“When you have two hands and two arms, it would be terrible to have them glued to your sides. It’s absolutely imperative that you use them to serve, to love and to give.”
The above quote was just one of Peggy Peterson’s guiding beliefs. A widely beloved and acknowledged patron saint of the county’s musical arts community, Peggy died in her sleep at her San Luis Obispo home early Tuesday morning. She was 88.
Peggy was born Margie Harveline in Norton, W. Va., the oldest of five in a family that valued education — her father started the first PTA in Randolph County and regularly traveled to the state capital to address the Assembly on education, women and children’s issues.
Later, following a three-week romance, Peggy married the man who was to become her lifelong love, Gerry, and the couple moved to San Luis Obispo after World War II. Peggy graduated with the first coed class at Cal Poly with a master’s in English and would proudly profess through the years: “I’m an old Poly Dolly.”
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Peggy — and prior to his death in 2008, Gerry — were instrumental in nurturing the arts in San Luis Obispo, with special attention given to the San Luis Obispo Symphony, the Vocal Arts Ensemble and the Apex for Kids program, as well as the creation of the Performing Arts Center at Cal Poly.
I was fortunate to have known Peggy for some 55 years, having grown up in the Petersons’ neighborhood.
Warren Sinsheimer also grew up in that neighborhood, located near San Luis Obispo High School.
“My first interaction with her,” he recalls, “was when I was driving up San Luis Drive with my father, and her son, Bill, rode his bike out in front of us. He was OK, but I met Peggy when we took Bill to their door.”
Peggy and Warren’s paths would later converge in the 1980s when she and husband Gerry joined forces with Warren to spearhead fundraising for the Performing Arts Center.
“One thing that keeps coming to mind,” Warren added, “is that her generosity knew no bounds. She was passionate about a wide array of causes. People may pick up one particular thing to support, but she was passionate about all the arts, not just the symphony. She was equally passionate about anything that made kids’ lives better, and her generosity always followed her passions. She always had a warm glow when she thought of the generations of students she had while teaching; that was a great source of satisfaction for her.”
(As a student of her eighth-grade English class, I can attest to her effectiveness. I’d turned in an 11th hour paper that I couldn’t even blame the dog for eating and — I’ll never forget — she narrowed her eyes and said: “You can do better than this, Billy. And you’d better do better, because I expect better of you.” Yipes.)
She may have been petite in height, but she was long on heart and huge in her impacts on others.
“She certainly influenced people around her and filled up a space in a room with brightness and cheer,” Warren adds. “And that’s what she loved to do.”
In short, she could be as spicy as a pepperoni roll or as smooth as apple butter, whichever the occasion called for.
Gary Lamprecht, longtime maestro of the internationally regarded Vocal Arts Ensemble, recalls that Peggy was “one of the first people (wife) Pat and I met when we moved here in 1972. We were at Earl and Diane Blakeslee’s home for a read-through of Handel’s ‘Messiah.’ ”
Over the years, Peggy and Gerry traveled with the Vocal Arts, and Gary remembers with a laugh when they were on a 1999 tour of England, Ireland and Wales. Peggy didn’t get on the bus with the ensemble while in Bath, England, but, instead, called for a taxi, which turned out to be a Rolls Royce.
“The cabbie told her to climb in ‘because you’re the Queen Mum’ and taught her how to royally wave. That was so Peggy.
“She’s touched so many lives in so many ways,” Gary adds, “that she’s been a role model for so many of us. As she said, ‘Life is too short to find the negative things, because you’ll always find them, so look for the best.’ ”
“And she was generous to a fault,” he adds, “when it came to money or her time.”
She and Gerry made generous donations to Cuesta College, Cal Poly, the Elfin Forest in Los Osos and the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden. “Whatever makes life beautiful, we want to be part of,” she once said, “because that’s what makes us whole ... there’s a sense of satisfaction in watching things grow.”
Although she received numerous awards and recognition through volunteering her time and resources over the last 65 years — including director emeritus of the symphony board as well as the President’s Volunteer Service Award late last year — she wasn’t motivated by glory. As she said at one time: “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 life — and their own — why, then it’s worth every bit of it.”
Peggy served, loved and gave. And we thank her.
She is survived by daughter Merikay Guhring and son Bill Peterson; grandchildren Paula Reitsma, Courtney Arensdorf, Ellen Guhring, Valerie Peterson, Natalie Peterson, John Peterson, Nick Peterson, Shelly Hogan; and seven great-grandchildren. Son Gary preceded her in death.
Services for Peggy Peterson
There will be a viewing of Peggy Peterson at Reis Family Mortuary in San Luis Obispo today from 5 to 7 p.m. A private family burial will take place Friday.
On Saturday, a celebration of Peggy’s life will be held at the Cal Poly Performing Arts Center at 4 p.m. Doors will open at 3:30.
In lieu of flowers, Peggy’s family would appreciate donations to the Apex for Kids program in her name. Donations should be payable to the SLO Symphony Guild, P.O. Box 658, San Luis Obispo, CA 93406.