Whether cross-country coach or principal, educator did it all

Richard Peterson He coached sports and was a young athlete himself — earning 100-yard dash accolades and playing varsity basketball.


Richard F. Peterson, a longtime Nebraska educator who devoted countless hours to coaching young people and working as a community volunteer in Fremont and Cozad, has died.

Peterson, who suffered a stroke last week, died Monday at Meadowlark Pointe in Cozad. He was 84.

Until recent years, Peterson worked as a volunteer assistant golf coach at Cozad High School.

"The kids just loved him, and he loved being around them,'' said Brian Regelin, former athletic director at Cozad High School. "He would go to all of their sporting events.''

A native of Wellfleet, Nebraska, Peterson graduated from Hayes Center High School, where he was a standout athlete. He played on the varsity basketball team as an eighth-grader and won the state Class C 100-yard dash as a senior.

He enlisted in the Navy in 1950 and served aboard the ammunition ship USS Mount Katmai during the Korean War. After the war, he returned to Nebraska and enrolled at Kearney State Teachers College. He married Marilyn Whitney in 1956. He began his teaching career at Cozad in 1958. He taught in Westminster, Colorado, earned a master's degree and returned to Nebraska as principal at Eustis Public Schools.

In 1964, the Petersons moved to Fremont, where he taught industrial arts and coached cross-country, track and golf at Fremont High and she taught journalism at Midland Lutheran College. Peterson's 1972 golf team won the Class A state championship.

He also worked as a school and portrait photographer and was an assistant golf coach at Midland. A private pilot, he taught Civil Air Patrol students.

Joe Onstott, an owner of an executive search firm in Wellesley, Massachusetts, said cross-country coach Peterson was one of the first people he met after moving to Fremont from Lexington, Nebraska, in 1965 as a high school student. They developed a lifelong bond.

"He was always there for me,'' Onstott said. "We had this very special relationship. He was like my father. In private, he'd say I was like a son to him.''

Onstott said Peterson helped him find ways to attend Midland.

"'Hey, Kid,' '' he'd say,'' Onstott said. "'Hey, Kid, what do you want to do with your life?'''

After retiring, the Petersons returned to Cozad in 1994 and re-immersed themselves in the community. The 100th Meridian Museum presents a volunteerism scholarship in the Petersons' name to a Cozad High senior annually.

In addition to his wife, survivors include brother Marvin Peterson of North Platte, Nebraska; sister Barbara Gigax of Hayes Center, Nebraska; and several nieces and nephews. Memorial services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Cozad United Methodist Church.

Contact the writer:

402-444-1127, david.hendee@owh.com

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