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Gary G. Petersen ’61

Posted On - July 27

Gary G. Petersen '61Gary G. Petersen of Paradise Valley, Ariz., passed away suddenly on March 16 of cardiac arrest. After many years in the midwest, Petersen spent his final years in Arizona. At the time of his death, he was living in Paradise Valley and, after a fall, was rehabilitating a spinal injury when he unexpectedly suffered a heart attack. He was 83.

Born on May 4, 1936, in Antelope County, Neb., to Peter and Josephine (Scheer) Petersen, he grew up in Wood River, Neb., and in high school became co-captain of the football team, the Grand Island Islanders, during their undefeated 1953 Nebraska Class A State Championship season.

Petersen’s life would eventually take him across the globe. After high school, he attended UCLA, where was a member of the Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity, graduating with a B.A. in psychology, and earned an MBA from the University of Illinois. He and his wife, Beth, spent their first years of marriage in Europe, where Petersen was stationed in Germany as an Army lieutenant. He was honorably discharged from military service in 1960. Returning to the United States, the couple settled in New Jersey, where Petersen began a business career on Wall Street. Working in labor relations in the electronics industry, he and Beth moved twice more before settling in suburban Chicago for many years. Eventually, he struck out on his own, buying out a small manufacturing company, Weltek International, in South Bend, Ind. In the early 1980s, Petersen was the chairman of the Electronics Industry Association and testified to Congress in 1982 before the Committee on Education and Labor. Under President Ronald Reagan, he traveled to Iran with a delegation of business people. In retirement, he opened Heartland Popcorn, which distributed flavored popcorn throughout the Midwest.

Petersen loved to travel and experience the outdoors, where he sailed (summer and winter), cross country skied, played tennis and gardened. He continued his mother’s legacy through the Josephine Petersen Foundation, which supported the Stuhr Museum in Grand Island, Neb., and scholarships for students in the region of central Nebraska. His appreciation of Native American art forms took him to the Phoenix area, where he spent his final years. Chris Petersen noted that his father “will be best remembered for his big laugh and unending curiosity.”

Petersen is survived by his three sons, Brent (Karen Campopiano), Chris (Tracey Hartmann) and Scott Petersen, nephew Richard (Teresa) Noll, great nephew Colton (Stephanie Stanley) Noll, and granddaughters Sadie and Ella Petersen. Gary was preceded in death by his wife, Elizabeth (Ewert) Petersen, whom he divorced in 2003.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, an interment of Gary’s ashes is being planned for 2021 at Westlawn Memorial Park in Grand Island, where his parents are buried. Condolences can be sent by email to Chris Petersen at