By Kristen Miller
Many know George Peterson as the owner of Swanson Peterson Funeral Home in Cokato and Howard Lake, but to the town in which he grew up, he was much more than that.
Not only has Peterson been a staple in many of the civic organizations within the community, but he is an icon to be remembered.
“George’s fingerprints are on so much in this community,” said Mike Worcester of the Cokato Historical Society.
Now, with his passing, he has left fingerprints on the hearts of many, as well.
George E. Peterson was born Oct., 27, 1919, in Cokato Township to Edward and Annie.
In the fall of 1937, while still attending Cokato High School, Peterson was asked by Carl Swanson, owner of Swanson Furniture and Funeral, to come work for him.
When Peterson started, he was selling and installing floor coverings and clerking for Swanson.
Peterson was sworn into the US Army in 1942, and spent 44 months serving his country in Australia, New Guinea, and the Philippine Islands. Peterson was awarded two Bronze Stars and was honorably discharged in January 1946.
In the fall of the same year, Peterson went into the School of Mortuary Science at the University of Minnesota, graduated in 1948, and in the same month, married Violet Martinson, his sweetheart of 10 years. The two would have celebrated 60 years of marriage this coming June.
Peterson became a partner with Carl Swanson in 1957, and after Swanson’s retirement in 1973, Peterson became sole owner.
David Swanson, the son of Carl Swanson and grandson of the original funeral home’s owner, said it’s been wonderful seeing the continuity of service over the years in the hands of Peterson.
“As a funeral director myself, George ranks at the highest of ranks when it comes to professional service,” Swanson said, who has known Peterson since he was born.
The Petersons adopted two children, Mark and Elizabeth, and have two grandchildren, Greg and Brooke.
Over the years, Peterson took part in about 3,000 funerals in Cokato and Howard Lake, according to his son, Mark.
Betsy Dobmeier worked with Peterson for nine years and remembers his amazing ability to recall things from the past.
“He was always telling stories,” she said.
Lee Dahlquist worked with Peterson for seven years helping out with funerals.
Dahlquist recalls one particular funeral at Stockholm Lutheran Church after Peterson had suffered a light stroke.
Peterson and Dahlquist sat at a table with two elderly women when one of them asked Peterson if Dahlquist was his father.
“He felt so much younger. I think his health increased after that,” Dahlquist said.
Peterson was active in the community and in a number of civic organizations, for many of them, he was a charter member.
“Just name a civic organization, and George was involved in one way or another. He had passion and commitment for his community, as did his contemporaries,” Worcester said.
Some of the clubs Peterson helped to organize were the Cokato Guideons, the Businessmen’s Association (now the Cokato Chamber of Commerce), the Cokato Community Chest, and the Cokato Corn Carnival.
Peterson was the last surviving member of the original Cokato Corn Carnival committee, and had an integral part in organizing the first corn stand.
The carnival began as a way for Cokato business owners to thank their customers for their continued support during World War II.
Peterson’s boss at the time, Carl Swanson, was on the original committee and put the job of finding a corn stand in Peterson’s hands.
Peterson was also a charter member for the Cokato Rotary for 47 years and served as club president and as chairman of many club fundraisers throughout the years.
There were many times Peterson was fined (“happy bucks” as Rotary calls them) by fellow club members for mowing the lawn in a suit and tie, recalled his son, Mark.
With the motto of Rotary being “Service Above Self,” Peterson followed that throughout his years in Rotary as well as in other aspects of his life, according to fellow Rotarian and friend, Bruce Bohnsack.
“He served as an outstanding role model to the younger Rotarians in the club and led by example,” he said.
“George not only gave unselfishly of his time, but was also a generous financial contributor to the Rotary Foundation, as well as Polio Plus and Clean Water campaigns,” he added.
He and Violet were both named Paul Harris Fellows, which is recognition given only to the most generous supporters of the Rotary Foundation, according to Bohnsack.
“George also liked to have fun and humored us with many interesting stories of the early days of Rotary . . . His stories and our connection to the past will sorely be missed,” Bohnsack added.
Some would say Peterson was a “spoiled” man, being taken care of wherever he went; especially by his wife.
For example, not only during the weekly Rotary meetings, but almost anywhere, Peterson received special treatment with a bowl of vanilla ice cream served to him following the meal.
Mark Peterson recalled funerals at the Cokato Evangelical Lutheran Church.
George would tease the ladies working, “What, no ice cream?”
One particular funeral, the ladies dished up a large bowl of ice cream, enough for five people, Mark said, and made him eat it all up.
Pastor Dan Swanson of First Baptist Church of Cokato has known Peterson since he joined Rotary more than 18 years ago and has worked alongside him during many funerals over the years.
“I have found him to be an impeccable businessman up front and honest,” Swanson said.
“His mind is a storehouse of information, not only of Rotary, but of the town. That is going to be missed. Whenever we needed to know something, he remembered it,” Swanson said.
“He was just a very good friend a loving husband, always concerned about Vi,” Swanson added.
Also, having a funeral home in Howard Lake, Peterson enjoyed being in business there and getting to know the people.
In Howard Lake, he was a member of the business association, and each year, sponsored a Good Neighbor Days queen candidate.
During some afternoons, Peterson could be seen sipping coffee at the Old Town Gallery in Howard Lake.
Peterson also served on the Cokato Legion as commander several times.
He and Violet were members of Elim Mission Church, where George enjoyed singing in the choir, especially old hymns of faith, according to Pastor Wally Glucklich.
Peterson passed away May 13 after months of kidney failure, at the age of 88.
“He is in a better place,” said his son, Mark.