The Life and Work of Edward Petersen: Shasta County Historian
by Hannah Boyle
Shasta Historical Society Scholarship
February 23, 2013
Growing up as a granddaughter of Ed Petersen, I have come to appreciate all the contributions Grandpa Ed provided to Shasta County not only through his historical writings but also through his love and service for Shasta County residents. I was only two years old when my Grandpa Ed passed away, but his memory is kept alive through scrapbooks and the various books he wrote on Shasta County history kept in our home. It is my hope that the readers of this article will have a greater appreciation for the work he did in our county and will utilize the books and pamphlets he wrote on our local history.
William Edward Petersen was born the only child of William and Hannah Petersen on May 28, 1932 in Berkeley, California. His family moved to Cottonwood in 1934, and he spent the next 63 years of his life there. His family owned and operated the Cottonwood Feed Store between 1934 and 1944. Edward graduated from 8th grade at East Cottonwood School in 1946. He graduated from Anderson High School in 1950. Edward then attended Shasta College and CSU, Chico where he earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in History. He received his Masters Degree in History from the University of Michigan.
Edward married Nadiene Brown on June 16, 1956. He and Nadiene would have three children- Becky, Elizabeth and Sarah and 11 grandchildren. Edward began teaching Social Science at Anderson High School in 1955. After being drafted and serving two years in the army in Detroit, Michigan, Edward resumed his career at Anderson High as both a teacher and a counselor. In 1965, Edward became a counselor at Shasta College and remained there until his retirement in 1992. During his tenure, he became Counseling Division Chairman.
Edward became one of Shasta County leading historians and authors. Edward wrote five books on Shasta County History. His works included In the Shadow of the Mountain; Pierson B. Reading: Shasta County Pioneer; Cottonwood: A Brief History; Anderson, A Centennial History; and Redding, The First Hundred Years. Edward was a key member and frequent contributor to The Shasta County Historical Society. He also developed and started two historical museums in Shasta County (Cottonwood and Shasta College).
Edward served on numerous school boards over the years (Cottonwood, Anderson Union High, and Shasta College). Edward also helped start numerous county programs which lended a helping hand to those in need, including PlusONE Mentors Inc. and LifeLight Pregnancy Center.
In 1972, Edward was part of core group that founded Anderson/Cottonwood Neighborhood Church. Edward served as elder from its inception to his passing. Edward truly loved God and he loved people. He performed hundreds of marriage ceremonies, hundreds of funerals and he counseled thousands. On August 14, 1997, William Edward Petersen passed away at the age of 65 years. Over 1,800 people attended his funeral at Bethel Church on August 17, 1997. Thousands more, who could not attend that day, mourned the loss of one of Shasta County’s greats.
Edward’s Early Years
Edward’s father came to Cottonwood in 1934 to operate the Cottonwood Feed Store when Edward was only 2 years. The Petersens ran the feed store for 10 years between 1934 and 1944. Using the warehouse that remained of the old Brown and Son Milling Co. after the fire of 1932. The feed store building is currently the oldest standing building in Cottonwood and it was owned by the Petersen family until the 1980’s.
According to his father’s diary when the Petersen family arrived in Cottonwood they came to a small town of about 200 to 300 people with the main hub of activity along Front Street. Edward’s dad was worried, at first, about operating a new feed store because all the grocery stores at the time sold feed. However, as time went on, the Petersens eventually built up their feed store business.1 The Petersens found a house to rent about one half block west of Highway 99 on High Street. The house was owned by the Carter Estate. The house had a living room, a bedroom and a kitchen on just ¾ of an acre. The rent for the house was $8.00 per month.
Edward’s childhood was a happy one in which he enjoyed growing up in this historic small town just north of Cottonwood Creek. Edward grew up, attended school, and made lifetime friendships with many long-time pioneer Cottonwood families. Among these families were the Seales, Dawsons, Roses’, Govers, Wilcoxes, Rickarts and Morgans. Edward’s journal writings described what is what like to grow up in Cottonwood. One of the significant events that he described was in 1939 when all the Cottonwood students moved mid-year from the old school house (former Grange Hall) built in 1889 to the new East Cottonwood School on Brush Street. Edward described how each student carried their own books from the old school house down the street about three blocks to the new school. Edward was in second grade at the time. Edward also described in detail how every student feared the discipline of the school principal, Mr. Mace. Edward’s journal writing stated that “Mr. Mace’s belt was reported to be larger than a bull whip. After dropping out of school my first day in first grade to escape his awesome justice, I returned to receive a piece of candy from this kindly man and the assurance he was not against me, but for me.” 2
After graduating from 8th grade from East Cottonwood School on Brush Street, Edward attended Anderson High School from 1946 to 1950. Edward always told stories of his days at Anderson High School. He especially was fond of his English teacher, Mrs. Lorena Gill.
