Leading Legacy

Now 101, Melvin Peterson continues to make an impact at the University of Evansville

Melvin Peterson’s name runs deep within the University of Evansville. True to his nature, he’s just happy to make a difference.

After retiring in 1972 from Chevron Oil Corporation in San Francisco, California, Peterson and his partner, William Ridgway, re-turned to Ridgway’s hometown of Evansville. Adopting the university as their alma mater, the pair harnessed a largesse to financially support student education, campus expansions, and new initiatives, before Ridgway passed in 2013.

The Omaha, Nebraska, native established the Melvin Peterson Endowed Chair in Literature and Writing, served as president of UE’s Samuel Johnson Society, and has been an honorary trustee since 1999. The Melvin Peterson Gallery, a space to exhibit artwork by students, alumni, and regional artists, was dedicated in 2010 and named in his honor after he helped secure the property.

Peterson’s largest legacy spans international waters. Sensing an opportunity to expand students’ horizons, in 1978 Peterson and Ridgway purchased Harlaxton Manor in Grantham, England, which had been leased to UE since 1970. Eight years later, the pair donated the 19th-century Jacobethan-style estate to the university, which has used it as its signature study-abroad experience.

As he celebrated his 101st birthday on June 4 at the university’s May House, Peterson beamed when recalling buying the property with Ridgway with the idea to gift it to the university.

“Some of our students have never even been outside their hometowns,” says University of Evansville President Christopher Pietruszkiewicz. “Through Harlaxton College, they get to see the world thanks to Mel’s generosity.”

Peterson maintains a close friendship with the university, with sweet results: Pietruszkiewicz says UE’s celebration for Peterson’s 100th birthday in 2022 turned out to be the first surprise party he’d ever received.

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Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen is the managing editor of Evansville Living and Evansville Business magazines.

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