“What an opportunity for me! The most incredible thing is that I’m going to be able to meet the people,” says Miriam Peterson ’68, who is donating her IRA distributions to fund the Miriam Cox Peterson Scholarship. Soon there will be enough to cover travel and study abroad for a scholarship student, preferably one studying Spanish or another language. Peterson will not only get to meet the recipients, but also share the stories that have inspired her for seven decades so far.
Peterson grew up in St. Paul, where her wanderlust and appetite for learning began early. Her father, who had grown up in poverty but saw the world while serving in the Navy, nourished his family’s cultural curiosity. For example, he assigned a theme to their annual vacations; their “Lincoln year” meant travel to various Lincoln tourist sites.
At school, second grade was Peterson’s “golden year. I had the most wonderful teacher. Our whole class went by train to Red Wing for a day, and she would do all sorts of special projects. She only taught for one year, but she’d have reunions with our class, and I kept in contact with her through high school. She and her husband ended up being missionaries in Hong Kong.”
The teaching seed firmly planted by high school graduation, Peterson discovered Augsburg: “comfortable, welcoming, and ever so much better than the other colleges I visited.” The first in her family to attend college, she majored in English and education but also wanted to continue her high school Spanish. She was thrilled that classes were small and weekly seminars were held in teachers’ homes. “It’s not the norm. I was a part of their lives, and they were a part of mine,” she says.
For eight weeks between her junior and senior years, and for a year after college graduation, she lived in Mexico, thus paving her future path. “That made all the difference,” she says. “It widens your whole perspective on the world. You can talk about or think about travel, but if you go to another place, it’s different.”
After earning her master’s degree at the University of Illinois, Peterson taught Spanish in the St. Paul Public Schools from 1970 to 2005. She followed her early mentor’s footsteps, taking her students on trips and teaching them language not just through studying grammar, but through culture, cooking, holiday traditions, even soccer. Even after she retired and taught weekly beginning Spanish classes at the Center for Global Education, she used Fisher-Price little people and Monopoly money to set up play scenarios and make classes fun, which her adult students very much appreciated.
Peterson stays fluent by translating, once during a medical mission to Nicaragua, and, while visiting a Spanish-speaking country, “talking to everyone in the market,” as her patient husband, Ron, sometimes complains. As head of the outreach committee for Galilee Lutheran Church, Roseville, she has also visited students in Tanzania, where she was impressed by the generosity of those who have so little.
She is also impressed by Augsburg’s continuing commitment to service here at home. “They embrace the city—tending gardens, feeding people, using their proximity to the University of Minnesota to good advantage. And the second chances they’re giving to students are pretty remarkable,” she says. “It makes me proud to be a part of it.”