This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in October 2014 before the launch of this weblog.
F.M. Peterson, high school principal and superintendent
By Jared Olar
Pekin Community High School’s theater is named for and dedicated to F.M. Peterson. Older PCHS alumni will remember that Peterson was a longtime principal of the high school and superintendent of the high school district.
They might not remember, however, that he was also a veteran of both World Wars and a lieutenant colonel in the United States Air Force Reserves. These and other details of his life are mentioned in his Pekin Daily Times obituary.
Born Franklin M. Peterson on Aug. 7, 1896, in Brownstown, Ill., a small town on Illinois Route 40 between Vandalia and Effingham, he was a son of William F. and Lillian (Starnes) Peterson. He was 20 years old when the United States entered the First World War on April 6, 1917. During the war, Peterson served in the American Expeditionary Force in France. He was 22 when the Armistice was signed on Nov. 11, 1918.
After the war, Peterson went into the field of public education, serving as chief administrator of the schools in Tolono, Monticello and Coffeen. Three years after the war’s end, in 1921, he married Olga Clotfelter. His obituary does not mention that they ever had any children, however.
In 1938, he became the principal of Pekin Community High School, a position he would hold until 1954. During World War II, however, he was called away from his duties as principal for the added responsibility of service in the Army Air Corps. After the war, Peterson continued his military service alongside his high school career, serving as an officer in the U.S. Air Force Reserves.
In 1954, the District 303 School Board appointed Peterson to the position of District 303 superintendent. Two years later, he retired from the USAF Reserves with the rank of lieutenant colonel. His work as an administrator in public education also brought involvement as well as leadership posts in related professional organizations such as the Illinois Secondary School Principals’ Association, the National High School Principals’ Association, the Illinois Curriculum Committee and the Illinois High School Association.
During his tenure as superintendent, District 303 was faced with a booming student population. The school board originally had planned another expansion project at the high school campus, but in 1959 it was learned that the city planned to widen Eighth Street, which would take land the school board would have needed for an expansion. So the board instead decided to build a second high school campus at the site of the old Pekin Country Club golf course. Construction on the new East Campus began in 1962 and classes started there in the fall of 1963.
Peterson retired in 1965 after a combined 27 years as PCHS principal and superintendent. The high school theater at East Campus was christened in his honor.
After retirement, in 1966 he moved to Belleair, Fla., and remained in that area until his death at age 87. In Florida, Peterson was active in the American Legion as well as the Clearwater, Fla., Military Order of World Wars and the Clearwater retired officers association. He also volunteered for the American Red Cross, serving as treasurer of the Upper Pinellas Chapter of the Red Cross for nine years.
F.M. Peterson died Monday, Sept. 29, 1984, at the Bay-Pines Veterans Administration Center in Belleair, Fla., and his body was cremated. At the time of his death, he and his wife Olga were living in Belleair Bluffs. In addition to his wife, he was survived by his brother Forrest W. Peterson of Belleair.