Peter Petersen

Peter L. Petersen

February 7, 1935 - February 5, 2020
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Peter L. Petersen Ph.D. (84) died Wednesday, February 5, 2020 in Amarillo TX. Visitation will be Sunday, February 9, 2020 from 3:00 to 5:00 P.M. at Brooks Chapel in Canyon. Services will be held on Monday, February 10, 2020 at 2:00 P.M. at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church, 3500 South Bowie, Amarillo, TX. Honorary Pallbearers are Peter’s former students and colleagues. Arrangements by Brooks Funeral Directors of Canyon.

Peter Lewis Petersen was born February 7, 1935, on a farm near Harlan, Iowa, the first of Allen and Clara (Juhl) Petersen’s four sons. He attended one-room schools through the sixth grade and graduated from Manning High School in 1953. He then joined the Army and was trained as a heavy equipment operator. Assigned to the Air Force as part of the Special Category Army With Air Force (SCARWAF) program, he worked on the construction of American airbases in France and Germany. Following his discharge in 1956, he continued to work as an equipment operator.

In 1958 he enrolled at Dana College in Blair, Nebraska, where he earned a degree with honors in history and served as president of the student body. At Dana, he met the love of his life, Shirley Thompson, a student from Graettinger, Iowa, and they were married on August 19, 1962. He received a master’s degree in history from the University of South Dakota in 1963 and a Ph. D. in history from the University of Iowa in 1971.

In 1967 he accepted an appointment at what is now West Texas A&M University in Canyon and taught American history there until his retirement in 2000. A highly respected and popular professor, “Dr. Pete” was the recipient of many honors during his lengthy tenure at WT, including twice being named by the student government as “The Outstanding Member of the Faculty.” In 1988 the Phoenix Club presented him with the University Excellence Award and two years later the Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation of San Antonio named him a Piper Professor. In 1997 he became WT’s first Texas A&M Regents Distinguished Service Professor.

He served twenty years as faculty sponsor of the Texas Zeta Chapter of Alpha Chi, the National College Honor Scholarship Society and was the first faculty member to be elected President of the WT Foundation. In 1997 Dana College gave him a “Distinguished Alumnus award and 2003 WTAMU named him Professor Emeritus. In 2013 the Organization of American Historians named him a “Distinguished Member.”

Dr. Pete authored two books and compiled and edited two additional volumes. He contributed more than thirty articles or chapters to various scholarly journals and books and published nearly sixty book and film reviews. He was a contributor to many reference books, including the Dictionary of American Biography and the Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America. He also participated in several international conferences.

Following his retirement, he was editor or assistant editor for 14 years of The Bridge, the journal of the Danish American Heritage Society. He also served on that organization’s Board of Directors as well as on the executive board of Danish American Archive and Library. He belonged to several other historical organizations including the Panhandle-Plains Historical Society.

A lifelong Lutheran, he was a member of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Canyon for more than three decades before joining Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in Amarillo. In 2009 he co-authored with Frederick W. Rathjen a centennial history of Lutherans in the Texas Panhandle. He served on the boards of the United Campus Ministry and Canyon Meals on Wheels, volunteered at Canyon Cares, a local food pantry, and taught in the Elderhostel and WTAMU continuing education programs. He was a member of the WTAMU Centennial Committee and Sybil B. Harrington College of Fine Arts and Humanities Advisory Board. Despite a busy retirement, he found time to enjoy travel, reading, WT athletics and especially his grandchildren.

He was preceded in death by his parents, his brother John, and sister-in-law Pamela. Survivors include Shirley, his wife of 57 years, two sons, Eric (Debbie) of Pueblo, Colorado, and Brant of Omaha, Nebraska, three grandchildren, Megan and Luke Petersen of Pueblo, and Zane Petersen of Omaha, two brothers, Roger of Blair, Nebraska, and Everett (Doreen) of Hampton, Iowa and numerous nieces and nephews.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests contributions to the Peter L. Petersen Scholarship in History in care of the WT Foundation, WT Box 60766, Canyon, TX 79016, or The Food Pantry at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church, 3500 South Bowie, Amarillo, TX 79106.

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Service Details

  • Visitation

    February 9, 2020 | 3:00pm - 5:00pm
    February 9, 2020 3:00pm - 5:00pm
    Brooks Chapel
    1702 5th Ave
    Get Directions: View Map | Text | Email
  • Service

    February 10, 2020 | 2:00pm
    February 10, 2020 2:00pm
    Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church


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Gary, Debbie and David, Beth and Zane Petersen, and other have sent flowers to the family of Peter L. Petersen.
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Roger Short

Posted at 12:58pm
So saddened to learn of Dr Peterson’s passing. He was one of my favorite professors ever and a friend. I interviewed my grandmother for one oof his assignments in 1975 and found out so many things about her life I’d never have known. I still have it and am forever grateful to him for that lesson! He was one of the kindest men I’ve ever known! Every time I’d run into him around Canyon he would always take time to visit. I’m so sorry I just found out but my prayers are for comfort to all his family. God Bless, he will be truly missed by many! Isaiah 40:31

Gwynne La Brie Walker

Posted at 11:01am
I grew up with Brant and Eric on the local swim team and my father worked with Dr. Peterson at WT. We only lived about three to four blocks away and summers were filled with bike riding down to the park. I have fond memories of Dr. Peterson's smile and kindness and know he will be greatly missed by many. My prayers go out to the family and all those who loved and new him.


Posted at 10:21am
I recall Dr. Petersen as the best university professor I may have ever had. I personally knew the family as Pete and Shirley at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Canyon. My condolences to the Petersen family. May time heal your pain.
Nancy (Meyer) Mooring

Carol Juhl

Posted at 03:11pm
My condolences to Shirley and the Peterson family. He was such a good man and he will be missed.
My late Dad thought very highly of him and was so kind to him and our family.
We loved how he shared the Juhl family history with everyone.
Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

Gary, Debbie and David

Posted at 09:54am
Our thoughts and prayers are with you.
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