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October 23, 2007
President's Message Upon the Death of Walter F. Peterson

It is with sadness and regret that I share with you that on Monday, October 23, Dr. Walter Fritiof Peterson, passed away at 87 years of age. Dr. Peterson was president of the University of Dubuque from 1970-1990; became the University's first and only Chancellor, 1990-2000, and was granted the titles of President Emeritus and Chancellor Emeritus upon his retirement.

Walter earned his bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees from the University of Iowa and began his teaching career, first in the Peace Corps, and then at Milwaukee's Downer College before moving to Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. There he held the Alice G. Chapman Chair in History, was director of continuing studies, and served as University librarian.

Walter Peterson left teaching and administrative duties at Lawrence to become president of the University of Dubuque in 1970 in the middle of one of the most tumultuous eras in our nation's history. Within the previous seven years, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert F. Kennedy had been assassinated; the Civil Rights Movement had reached the apex of activism; Lyndon B. Johnson had pushed through the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965; the conflict in Viet Nam had escalated to involve more than 500,000 U. S. troops; and anti-war sentiment had reached such a fever pitch that President Johnson elected not to run for a second term. Human rights, women's rights, students' rights, and faculty power movements also contributed to the societal sea change that was mirrored in academic life.

Walter's warmth of personality and ability to help people to come together was an asset in building relationships during these years. Creative and key partnerships evolved: Ecumenical and consortial initiatives such as the Schools of Theology in Dubuque brought Catholic, Presbyterian, and Lutheran seminaries together, the Tri-College agreement that allowed cross registration between UD, Clarke, and Loras students; arts and cultural programs for the public, including the Great Decisions Lecture Series; and international programs at both the College and the Seminary. The aviation program, master of business administration, nursing, and Native American programs were added to academic offerings as well as renovations to a number of campus facilities and the construction of the Stoltz Sports Center, Blades Chapel, Babka Bookstore, and the Farber Tennis Courts. Walter was instrumental in bringing to the Board of University Trustees several members whose length of service, devotion to the University, wisdom, and contributions have been essential to UD's Transformation.

Barbara and Walter Peterson made friends for the University across the tri-state area through their community service with the Dubuque Museum of Art, the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra, Finley Hospital Foundation, Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Four Mounds Foundation. Their gracious hospitality made all who crossed their path feel welcome and special. Their thoughtfulness was manifest in countless acts of kindness - especially their notes, letters, and newspaper clippings - in visits, flowers, and phone calls. Both Walter and Barbara have modeled personal courage in overcoming health challenges that would have limited many others.

As a University community, we give thanks to God for the life and work of Walter F. Peterson and express our deepest sympathy to Barbara and their sons, Pete and Dan, and grandchildren.