The mystery of Professor Peterson

Published 9:14 am Friday, April 22, 2011

Column: Between the Corn Rows

Not long ago, local historical researcher Kevin Savick gave me a news article from the Sept. 22, 1957, issue of the Tribune that immediately created several interesting questions.

The title of this news article written by Edith Chamberlain had the headline of “Albert Lean writes book about magazines.” I’m assuming Edith Chamberlain was a Tribune staff writer (reporter). However, the real mystery I confronted was based on the name of this new book’s author, Theodore (Ted) Peterson.

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Now, let’s face facts and local reality. The last name of Peterson is fairly common. Yet, there was a real clue in the news article. It said the book’s author was the son of Mr. and Mrs. T.B. Peterson Sr. of Albert Lea. With the excellent assistance of the research skills of Linda Evenson, the museum’s librarian, we found out the initial B was short for Bernard.

Linda also found out Theodore Bernard Peterson Jr. was born on June 8, 1918, in Freeborn County. His last residence was Champaign, Ill., and he died on Aug. 27, 1997. Also, his mother’s maiden name was Jensen.

Linda and I thought the obituary of the father (Sr.) who died in 1963 would help to make a connection and provide more information. We were unable to find his obituary. Instead, we found the obituary of his mother, Emilie (Jensen) Peterson, who died a year later in 1964. One of her sons was listed as Ted B. Peterson Jr. of Urbana, Ill.

Edith’s article reported that Ted Peterson was an Albert Lea High School graduate and attended the University of Minnesota. While at the university he was the editor of Ski-U-Mah, the campus humor magazine. By 1957 he was a professor and dean of the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. The book he wrote was “Magazines in the 20th Century,” published by the University of Illinois Press.

This 1957 Tribune news article said, “Prof. Peterson suggests that the magazine as an editorial medium has made many contributions to American life and culture. He lists as follows.

“First — Magazines have been responsible in some measure for social and political reforms in the past 50 years.

“Second — Magazines interpreted issues and events and put them on a national basis, not hour by hour or day by day but with a more leisurely examination.

“Third — The national viewpoint probably fostered a sense of national community feeling, readers all over the country reading the same magazine, providing a cultural bond between them.

“Fourth — Low cost entertainment, each reader has a vast choice from which to choose for his (or her) reading pleasure.

“Fifth — As an instructor in daily living it counsels them on child care, mental health problems, tells how to decorate homes, how to prepare food nutritiously and inexpensively and how to tend the garden.

“Sixth — Magazines have been an educator, with historical articles and have introduced the best in architecture, painting, sculpture and thought.”

I was unable to find out just when this professor graduated from Albert Lea High School and what his activities were as a student. My guess is either 1935 or ’36. In that era economic conditions were mighty tight. Thus, the high school yearbooks for a few years were called memory books and didn’t have much information at all.

I did more research to find out if Professor Peterson’s book published 54 years ago was still available. The results were negative. One can assume the book was intended for classroom and research purposes by college students and is now out of print.

There are obviously more details about this former resident which could be used for a future column. Hopefully, some reader can supply this information.

Ed Shannon’s column has been appearing in the Tribune every Friday since December 1984.