The Trials & Tribulations of Wesley Chapel’s Karaoke Legend
When I first met the man I now know as “Wild Bill” Peterseim, he was singing a medley of Elvis tunes at what was then City Grill (it’s now O’Brien’s) in the Wesley Chapel Village Market on S.R. 54.
I was just minding my own business, waiting for my turn to sing, when this slim, 70+-year-old man dropped to the floor and banged out at least 40 pushups during a 45-second musical interlude.
From that point forward, Wild Bill and an impressed certain publisher and editor became friendly, as we are both part of a crowd of regulars who go to O’Brien’s as many Wednesday and Thursday nights as possible to get our regular karaoke fix.
Flash forward at least two years. Wild Bill sought me out to tell me that he had a similar experience as something he read about in the Neighborhood News.
“I read that story about the lifeguard who saved that girl’s life at the New Tampa YMCA,” he said. “I saved someone’s life the same way last year.”
The girl Wild Bill was referring to was an experienced, but young synchronized swimmer who swam so far underwater she lost consciousness. The New Tampa Y lifeguard noticed the girl’s leg twitching uncharacteristically, and just as she started to go down, jumped in and saved her life.
In Bill’s story, a large, 50-something man from India who was visiting a family member in Lexington Oaks — where Bill and his wife Linda (more on her below) have lived since 2011 — in the fall of 2016, also started having body spasms while swimming in one of the community clubhouse’s two conjoined pools.
“I don’t think either he or his wife really understood English, but I started calling out to him because I could see he was panicking and now, I could hear him choking,” Bill recalls. “He was in the deep end, but finally got close enough to the wall that I could reach him from behind and even though he outweighed me by at least 50 pounds, I was able to pull him out of the water in one motion.”
And, although one or two other people saw him accomplish this heroic feat, Bill attributes what he did to God. A man of great faith, he explained that he was planning to swim his usual at least one mile in the pool that day, but he decided instead to go for his personal record in chin-ups on the monkey bars in the children’s play area at the clubhouse.
“If I had gone swimming, I would have been done and out of there long before that man started drowning and he might have died that day,” Bill told me. “But, because I set my personal best of 320 chin-ups (in an hour and six minutes) that day instead, it took me a lot longer and I just happened to be walking by as the man started flailing. God guided me to put me in just the right place at the right time.”
Heroic From The Start…
Wild Bill — who was nicknamed that by a friend during his early karaoke days, in the 2000s, not his years in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War (he enlisted in the Air Force in 1963) — has a 140+ IQ and was gifted in science at a young age. In fact, he was a 19-year-old civilian Federal Communications Commission (FCC)-certified radar operator who was working at a military base in rural Maryland in September 1961, shortly after Bill’s 20th birthday, a few months after the Bay of Pigs incident in Cuba (which happened April 17 of that year).
It was there that he became the radar operator who was the first to “witness” a Soviet nuclear launch that took place in Siberia — literally thousands of miles from that unnamed base. At that time, the range of military radar was known to only be about 250 miles.
The amazing thing was — as he says he once told a retired Air Force General — “We were using low-frequency radar, reflecting off multiple layers of the ionosphere, over the north pole and over the central Siberian area, ranging 10 or 11,000 miles. And, the retired general’s jaw just dropped. He had never even heard (that radar could do that).”
It was during his time at this base that he was given his Top Secret clearance by the government (very rare for a U.S. civilian) and was watching the radar, when all of a sudden, “I see all of these spikes coming up all at once on the scopes, a big anomaly I had never seen before,” Bill says. “Within a minute, my boss, the radar project manager, and I were on the phone with the President (John F. Kennedy). He said, ‘Mr. President, we have verified that the Russians have just violated the nuclear test moratorium.’ And the last big nuclear arms race was on, until the last major treaty — the new nuclear moratorium of 1963 — that Kennedy signed before he was assassinated.”
Bill then worked with one-megaton nuclear missiles during his time in the Air Force and was thankful they weren’t used during his stint.
There’s Always A Girl…
Bill freely admits that he was ten years older than Linda, his beloved wife of 46 years, and he was 30 and she was 20 when they got married. Bill says he was actually neighbors with Linda’s best friend Marilyn when Bill was 24 and Linda was only 14. They only met once at that age, when Bill worked in his family’s RCA TV store, but Linda told her mother and Marilyn later that day that, “I just met the man I’m going to marry someday.”
