Science museum

James Peterson, former president of the Science Museum of Minnesota, dies at 78 – Twin Cities


James Peterson, the former president of the Science Museum of Minnesota who oversaw the institution’s move to his current home atop the cliffs of the Mississippi River in downtown St. Paul, died last month at the age 78.

James Peterson (Courtesy of Gustavus Adolphus College)

Peterson was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer more than three years ago, according to a press release from Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota, where Peterson also served as president between 2003 and 2008.

Peterson’s love for science shaped his career, which led him to teach the subject in a high school class at the vice president’s office of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, before eventually taking him to the Science Museum in St. Paul.

His two-decade tenure at the museum was marked by membership growth and record attendance, but his most enduring accomplishment is the $ 100 million riverfront facility, which opened in 1999 after several years of fundraising and planning.

“Jim was a talented leader who was well known for his passion for science and his warm smile,” said a post on the museum’s Facebook page. “His work has helped shape our history, and his legacy runs deep. “

Peterson was born in Illinois in 1942, but his family moved to Red Wing, Minnesota, before settling in Superior, Wis., Where Peterson graduated from high school, according to an obituary. published in Pioneer Press.

He received his bachelor’s degree in biology from Gustavus in 1964 – the same year he married his wife, the Reverend Susan Peterson, who also dated Gustavus. After spending four years teaching high school science, James Peterson received a doctorate in entomology from the University of Nebraska in 1972.

After stints as an ecologist with the National Water Quality Commission and vice-president of the Academy of Natural Sciences, Peterson took over as head of the Science Museum in 1984.

At that time, the two cramped museum buildings on Wabasha Street – which are now occupied by the Church of Scientology, the History Theater, and the Upper Mississippi Academy Charter School – housed only 664,000. visitors per year, and its budget totaled $ 7 million, according to a 2003 Pioneer Press report.

Peterson led the Science Museum through troubled financial waters early in his tenure, as the institution saw its funding cut by officials. But the new installation he defended on Kellogg Boulevard helped turn the tide of the museum.

By the time he left the Science Museum in 2003 to take the top job at Gustavus, he had increased the museum’s budget to $ 30 million and doubled its annual pedestrian traffic to 1.2 million visitors.

Peterson is survived by his wife and two children, Hans and Erika.