RIVER FALLS -- Peter Noreen had no idea he was being awarded the 2020 MLK youth community service award. That is, until he showed up at an event where his name and a short account of his dedication to service was listed in the program.

“My mom was telling me to go, saying you have to go to this breakfast. So I went, and while there, they told me ‘Here's where you are on the agenda’.' And I was like, ‘What?’

"So that was kind of when I found out, and then it made sense why my grandparents were there,” Noreen said with a chuckle during an interview.

Noreen’s friend Alex Samargia, whom he has known since kindergarten, stepped up to the podium and teared up while presenting Noreen’s award at the Jan. 20 River Falls Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast program.

“Once I realized I was getting it, I was like, ‘Oh wow, I really hope Alex presents it’,” Peter said. “And then once she did, It was really sweet how she put a little bit of her own writing in there, that made it that much more special.”

Alex has had the pleasure to watch Peter grow into his leadership roles and selfless characteristics over the years just next door; their families live a couple blocks from each other in River Falls.

“He has been such a good friend,” Alex said in a later interview. “He’s so charismatic and caring about everything. He’s very sensitive and I know I can always go to him if I have a problem. He’s always there for me. He’s one in a million.”

His father, Mike Noreen, is an active member of the River Falls community, working full time as the city’s conservation and energy coordinator, serving on the Hope for Creation organization and keeping connected to those around him.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, according to Alex.

“I really think he takes after his dad very much, his dad is pretty much at every community event and he always brings Peter along with him. He knows how important being there for the community is,” she said.

Mike politely declined to comment in fear of bragging, but said in an email he thinks highly of his son and it was cool to see his son honored by the community for his work.

Patient, passionate, leader, friend, athletic, involved, dedicated, empathetic. You name it, Peter is it.

The River Falls High School senior has managed to touch the lives of fellow school peers, neighbors, church goers, sports teammates, strangers, even leaving his high school principal inspired.

“Peter is a servant leader through his actions more than his words, his calm presence under pressure in the classroom or on the athletic field is something that I have always admired,” Principal Kit Luedtke said. “Peter leads by doing. ... He understands the role of mentorship, leadership and character in doing the right thing even when it is difficult.”

Since Peter was little he has given his time to others, starting out as an elementary student helping with St. Bridget Catholic Church’s free dinners and the River Falls Municipal Utilities customer appreciation events with his dad.

During his time in middle and high school, Peter dedicated himself to volunteering for school dances, Teens as Teachers, as an Sunshine Fund ex-officio board member, Connecting All Together Socially or CATS, and Students Offering Support to name a few of his endeavors.

“Despite being a tremendous football player, team captain, and a starter on both offense and defense, what impresses me most about Peter is the type of person he is,” assistant football coach Ryan Scherz said. “He showed patient and empathetic leadership skills during the football season. He also shows high character by caring for and building relationships with students across the social spectrum, including student groups that can often end up socially disconnected.”

To Peter, befriending those who are different from him is no strange task. It comes naturally.

Kerri Olson is the mother of senior Carter Olson, who has autism. Kerri has watched Peter and Carter become the best of friends through CATS, where the two hang out at school or athletic events.

“Carter absolutely adores him. How he treats Carter like any other friend that he has. It’s high fives, it’s conversations. He makes him feel like one of the guys. He can read the situation and adjust and make Carter feel comfortable,” Kerri said.

Peter named CATS and his time with Carter as an outstanding memory and a favorite activity in high school.

“Carter is just a friend, and it’s not like we’re trying to do anything special or treat him any way special, he’s just a friend. It’s a really special experience to have,” Peter said.

What drives Peter to do everything he’s done in the past years? Empathy and selflessness.

“I have a fair amount of time and I’m somebody that can do it. I think if there are people who are less fortunate than me, and if they need help, then who else but me? Somebody needs to step up. If it's not you, who will? A lot of it is like, ‘What would I do if I were in this situation? Would I want someone to step in? Would I be the person that I’d want to have step in?’ It’s the Golden Rule thing. Treat others the way you want to be treated.”

Fittingly, Peter is eyeing a potential career in nursing, but is attending University of Colorado Mesa in Grand Junction with an open mind and declaring himself undecided.

“I want to meet new people, try something different, why not?”