Bill and Linda shared their strong Christian faith (she read thousands of books by Christian authors), but he also admits he wasn’t sure if 20-year-old Linda was “the one”…“Until the first time I saw her in a bikini.”
But, with their shared faith, “and the fact she took the wedding vows so seriously — good times and bad — she was always there for me. I just love her to pieces…and look forward to seeing her again.”
Bill had multiple long-term careers — including owning and running one of the largest Century 21 real estate brokerage firms in the Cleveland area in the 1970s and selling insurance, mutual funds, stocks — that kept the blissful couple in their native Ohio until the early 2000s, when they moved to Orlando.
Bill also became a Certified Financial Planner and a sometime Christian broadcaster when he and Linda lived in Orlando, and he started singing karaoke at the original Avalon Park development. That’s where he first met a very charismatic younger man named Chris Maguire, although the two weren’t involved in business together until years later, when Bill and Linda had moved to a rented home in Meadow Pointe.
Bill says that despite all of his experience, after the bottom dropped out of the real estate market here in Florida in 2007, he was having trouble finding work. Maguire offered him the opportunity to sell “proof of funds letters” in 2012. “I looked it up on-line and asked friends in the corporate world who said it’s a legitimate thing,” he says. “It just wasn’t legitimate with this guy.”
He adds that Maguire, “came with all kinds of credentials, and everything worked great for about a year and a half. And, I encouraged people — many of whom sought me out when they heard I was involved — to take money out of the investment. But of course, if you’re going to be a con man…a Ponzi scheme guy, you’re not going to be somebody that people hate.”
It wasn’t long after Bill got involved with Maguire that we met at City Grill. Despite his outgoing nature, Bill never mentioned anything to me about being bilked in a Ponzi scheme, but now, years later, he is still fighting the after-effects of being taken in by the man who is now serving 10 years in federal prison.
“He’s no Bernie Madoff, but he’s the same kind of guy,” Bill says. “A few people who got out early made money, but dozens of people lost millions of dollars to this guy.”
And, after buying their home in Lexington Oaks in 2014, Bill found out just how much of a victim he had been. After years of negotiating with the government, because Bill actually originally made money on Maguire’s scheme, he and Linda found out in mid-2017 that they would have to sell their $300,000 home in Lexington Oaks in order to pay back what the federal government told him that they owed.
It wasn’t long after the Peterseims found out that they could lose their home that Linda was diagnosed with a recurrence of the rare form of ocular melanoma that caused her to have her right eye removed three years ago.
“But, it seemed like they got it, because she was fine for almost three more years,” Bill says, “when she started having pressure and soon, terrible pain in her other eye. She passed away on November 16, only three weeks later.
I only met Linda once that I can recall — for Bill’s 75th birthday in 2016 — but even though Bill says she couldn’t handle how loud it is at most karaoke bars, including O’Brien’s, Jannah and I would see Bill, and our other O’Brien’s karaoke friends — Derrell, Jay W, Emil, PJ and John, to name a few — pretty much at least one day every week.
Bill and Derrell (the professional Elvis impersonator who also works at Costco) both sing a lot of Elvis and 1960s-era rock, while I skew more to 1970s icons like Billy Joel, Springsteen and the late, great Tom Petty. But, Bill always attracts attention from people of all ages, not only when he drops and gives everyone on hand anywhere from 30-55 pushups during any lengthy musical interlude, but also for his voice, his personality and his showmanship.
So, he’s been an American hero, a successful real estate guy, a broadcaster, a Ponzi scheme victim, a widower and a proud, faithful Christian who unsuccessfully hoped his savior could save his beloved wife. I’m hoping he’ll be able to negotiate a deal where he gets to stay in the home that he and Linda bought together, but he could be forced to sell it shortly after this issue sees print.
Either way, Wild Bill, it’s been a wild ride so far and the final chapter won’t be written until you and your beloved Linda meet again. In the meantime, keep singing and doing those pushups.
If anyone can help keep Bill in his home or wants to hire a truly great guy, please email me at GaryN44@yahoo.com.