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Encyclopedia Dubuque


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Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald
PETERSON, Walter. (Idaho Falls, ID, July 15, 1920--Dubuque, IA, Oct. 22, 2007). President, UNIVERSITY OF DUBUQUE. Peterson graduated from the University of Iowa in 1942 with a B. A. degree. He joined the Army Air Corps and served in the Pacific Theater during WORLD WAR II. He married and then returned to the University of Iowa for his Master's degree in 1948 and Ph.D in 1951. From 1952 to 1964 he was a professor of history at Milwaukee-Downer College, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 1963 he joined the Peace Corps as a training officer. Preparing young people for their overseas assignments required him to travel to India, Brazil and Venezuela. (1)

In 1964 he moved to Lawrence University, in Appleton, Wisconsin as a professor of history and director of libraries. (2) In the community, he was president of the Wisconsin-Illinois chapter of American Studies, director of the Home Mutual Insurance Company, and president of the Milwaukee chapter of the United Nations Association and vice-chairman of the Milwaukee World Affairs Council. (3)

Peterson came from Lawrence University to become the first lay president of the University of Dubuque in 1970. He arrived at a time of increasing student activism, declining enrollments and dwindling revenues. Peterson was given credit for reversing the status of the university by his ability to persuade others to work with him. One of his ideas led to the establishment of the Dunlap Lecture Series that invited such celebrated economists as Martin Feldstein and John Kenneth Galbraith to Dubuque to give lectures. He also organized many art exhibits with the university which frequently featured the work of local artists. (4) During his tenure, the number of full-time faculty with doctoral degrees increased from fewer than twenty-five in 1970 by over 60% by 1990. Over his two decades, a bachelor of science in nursing program, a master of business administration program, a pilot program at the seminary for training Native American pastors, and rural and global programs at the seminary were added or expanded. Construction on the campus included renovation at Severance Hall and Smith Hall, Steffens Hall was razed and replaced with Blades Hall, the old chapel was restored, McCormick Gymnasium was renovated and Stoltz Sports Center was opened. (5)

Peterson, the longest-serving president of the University of Dubuque, retired in 1990 and was succeeded by John J. AGRIA. He then served as the school's first and only chancellor from 1990 to 2000. (6)

Peterson served as chairperson from 1981 to 1983 of the Iowa College Foundation. He was president of the Iowa Association of College and University Presidents from 1974 to 1975 and the Iowa Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. (7)

While living in Milwaukee, Peterson was commissioned to write the history of Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company. Over the years, he wrote business histories of the WILLIAM C. BROWN COMPANY and the Hawkeye Bancorporation. (8)

Locally Peterson served on board of directors of FINLEY HOSPITAL (THE), Finley Foundation, DUBUQUE MUSEUM OF ART, DUBUQUE COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY, GRAND THEATER, Four Mounds Foundation and the DUBUQUE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA. (9)

Peterson shared the 1990 FIRST CITIZEN AWARD from the TELEGRAPH HERALD with William G. KRUSE. In 2007 he received the "Treasures of Dubuque" honor from the DUBUQUE COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY. He was chosen a Paul Harris Fellow by the Dubuque Rotary Club, named to the Dubuque Business Hall of Fame and a Treasure of Dubuque by the Dubuque County Historical Society, and a recipient of honorary doctorate degrees from Clarke and Loras colleges. (10)



1. "Remembering Walter," Julien's Journal, January, 2008, p. 51

2. Ibid.

3. "Peterson Selected New UD President," Telegraph Herald, July 9, 1970

4. "Remembering Walter"

5. Stanley, Mary. "University of Dubuque President to Step Down," Telegraph Herald, January 15, 1990, p. 1

6. "175 Years" Vol. II Telegraph Herald, p. 85

7. Obituaries. Telegraph Herald, Oct. 25, 2007

8. "Remembering Walter"

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid