Longtime SMC Education Professor Rosemary Peterson Dies

Rosemary Peterson, a longtime professor of education and psychology and a strong advocate of Montessori education who led efforts at Saint Mary's in the mid-1970s for a number of education programs in the graduate School of Education, died on Jan. 9 after a long illness. She was 67.

Professor Peterson was familiar with Montessori techniques and philosophies, she told Montessori Life magazine in 2004, because one of her sons had a Montessori teacher. Professor Peterson researched it and integrated it into her education classes at the College, where she has taught since 1974.

"Probably her pet program was the Montessori program," recalled Brother Stan Sobcyzk, who shared an office in SMC's School of Education with her from 1990-1993. "She was the champion, the guide, the inspiration, the leader of the charge for Montessori education training at Saint Mary's."

Brother Stan said Professor Peterson was particularly proud of her students that founded Montessori schools throughout the world. Dedicated to students, she continued helping master's degree candidates with their theses in recent months, even though she suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Her roommate, Lavonne Joyce, said Professor Peterson was in and out of the hospital for seven years; at one point she was in a coma for 42 days.

"Oh, what a fighter she was, to stick with it," Joyce said.

That character trait was probably not surprising, as Professor Peterson was a descendant of a pioneer family of Nevada. Her grandparents were born in Virginia City, and one ancestor worked with Mark Twain on the town's newspaper, the Territorial.

Professor Peterson was an adventurer who enjoyed skiing, traveling and, for the last 15 years, playing poker, including participating in tournaments, Joyce said. Among the books she wrote was "Child-Centered Skiing: The American Teaching System for Children."

Professor Peterson graduated in 1961 from the University of Nevada, Reno, and earned a master's degree and a doctorate in educational psychology from UC-Berkeley in 1968 and 1972. She held lifetime credentials in California for elementary and community college instruction.

Nancy Sorenson, dean of the School of Education, said Professor Peterson was involved in the formation of many programs in the school, and that she was well-known locally, nationally and internationally.

"She was knowledgeable about the early childhood programs in the community, and parents and other caregivers looked to her for advice and expertise," Sorenson said. "She made significant contributions to the school, and she touched the hearts and minds of her students. She personified the Lasallian tradition."

Along with teaching, Professor Peterson held a number of administrative positions at Saint Mary's College, including acting as director of the master's degree program in gifted and talented education and administrator or the College's American Montessori Society Infant Toddler Program.

She specialized in educational psychology, children's learning, language development and reading, learning theory and special education.

"She was always one of those people who was very positive about the School of Education," Brother Stan said. "She had strong opinions about what direction it should go."

Professor Peterson donated a stained glass window of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the SMC Chapel to the memory of her son, Chris, who died in 1993.
She is survived by another son, Erik John, a nephew, Mark, and his wife, Janice, of Rancho Murietta, as well as three grandnephews.

A memorial service will be held in the SMC Chapel on Jan. 22 at 6:30 p.m., followed by a reception and celebration of her life from 7:15 to 8:30 p.m. in the Soda Center. Visitation will be Jan. 21 and Jan. 22 at Hull's Walnut Creek Chapel, 1139 Saranap Ave. For more information, call (925) 934-5400.

-- Erin Hallissy;
Office of College Communications