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Lynn Ekflet, Frank Piskor, and Pete Peterson

Mahlon “Pete” Peterson died on April 29, 2024, at the age of 86. He was university librarian at St. Lawrence from 1973 to 1986. During his tenure at St. Lawrence he pursued two major initiatives. The first and more visible was the construction of the Torrey Wing of the Owen D. Young Library; the second, equally important but less obvious, was building a staff capable of carrying the library into the life of the students. Pete Peterson is remembered for seeing libraries as life, and he is remembered as a person with a unique ability to consistently articulate the potential of libraries.

In an issue of the Friends of the Libraries newsletter retired SLU faculty Philip Larson remembered his energy and intellect:

Raised on a farm in Illinois, he was an athlete, who organized and managed a softball team that played in a league with other teams in the North Country. Pete was a hospitable person, and his home was often a place for social gatherings where faculty and staff who would not ordinarily see one another could come together. As a member of a small department, I made friends I would probably not have met otherwise. I also remember that he sponsored a presentation at the appearance of any new book by a faculty member, where the author could speak about his or her work and answer questions. Pete had evidently read each book, and was able to introduce the speaker with detailed references to the work. I do not know if this practice is typical among university librarians, but I found it an especially classy aspect of Pete’s presence as a wide-ranging intellectual.

Before coming to St. Lawrence Pete had supervised a major library renovation at Wartburg College, and he carried out this initiative with enthusiasm. The architectural firm retained to design the renovation at SLU was Don Hisaka and Associates. Pete spent a lot of time drafting and communicating to the architect the spatial logic of the building, that is, what the visitor sees upon entering the building and how the user reaches his or her intended destination. A welcoming, energetic space with glass walls on both main floors, the second-floor seminar room, and the row of faculty studies on the lower floor, all with plenty of windows. On the lower floor there was a climate-controlled rare book room and archives, ably supervised by Lynn Ekfelt.

The hip décor that was here when the Torrey Wing opened in 1980 is long-gone, but the Torrey Wing has welcomed and served generations of Laurentian readers and writers. We hope that as we bring changes to the SLU Libraries to meet the needs of a different generation of students, we can articulate the role of libraries in a liberal arts education in ways Pete Peterson would appreciate.