Nov. 5, 2009
Corrections run in the Peterson family
By Mark Stodghill
Warren Peterson, who died at 89 in October, was
a trailblazer in Minnesota corrections during a 34-year career.
Active and retired corrections officials from around the state attended
His son, Mike, is now in his 34th year as a corrections
officer. Mike Peterson, 59, remembers his father working out of
an old Chevy — instead of an office — and traveling
around the state helping juvenile delinquents in the 1950s. He carried
as many as 300 case files in a cardboard box.
“My dad was very interested in helping people,"
Mike Peterson said. “I guess that’s a common theme.
He wasn’t a front-runner or a showboater. He just kind of
rolled up his sleeves and got things done. That was something he
passed down. Be honest, be loyal. He had a simple approach with
kids. Hold them accountable and try to have them set a straight
But the generational thread of corrections work
doesn’t end with Mike.
Paul Peterson, 30, like his father, works full-time
for Arrowhead Regional Corrections at the Northeast Regional Corrections
Center in Saginaw. He’s still trying to decide which career
he wants to devote his life to, but he says his father and grandfather
set the examples that he wants to follow.
In addition to his job as a corrections counselor,
Paul works part-time as a Frederic, Wis., police officer, and he
owns and operates A.T. Entertainment, a Duluth DJ music-provider.
“Being raised in this family has given me
a strong work ethic, a desire to help those around me, and the feeling
that everyone deserves to be treated with respect," Paul Peterson
said. “I feel that I couldn’t have chosen any better
mentors than to have grown up watching my father and grandfather
and the dedication and professionalism that they displayed for the
past six decades."
Sometimes it’s the smallest things a corrections
counselor notices that can make a difference in someone’s
Mike Peterson remembered a resident of NERCC who
had chronic run-ins with the law because of alcohol abuse. One day
Peterson noticed the man jogging on one of the fields. He talked
to him and the man told him how much he enjoyed running. Peterson
took him to a Duluth road race to compete. That experience led the
man to turn his alcohol addiction into a running addiction and he
became a productive citizen.
“The biggest thing for us is to try to make
connections with an individual to just try to get them to see that
there is more to life out there than to use and abuse drugs and
alcohol," Mike Peterson said.
Peterson said he and wife, Kathy, would like to
see their son devote his career to corrections, but they want him
to do whatever will make him happy. “He’s hardworking,
sometimes impatient, but a very honest, caring person; somebody
I’m glad to know."
Paul Peterson, a Denfeld and University of Wisconsin-Superior
graduate, said that as a corrections counselor he’s in the
unique position of trying to rehabilitate some of the same people
he arrests as a police officer.
“A lot of times I’ve gotten handshakes
from people that I’m counseling who I arrested because they
remember me as someone who treated them all right,’’
he said. “I didn’t treat them like an animal. I haven’t
had any situations where it backfired on me, where somebody was
mad at me. I usually make a connection that I was doing a job and
it isn’t personal."
One of the most important lessons Paul Peterson
said he learned from his grandfather is: “Anyone can make
a mistake, but the true measure of the individual is how you learn
and grow from those mistakes."
Tom Roy, who now heads Arrowhead Regional Corrections
as its executive director, said Warren Peterson went out of his
way to help him when he landed his first job with the agency. “I
was a fresh-out-of-college employee, and he took the time to mentor
me and show me the ropes so to speak,’’ Roy said. “He
acknowledged my importance and how important those first few days
on the job are."
Roy called Mike Peterson “a rock-solid public
employee, who day in and day out goes beyond the call of duty."
Roy said there is a common theme in the Peterson
family. “It’s a family that is committed to a purpose
and a continuation of values that are dedicated to helping others,’’
Roy’s evaluation of Paul Peterson? “From
all appearances, he’s going to be another good Peterson."