COUNCIL BLUFFS — Ken Petersen, 89, who called himself a “professional volunteer,” died Saturday at his home.
“He was one of those guys who was a role model, a mentor — our hero,” said daughter Suzanne Robinson of Omaha. “He’s the kind of guy that, if he got too much change from the clerk at the store, he would go back and take the change to them.”
Petersen volunteered for decades with many local organizations.
He began volunteering at Jennie Edmundson Hospital in 1992, two years after his wife, Doris, died of lung cancer, said Tara Slevin, vice president of development and volunteer services. He served as president of the hospital auxiliary from 2008 to 2010.
He served on the Wings of Hope Cancer Support Center board from 1998 to 2012, including terms as vice president and financial officer, said Patti Higginbotham, founder and president.
“He has been, besides me, the longest-serving board member,” she said. “I think his biggest contribution was his long-term vision. He also had a unique ability to get others engaged in that.
“He was a volunteer extraordinaire. If he said he was going to be there, he would be there — no matter how he felt.”
The organization created a Ken Petersen Vision Award in his honor, said Carolyn Ettinger, program director at Wings of Hope.
Petersen also volunteered with the American Cancer Society.
Petersen served on the Council Bluffs school board from 1977 to 1986 and 1991 to 2001, and continued his service as a volunteer member of the school district’s policy review committee through 2011, said Diane Ostrowski, supervisor of community services for the district. He also facilitated a Youth Leadership Academy for seventh- and eighth-graders.
He served on the Loess Hills Area Education Agency 13 board for 29 years, according to the agency.
For his contributions to education and the community, Petersen was inducted into Abraham Lincoln High School’s Hall of Fame in 2001, Ostrowski said.
He was a charter member of the Iowa Western Community College Volunteer Institute and also served with the Iowa Association of School Boards, Iowa AEA Board, Commission for the Iowa Department of Aging, American Red Cross-Loess Hills Chapter, Bluffs Arts Council, Chanticleer Community Theatre, Mercy Hospital and Pottawattamie County Tobacco Prevention Coalition.
He received many awards, and was Iowan of the Day Aug. 16, 2012, at the Iowa State Fair.
Petersen was born and raised in Council Bluffs and graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree in general engineering at the University of Omaha. He served as a radio operator in the Air Force from 1942 to 1945.
He worked at Giant Manufacturing during college and held positions with the Iowa Department of Transportation, Pottawattamie County and the U.S. Geological Survey before beginning a long career with Northern Natural Gas, which later became part of Enron.
He retired from Northern Engineering International, an Enron subsidiary, in 1984.
Other survivors include daughters Joanne Hull of Papillion and Roseanne Bates of Davenport, Iowa.
A memorial service is planned April 6.