Leaving a Legacy: Rose Petersen ’57 (1936-2014)

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Rose Petersen ’57 died peacefully Feb. 18, 2014, in the arms of her loving husband, Don, and surrounded by family. She fought the good fight for 13 years after being diagnosed with lymphoma, but in the end, was no longer able to combat the disease.

Rose and Don were instrumental in the recent redesign of the Gesell Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and the Rose and Don Petersen Hands-on Learning Lab. Students in the 4k program now have a space where they can learn about the importance of food–Rose’s passion–from growing their own garden to preparing meals in the kitchen. Gesell is a collaboration between the Stevens Point Area Public School District and UW-Stevens Point where dietetics and early childhood education students gain valuable hands-on experience.

rosepetersen201403bShe was born Rosalyn Mavis Lee in Lodi, Wis., the eldest daughter of Russell and Lela Lee who farmed lush acreage near Madison, Wis. The foundation of Rose’s passion for the earth, her work ethic and dogged determination were set by this early experience. She was an “A” student and put herself through college by working summers and after classes during the school year. Rose was the only one of six children to graduate from college, earning a B.S. from the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point in secondary education, with an emphasis on early childhood. She was not only talented, but beautiful, inside and out, serving in 1957 as her alma mater’s homecoming queen and the TKE Fraternity Sweetheart.

Married to Don in 1959, Rose taught high school home economics for two years in East Troy, Wis., while Don finished his university studies. They then began their great adventure together. Rose worked as a hospital dietitian in Milwaukee, Don as a banker. A job change took them to Seattle for eight years, where their children were born, and then on to their present home in Portland. Time filled quickly while pursuing their individual professions, raising two active children, community activities and immersing themselves in nature’s Pacific Northwest splendor. They traveled extensively both in the United States and abroad. Many traditions were established…the family easter egg hunts, Thanksgiving dinners (no one could stuff and cook a turkey like Rose), Christmas morning omelets with Danish abelskivers, birthday hikes and, when the kids were small, Sunday night TV with “black cows” and hot buttered popped corn.A lifelong educator, Rose taught adult classes and high school. Her passion, however, was early childhood education. She started and operated early childhood programs at the Oregon Health Sciences University (Hill Learning Center), in Beaverton (Davis Learning Center), in Astoria (Astoria Learning Center) and for corporate employees at Sequent, now an IBM subsidiary (Sequent Learning Center).


rosepetersen201403fA former high school student of Rose’s who became a close friend, Linda Russell of the Seattle area, provided the following tribute, which captures the essence of her teaching style and commitment: “So, I wonder if God is ready for the dynamo about to hit that beautiful place called Heaven today? My friend, Rose Petersen, arrived there last night, hopefully rested well and is now on her way to the children’s area. She will make plans for an expanded Lego room, contract for new building blocks and start unpacking her “tried but true” boxes of hands on learning materials. There will not be one electrified item in the inventory, trust me! No need for them, as Rose believed kids experimented their way toward knowledge…digging in dirt, cutting with scissors and manipulating found objects to satisfy their curiosity and promotion of understanding. Also, no need for streets of gold….Rose will be down on the floor with the kids, wearing her well worn jeans and buttoned down oxford shirt, asking those now familiar questions, ‘What do you think if…?’ and ‘How does that change things?’


rosepetersen201403aRose was not a showman, not that kind of teacher. It was about the kids, what they thought and what they had to say.  She had quiet impact on every student whose life she touched. Every parent perhaps did not understand her ways, but every kid did and that is what counted. There will be a little hole in so many hearts today as they learn that their beloved teacher has passed.” Rose was many things to many people…teacher, of course, wife, mother, grandmother, friend, benefactor, advisor and counselor. She didn’t care who you were or what you were. If you shared her passion for education, conservation and family, she was your friend. She exuded grace and acceptance. She was generous to people and causes she admired. To her grandchildren, she was their friend, confidant, advisor and teacher. Many memories were made with Rose and her grandchildren cooking, reading books, picking berries together and asking lots of those “What if…?” questions.

To her husband, Don, she was that and more. Over time, Rose and Don’s love grew as they each acknowledged the other’s strengths and valued more each day the richness of their relationship. They cultivated a strong and lasting bond of love, respect and trust.

Rose admired the lifestyle of the Native American people because of their care of the earth and things on it. Her interests here guided her to the Lelooska family in Ariel, Wash., where she became a personal friend of Chief Lelooska and then served on the Lelooska Foundation Board until her death. Rose loved putting her hands into the earth and watching nature’s miracles spring forth. A lifelong Christian, the outdoors were her cathedral. She passed many a contented hour planting and nurturing seeds in the greenhouse Don built for her. Neighbors and friends were the happy recipients of her tomatoes and tomato plants, dahlia bulbs, strawberries and plums.

rosepetersen201403cRose is survived by her husband of 54 years, Don; son, Bryan; daughter and son-in-law, Linda and Chris Marino; grandchildren, Jacquelyn Marino, Alexis Marino and Adam Petersen; brothers, Robert, Roger and Ronald Lee; sisters, Alice and Janice; and many nieces and nephews. Just this past summer, Rose was able to spend time in Wisconsin with her brothers and nieces, Diane Lee and Judith Lee, of whom she was very fond.

The family asks that contributions and remembrances you wish to make be sent to the UW-Stevens Point Foundation (please designate the “Rose (Lee) Petersen Memorial Fund”) and mail to the UW-Stevens Point, College of Professional Studies, Room 110, 1901 Fourth Ave., Stevens Point, WI 54481, to support early childhood education, which Rose believed to be the very foundation of success and happiness. A private family service will be held soon along with a separate celebration of Rose’s life at a time and place to be announced later.

Published in The Oregonian from Feb. 27 to Mar. 2, 2014