Edward’s College Years
Upon graduation from Anderson High School, Edward attended Shasta College as one of its first students. Both Anderson High School and Shasta College made lasting impressions on Edward as he would later spend his entire career at both of these schools.
After Shasta College, Edward attended CSU, Chico where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in History but, more importantly, it was here that he met the love of his life, Nadiene Brown. Later, in his writings and in his sermons, Ed would often describe with humor the unlikely pairing of a Pentecostal mountain girl from Crescent Mills and a Baptist boy from Cottonwood. Ed and Nadiene were very involved with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship during their college years and they bo Ed and Nadiene served as InterVarsity student leaders, led campus Bible Studies, and organized short-term missions trips.
In June 1956, Ed and Nadiene were married at the First Baptist Church in Cottonwood. Three months later, Ed was drafted and sent to an Army missile base in Michigan. While in Michigan, Ed earned his Master’s Degree in History at the University of Michigan. After two years of military service, Ed and Nadiene returned home and Ed re-joined the teaching staff at Anderson High School.
Edward: The Chaplain and Counselor of Shasta College
Edward became both counselor and professor of History at Shasta College in 1965. Ed Petersen was a very popular counselor and faculty member at Shasta College. He was well-known as the “Chaplain of the College”, because he was constantly asked to do funerals for faculty members, their spouses, and relatives.3 He was also asked to counsel many faculty members about their personal problems. Ed always wanted to make sure everyone knew about Jesus Christ, but in a classy, gentle, and kind manner. He had a strong passion for Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and its influence on the Shasta College campus, consequently he served as the faculty advisor for Shasta College’s Chapter during his entire 10 year at Shasta. Ed was also on many Shasta College committees and he was one of the primary speakers for the Shasta College Speakers bureau.
Ed was a great reconciler and he was a part of a very diverse group of counselors who liked to speak their piece, all at the same time! He became a referee and facilitator at the counselor meetings when they became lively affairs. Ed attempted to surround himself with people who both agreed and disagreed with his views. He loved everyone even when they vehemently disagreed with him. To him, disagreement did not imply dislike or disrespect, but was a natural way of communication. One of his favorite sayings was, “Well, let’s disagree in love.”
Edward: Elder, Pastor, Preacher
Edward and his family attended First Baptist Church in Cottonwood for close to 40 years. In 1972, Ed and Nadiene and a core group of families from Cottonwood formed Anderson/Cottonwood Neighborhood Church. Both Ed and Nadiene developed a strong evangelical, outreach minded worldview during their Intervarsity Fellowship days at Chico State and this influence strongly affected how Edward would help to shape and mold the direction this new church would take. Edward consistently taught from the pulpit than people are more important that programs, that all folks in the church body need to be serving with their spiritual gifts, and that the most important thing in life was to know Jesus and the power of His Resurrection. Anderson/Cottonwood Neighborhood Church initially held their Sunday morning meetings at the Fairgrounds and for a short time at the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Anderson. A few years later, a new church building was built on Rhonda Road in Anderson where it has been ever since.
Edward: The Community Servant
Because Edward loved people, he loved his community. Throughout his life Edward served on the boards of numerous schools and community agencies, including the Cottonwood Union and Anderson Union High School Boards. The value of education was very important to Edward. You could always find him leading the charge to pass school bonds or he could always be found attending an Anderson or West Valley Football game. Later during his retirement years, Ed would also serve on the Shasta College Board.
One of Edward biggest contributions to the county was his efforts in establishing PlusOne Mentor Services. Ed strongly wished to enable at-risk youth to develop their God-given potential. Along with Bud Hancock and K.C. Farrar, Ed formed this county-based non-profit organization that recruited, trained and matched adult mentors with at-risk mentees.
In the late 1970’s, Ed and Nick Rogers, lifetime friend and fellow Shasta College Counselor, helped bring the film series by Frances Shaeffer and C. Everett Koop, “How Then Shall We Live,” to our area. They had earlier attended a meeting in which Shaeffer and C. Koop had spoken. Both Ed and Nick returned home after this meeting challenged to live out the truths of God in our society and reach out to those entangled in sin within our society. A major concern of theirs was the large numbers of abortions occurring in the North State. As a result, Ed contacted many churches in the area to gather and pray and these churches began to call themselves “Shasta County for Life.” About a year later, in 1980, some felt the need to support and provide for women in the community affected by unplanned pregnancies and they formed a Birthright chapter in Redding, which eventually became known as Life Light Pregnancy Center.
