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BVU Salutes Long-Time Trustee with Sir John Marks Templeton Honor

July 02, 2020 1:21pm

Growing up in the Buena Vista County community of Rembrandt, Cordell Peterson spent thousands of hours playing baseball, working, and playing more baseball.

“I was a catcher,” says Peterson, President and CEO of Peterson Contractors, Inc., of Reinbeck. “We probably played baseball, at the little league, school and American Legion level, half to three-quarters of the year.”

Rembrandt High School didn’t have a football team. And Peterson didn’t play football at Buena Vista University, though Peterson Field, one of the top football/soccer sites in the American Rivers Conference, bears his name.

He didn’t play baseball at BVU, either, although he helped fund the effort to renovate the baseball complex BVU shares with Storm Lake High School, making it one of the premier diamonds in Northwest Iowa.

No, during his time as student at Buena Vista University, Peterson probably worked as much as anything, honing an ethic traced to his Rembrandt roots.

Peterson earned $4,500 per year working at the Buena Vista County Hospital in Storm Lake throughout his college days, having transferred “home” to BVU in 1960 following the death of his father.

He did the hospital laundry, staffed the receiving desk serving the Emergency Room, swept halls, and occasionally donned a green gown to transport patients from the ER to the operating room.

“You could eat at the hospital as long as you were working,” Peterson says. “Working there helped get me through college.”

Construction on campus marked a portion of Peterson’s time as an undergraduate as he joined the Class of 1963 in becoming the first to complete Commencement in Schaller Memorial Chapel.

Peterson answered a Des Moines Register advertisement for his first job, that of a high school business and history teacher at Reinbeck High School.

“Reinbeck was close to Rembrandt alphabetically, so I answered the ad,” he says with a laugh.

“Someone at BV thought highly enough of me to send along a letter of recommendation and I got the only job I applied for.”

Peterson’s recommender would likely have been either Dr. William Cumberland or Dr. George Reynolds, BVU institutions both.

“I can still hear the words of Professor Reynolds in my head, sometimes during board meetings at Lincoln Savings Bank,” Peterson says of the bank he’s served in leadership capacities for 27 years.

Peterson taught high school business and coached for two years in Reinbeck. And, he never left the town he first visited while interviewing for that teaching position. He began doing conservation and terracing work in the early 1960s and founded Peterson Contractors Inc., in 1964, then incorporating two years later and directing its growth.

PCI, which employs in excess of 600 people, specializes in grading, site work, demolition, crushing, structures, Geopiers®, deep foundations, earth retention, and design-build projects across the continental U.S. In just the past decade or so, the firm has earned nearly two dozen state and national awards for projects cited by trade organizations such as the Iowa Department of Transportation, the Associated Builders and Contractors of Iowa, and the Associated General Contractors of Iowa, which inducted Peterson into its Hall of Fame in 2008.

During his career, Peterson, 79, also branched out from his earth-moving and highway construction work to enter farming and the trucking industry.

In 1999, then-BVU President Fred Moore and Don Lamberti, a BVU Life Trustee, met with Peterson and asked him to consider offering his three Ts to his alma mater: time, talent, and treasure.

“I was pressed for time, didn’t have much treasure, and really offered little to no talent,” Peterson says.

They asked anyway. He complied and, this May, his fellow BVU Board of Trustees joined Interim President Dr. Brian Lenzmeier in recognizing the former Rembrandt worker bee with the Sir John Marks Templeton Life Trustee honor, reserved for those who, like Peterson, have had a far-reaching impact on the life of the University.

“We are indebted to Cordell Peterson in so many ways,” says BVU Interim President Brian Lenzmeier. “He’s a very successful alum, one who, through his work and leadership, has strengthened the reputation BVU enjoys across the Midwest and beyond. Then, consider his remarkable 21-year term of volunteer service with the BVU Board of Trustees, and the number of times he and Sandra have stepped up in their philanthropic efforts to improve our state-of-the-art facilities, academic programming, and our annual fund needs.

“Cordell continues to serve by offering paid internships for our students from the School of Business, providing for them needed experiential learning that puts them on the road to success,” Lenzmeier adds. “I can’t think of a more deserving recipient of the Sir John Marks Templeton Life Trustee honor than Cordell, who has impacted our University in innumerable ways.”

In addition to his efforts with the baseball and football facilities, the Cordell ’63 and Sandra Peterson Fireside Lounge helps recognize the substantial role the Petersons have played in the $15.1-million Forum Phase I Renovation effort, a project funded entirely by benefactors. The two-year construction effort realized the reshaping of BVU’s state-of-the-art underground educational and campus center, a site hailed as an “academic wonderland” by the New York Times at its opening in 1985.

Peterson is pleased Phase I of the Siebens Forum renovation likely contributed to an enrollment gain in 2019-20. He’s hoping for more growth following Forum Phase II, which involves a remake of Ballou Library, the Center for Academic Excellence, and more. He’s also excited about ascension of BVU’s new Institute for Agriculture, Food, and Resource Management, the marching band program, the advent of the Lamberti Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, and more.

“We’ve been delighted with the interns from BVU we’ve had at Lincoln Savings Bank,” Peterson says. “You can see the quality BVU education through them.”

Nothing has pleased Peterson more as a BVU Trustee than to see students capitalize on opportunities afforded them through their education.

“What makes the Trustee experience so rewarding is to see how young men and women come up through BVU and go on to become success stories,” he says.

“I am humbled by the Templeton Life Trustee honor,” Peterson says, noting all the rewards of his service, ranging from lifelong friendships among fellow Trustees to being at the forefront in helping shape the lives of future leaders and builders.

“We have received far more from BVU than we’ve ever given,” he says. “It has been a wonderful experience.”