My eighth- grade English teacher was, and remains, a force of nature. A redheaded dynamo of petite proportions who has taught generations of San Luis Obispo kids, she brooks no sass while finding humor and laughter wherever she sets her gaze.
I speak of my good friend Peggy Peterson.
Peggy and her late husband, the widely admired and beloved Gerry, are principal reasons why we have the San Luis Obispo Symphony and a Performing Arts Center.
Peggy has tirelessly worked on behalf of the symphony for almost 50 years, serving as president of the San Luis Obispo Symphony Guild and on the symphony’s board of directors. She earned the prestigious title of “director emeritus” in 1992.
The amount of time and money Peggy has dedicated to education — whether English or music — can’t be known; she’s never far from either subject.
In that light (and so many others), it makes perfect sense that Peggy will be honored with a national award Saturday when the Symphony kicks off its 50th season at Harmon Hall at the Performing Arts Center.
The honor is the President’s Volunteer Service Award, established in 2003 as a way to honor individuals who have “demonstrated exemplary citizenship through volunteering.”
“For more than 50 years, Peggy Peterson has shared her life, love of music, her passion for education and her generous spirit with the community of San Luis Obispo,” said Michael Nowak, music director of the symphony. “Peggy has played an integral role in making the San Luis Obispo Symphony what it is today.”
A certificate, pin and letter from President Obama will be presented to Peggy at a small ceremony before the 8 p.m. opening night concert. She’ll also be honored at a post-concert reception at Sage Restaurant.
Peggy was born in Norton, W. Va., the oldest of five in a family that valued education. According to a 1994 Telegram-Tribune profile on Peggy and Gerry, her father started the first PTA in Randolph County and regularly traveled to the state capitol to address the Assembly on education, women and children’s issues.
The couple moved to San Luis after World War II and Peggy graduated with the first coed class at Cal Poly. “I’m an old Poly Dolly,” she told reporter April Karys in 1994.
Although the music community may be the most visible of recipients of their largesse, Peggy and Gerry also donated heavily to a host of other good causes.
“Cuesta, Cal Poly, the Elfin Forest, the Botanical Garden — whatever makes life beautiful, we want to be part of,” Peggy told the T-T, “because that’s what makes us whole there’s a sense of satisfaction in watching things grow.”
Symphony spokeswoman Patty Thayer says, “It should be noted that Peggy has always been notorious about sharing the symphony wherever she is and whatever she is doing. She is well known for standing in the grocery line and getting people’s names and addresses to be added to the mailing list or purchasing blocks of seats for concerts and distributing them at the doctor’s office or bank.
Peggy has single-handedly increased the symphony’s mailing list by hundreds of names, simply by sharing her love of music wherever she is and with whomever she meets.”
Being recognized by the president for her volunteerism is nice, I’m sure Peggy’ll tell you. But what really drives her generosity of time, money and spirit is a sense that we’re all in this together.
What she told the T-T 16 years ago is still her credo today: “It isn’t important that our names are put in public places. What’s important is that we get to share something. If one can end one’s life feeling that they’ve brought joy to someone else’s — and their own — why, then it’s worth every bit of it.”
For tickets to the opening night symphony concert, go to www.slosymphony.com or call 543-3533.
Bill Morem can be reached at email@example.com or at 781-5852.