Edward: The Historian and Writer
Edward’s love of history stemmed from the historic town that he loved. Cottonwood gave Edward an appreciation of small town traditions and legacies. Edward’s family became lifetime friends with many Shasta County Pioneer families. Edward loved to share with others the amazing history the county possessed. Between 1964 and 1974, Edward authored five Shasta County Historical Books. In the preface of each of his books Edward would always acknowledge those historians that came before him and assisted him in his research.
In March 1964, Edward wrote In the Shadow of the Mountain, a brief survey of Shasta County. His intent was not to write this as a definitive county history but to be a help in teaching the local aspects of the westward movement to students in United States history and those interested in the Shasta County story. Ed stated that, “This study has sought to emphasize the recent and, I believe, very important local happenings since World War II, as well as the story of the colorful past in Shasta County history.”4 Edward’s goal was to stress areas of history within Shasta County upon which little study has previously been made. Because of this, we see great emphasis on the growth of Anderson as opposed to to the short chapter on mining. Ed thanks many individuals for helping him in the writing of his study from numerous librarians to members of the Shasta County Historical Society. He concludes by thanking his wife for her encouragement and support which was helpful and continuous throughout the writing.
In 1970, Edward Petersen wrote a biography on an early emigrant to California named Pierson Barton Reading. Ed outlines how Reading was not only an emigrant to California, but a leader at Sutter’s Fort and a member of the “California Battalion” during the Mexican War In addition, Reading was a candidate for governor and a pioneer settler and agriculturalist of Shasta County. What Ed wished to do was to bring previous research on Reading into a brief biography. His greatest source was the Reading Collection of Correspondence at the California State Library. Ed appreciated the assistance of Judge Richard B. Eaton of Shasta County, Mrs. Eleanor Lee Templeman of Arlington, Virginia (Mayor Reading’s only granddaughter), Mrs. Mabel Frisbie and Mrs. John Shuford of Redding and Dr. Grenville Gibbs, a colleague at Shasta College.
After writing, In the Shadow of the Mountain, Edward desired to write a more in-depth history of his hometown. Edward felt that Myrtle McNamer had already produced the single most comprehensive history of Cottonwood in her book, Way Back When. In his bibliography, Edward acknowledges her work on Cottonwood as well as an earlier article written by Rosena Giles which was published in a Shasta Historical Society pamphlet. Edward stated in the forward of this book that his purpose was to write an “affectionate history” of Cottonwood because it involves the community in which his family had lived most of his life.5
In October 1971, Edward Petersen completed his history of Anderson portrayed in his book called, Anderson, 1872-1972 A Centennial History. Under the auspices of the Anderson Chamber of Commerce, he expands upon the history of Anderson from his previous book, In the Shadow of the Mountain. He goes on to state how he is “indebted to the Chamber directors as well as their manager Tom Gibbons.”6 He also gives his thanks to James Carroll, an Anderson Elementary School principal, for his helpful comments regarding the material and Grenville Gibbs and Ed Clewett, two Shasta College colleagues, for their help and input. Edward wished that his written summary would provide the residents of Anderson a deeper insight into their community’s history.
Edward also wished to write the history of Redding in conjunction with its 100 year anniversary. Working with the Redding Chamber of Commerce and the Redding Centennial Committee, Edward provided a general overview of Redding’s first hundred years. In his bibliography, Edward credited past newspapers (Shasta Courier, The Redding Independent, The Republican Free Press, and the Record Searchlight) for having the best information on Redding history. Edward also stated he was indebted to the Chairman of the Redding Centennial Committee, Ed Henriques, as well as to the Redding Camber Manager, Sid Cowgill.
Cottonwood and Shasta College Museums
After writing his five Shasta County historical books, Edward devoted much of his time to developing two important county historical museums. At Shasta College, he developed a historical museum that emphasized Shasta County’s own historical figures. Ed went so far as to transform a Shasta College Building that housed the historical museum into a replica of Pierson B. Reading’s Adobe House. In Cottonwood, Edward led the efforts to transform one of the town’s most important historical buildings (Train Depot) into an historical museum. In 1985, he helped to organize the efforts that would move, by truck, the train depot from its original location (along the train tracks across from the post office) to its current location on Front Street.
