Denfeld News

Nov. 5, 2009
Duluth News Tribune

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 funeral.

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 course."

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 life.

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,’’ he said.

Roy’s evaluation of Paul Peterson? “From all appearances, he’s going to be another good Peterson."

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