Peters and Graf was far from their first. Both Graf and her husband, Gaylord - who died 20 years ago - were already acquainted with Peters and his wife.
“His wife told my daughters to swim, and she made a good impression,” related Graf, who has four daughters in all. “My daughter Carolyn, who’s 72 and lives in Portland, Ore., still swims every day.”
Incidentally, no one was ever apprehended in connection with the robbery. According to the Dec. 21, 1972 Globe, the cash loss at the bank was “nominal.”
“The only thing we found as a possible clue was a little card that come from Electric Park, it was called, down east of Spencer, Iowa,” Peters noted. “I went down there later on, and was just a park out in the country. Maybe he (robbery suspect) stayed there overnight; I don't know.”Life at Ecumen Meadows
Peters became a resident at Ecumen Meadows soon after a fall at Canterbury Downs a few months before. He still enjoys going the horse races every so often - he owned and kept horses locally for years - but also finds plenty to keep himself occupied here in Worthington.
“I take in all the baseball games across the road - high school, VFW, Legion, all of them,” he said. “I like watching the Twins; I have all my life. My life has just been made easier for me here.”
While his wife died several years ago, Peters also has a foster daughter, Barbara Cook, who lives in Sioux Falls, S.D. and visits him regularly.
Graff, meanwhile, gets frequent visits from her daughter in Windom. She’ll celebrate her 95th birthday later this month.
“It was four and half miles north of Brewster where I used to live,” Graf said. “The last week in September (2017), I had a fall in my home. … the doctors then said I couldn’t live at home anymore.
“They’re all very kind, the people that work here,” she continued. “I exercise five times a week … and do lots of activities.”
“This is a wonderful place,” Peters added. “I just can’t believe how this has been here. They’ve taken awfully good care of me.”