Record Searchlight Guest Columnist
During his retirement years, Edward served as a frequent guest contributor and columnist to the Redding Record Searchlight. He always wrote his articles on topics that were relevant to Shasta County. He did not shy away from topics that were controversial. For example, Edward wrote an article addressing the evils of gambling and the havoc it wreaks on families. His also wrote frequently about the Native American Genocide that took place in this county in the early 1800’s. Other topics he discussed in his articles included Abortion, Social Injustice, Affirmative Action, and the Proof of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The topic that Edward addressed the most in his articles was marriage and the importance of its preservation. He firmly believed in the fact that children in families disrupted by divorce do worse than children in intact families in a variety of areas. In a Record Searchlight article dated February 13, 1994 he wrote, “Many believe that after a divorce, children can just ‘bounce back.’”7 He then quotes research studies that show children who are from a home with divorced parents are less successful as adults, particularly in love and work. Ed argued that family disruption is best understood not as a single event, but as a lifelong string of disruptive events, all harmful to the child. He illustrates, in the article, how perseverance in marriage does work because he has experienced it for nearly 40 years with the woman he loves and adores. Edward finishes his article describing how he sees bumper stickers that say, “Save the whale. Save the owl,” etc. and states, “All these are noble causes, I’m sure, but I recommend an even higher cause: Save the children, preserve your marriage.” Edward was always encouraging people to honest about marriage and how it takes perseverance to make a marriage work. He was very fond of telling his favorite illustration when it came to marriage. He would frequently state that marriage was like “two porcupines sleeping together on a cold night, the closer you get together the more it hurts.”
Humorous Wit and Colloquialisms
One of Edward’s most remembered qualities was his use of humorous and clever phrases in both his writings and oral presentations. Edward’s favorite descriptive phrase was, “Where the Rubber Meets the Road.” Edward always was writing or speaking about life – its joys and its trials. “Where the Rubber Meets the Road” was Edward’s way of describing the important things in life or the heart of matter. Edward would always speak of the importance of being real and not fake in one’s interactions with others. Another funny descriptor that Edward used was the term, “He ran slip-shod through the cow-shed.” Edward used this phrase quite often in his sermons. As Edward spoke quickly in his sermons, his daughters would often worry that he would slip up, when using this phrase, and say something he shouldn’t while preaching.
One of Edward’s greatest loves was country music. Johnny Cash, George Jones, and Charlie Daniels were some of Edward’s favorites. Many of Edward’s sermons and writings contained references to what he called the ‘simple wisdom of real livin.’ Edward also frequently shared with folks that despite attending Shasta College, CSU Chico, and the University of Michigan, the school that taught him the most was the ‘Cottonwood School of Hard Knocks.’
Shasta County Servant and Hero
One of Edward’s favorite words was “balance.” He believed that we should strive for balance in our lives. It is hard to understand why he felt so strongly about this because he, himself, was not a balanced man. He was a passionate man. What he loved everyone knew. He loved and sought people. He loved history and Shasta College. He had a true and cherished love for his family. He loved Anderson Cottonwood Neighborhood Church. And what he loved, he sought to build up and affirm. He did that until his last day.
With close to 2,000 people gathering at Bethel Church on August 17, 1997 to pay tribe to Edward Petersen, one can see the tremendous impact that he made on this county. Through his writings and through his accomplishments, one can also see that Edward Petersen lived a full life – A life full of purpose. Edward’s extraordinary community service as a mentor, pastor, historian, counselor, writer, teacher, and family man left an indelible mark in the lives of countless people and families in the north state and around the world. His heart for people, for the poor and disenfranchised endeared him to thousands. His servant leadership and his love of people were qualities that were empowered by his philosophy of life – Love God and Love People.
Anderson Valley Post, September 10, 1985
Elizabeth (Petersen) Boyle Interview by author, February 15, 2013
Edward Petersen Diary, 1971
Lifelight Monthly Newsletter, September 1997
Nick Rogers Interview by author, February 17, 2013
Petersen, Edward, Anderson, 1872-1972, A Centennial History, 1972.
Petersen, Edward, Cottonwood, The Brief History of a Small California Town, 1974.
Petersen, Edward, In the Shadow of the Mountain, 1965.
Petersen, Edward, Pierson B. Reading: Shasta County Pioneer, 1970.
Petersen, Edward, Redding, The First Hundred Years, 1972.
Red Bluff Daily News, August 16, 1997
Redding Record Searchlight, August 16, 1997
Redding Record Searchlight, February 13, 1994
Redding Record Searchlight, November 24, 1996
1 William Edward Petersen Diary, 1971
3 Nick Rogers Interview by author, February 17, 2013
4 Petersen, Edward, In the Shadow of the Mountain, 1965.
5 Petersen, Edward, Cottonwood, The Brief History of a Small California Town, 1974.
6 Petersen, Edward, Anderson, 1872-1972, A Centennial History, 1972.
7 Redding Record Searchlight, February 13, 1994.