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Honoring Women In Stanislaus History
0312 Laura
Shown, Laura C.C. Petersen, the first female principal in the Riverbank Unified School District. She passed away in 1982 and will be posthumously honored as a Woman of History.

The 35th Annual Outstanding Women of Stanislaus County Awards Dinner will be held on Saturday, March 15 at the Assyrian Cultural Center of Bet-Nahrain, 3119 Central Ave., Ceres, hosted by the Stanislaus County Commission for Women (SCCW).

Laura C.C. Petersen, the first female principal in the Riverbank Unified School District, passed away in 1982, and will be posthumously honored by the commission in the Women of History category.

The other honorees are Lori Aderholt, Carolina Gutiérrez Alfaro, Barbara Vallo England, Birgit Fladager, Patricia Hughes, Maria Jaime, Rapunzel Amador Lewis, Sheree Lustgarten, Dr. Priti Modi, Carmen Morad, Heather Sherburn and Kate Trompetter.

Orestimba High School senior Alondra Avila-Diaz and Turlock High’s Cierra Booz, will be honored as Outstanding Young Women and receive scholarships.

The SCCW was established in 1979 as an independent, non-governmental organization that promotes awareness of issues that concern women. The commission does not receive any governmental funding.

Riverbank Historical Society President Paulette Roberson nominated Petersen for the Women of History honor due to her positive influence in the lives of many students in Riverbank.

The nomination that was submitted by Roberson is as follows:

“Laura Christine Catherine Peterson was a true Woman of History in Stanislaus County. She was a positive influence in the lives of countless generations of students of Riverbank, California.

Laura was born in the bay area and she spent her youth in Alameda, California. She completed a full course of study for the training of Teachers of Elementary School for the State Teachers Colleges of California from State Teachers College of San Francisco on the 20th day of January 1928. She then found her way to Riverbank and began her teaching career at Cardozo Middle School. Cardozo was the only grammar school in Riverbank at that time. In 1948 the district opened California Avenue School. She joined the staff there as a teacher and principal. The very next year they opened the third elementary school, Rio Altura School and once again Laura C.C. was sent to be the teacher and principal. In her role as teacher/principal Laura was involved in creating many policies, rules and regulations, for the day to day smooth operations of the school. She was so efficient; she opened two new schools in two years’ time. Laura C.C. has the distinction of being the first female principal for the Riverbank School District.

Teaching the whole child was a strong goal Laura strived to attain. She stressed not only academics but, honesty, fair play, self-confidence, responsibility and respect for others. These were true values that Laura felt her students needed to survive in the world at that time.

Music, dancing and the arts and crafts was also important to Laura. Her vintage car (Model T) was as well-known as she was in Riverbank. One special “treat” was a trip to the Modesto Symphony in her car. This was not a school sponsored field trip; this was done on her own time and at her own expense. This was a treat that had to be earned, and typically lessons preceded the trip. These lessons were about musical instruments, composers and types of music. She also arranged for her classes to take short train trips.

In addition to the students, Laura developed lasting friendships with the population of Riverbank. She was a very active member of the First Methodist Church and was involved in its activities. She was a member of the Eastern Star Organization and served as its Worthy Matron. She was a member for 30 years of the Delta Kappa Gamma Society. This is a women’s organization that promotes professional and personal growth of Women Educators and Excellence in Education. She was a member of the Parent Teacher Association, and an Honorary Fire Person. Among her friends were teachers, administrators, trustees, neighbors, and business people.

After her retirement Laura wrote a “Social Column” for the Riverbank Newspaper. She could retell activities with delight, and lots of words.

Laura passed away on December 13, 1982.

Laura C.C. received her eighth grade diploma from Alameda City School in June 1921. She completed a full course of study for the training of Teachers of Elementary School for the State Teachers College of San Francisco in 1928. She was awarded her first principal job in 1948. The second followed the next year and she held this prestigious position until she retired. She remained in the Riverbank School District for 43 years.

She was honored in 1980 with a Riverbank Masonic Lodge Teacher Appreciation Award for her service to the children of Riverbank. She was honored by the City of Riverbank for her service by assigning May 7, 1972 as Laura C.C. Petersen Day.

Laura remained single her entire life. The students of Riverbank were very dear to her. Being very forward-thinking she wanted to leave a little more to the students. So, she set up a savings account and stipulated that the interest to the account be set up as a scholarship for two students at Cardozo Middle School. Each year after meeting the requirements, two students would be chosen for this monetary award. Since only the interest was used the account was perpetual. The award was appropriately named – The Laura C.C. Petersen award.

Laura arrived in Riverbank, diploma in hand and immediately found a teaching job. It wasn’t long until she received her tenure. (Yes, they had tenure in the 1930’s.) With a few dollars saved she built a home on Topeka Street. What a shining example for the students of Riverbank School District. The female students especially could see this single lady making a life for herself, and a place in this new society.

She was chosen, above the male applicants, not once but twice to be in the top leadership role, of principal. These were times when women were not encouraged to be the leaders in Education.

These were tough times and teachers were surrogate parents. One of her former students said – “I will always remember Miss Peterson. I can still see her striding across the playground – glasses, keys, and whistle bouncing around her neck and a string of little girls latched onto each hand.” She went out of her way to make the students life a little more exciting. The female students saw the life she lived and looked up to her example.

When World War II broke out many changes occurred. Women could now marry and keep their teaching jobs. Teachers could now live outside the city of Riverbank. Classes were bursting at the seams. Classrooms were double-shifted. Enrollment was huge – teaching at least 45 children each day. But Laura adjusted. She stayed put, working for the same school district as principal and living in the same house for 43 years.

She was a mentor to so many young teachers. Always ready to encourage, suggest and help in any way she could. She was known for preparing little goodies – wrapped in a napkin or handkerchief and left on teacher’s desks or delivered to a sick friend. Her most admirable qualities were compassion and patience. She was the epitome of a positive role model for all women.”