Tim Leeds Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
The Fifth Avenue Christian Church in Havre was filled to overflowing Wednesday with people paying their last respects at the memorial service for state Director of the Department of Agriculture Nancy Peterson. “Nancy would like to thank all of you for coming. She would be humbled by your presence,” her ex-husband Mark Peterson said during the service. Nancy Peterson, who was raised at the family farm near Gildford operated by her parents Francis and Gertrude Kurtz, became director of agriculture in 2004. She died Saturday of melanoma cancer at age 52. The chapel at Fifth Avenue Christian Church, which holds about 500 people, was filled with people standing in the back and many more people listening to the service through the church’s speaker system in its Gathering Hall. The people at the service included family, friends, and members of state and local government on all levels. Representatives of the Havre Police Department, the Hill County Sheriff’s Office, the Montana Highway Patrol and the U.S. Border Patrol were at the doors to the chapel, handing out programs. “Apparently, by the numbers, she has touched many of us in a number of ways,” said Pastor John Chapman of Havre’s First Baptist Church, who officiated at the ceremony. Mark Peterson told the people at the ceremony that his ex-wife would want them to carry on her work. “She was a leader. She raised two boys who are leaders in their own right,” he said. “I would ask that you carry on her passion for agriculture, her ability to teach and inform others about agriculture. “Do not tell her goodbye. Tell her you will see her later,” he said in closing. After graduating from KG High School in Gildford its second graduating class after consolidating and marrying Mark Peterson in 1973, Nancy Peterson farmed with him north of Havre and they raised their two sons, Kyle and Cody Peterson. Before being appointed director of agriculture, Peterson worked many jobs including working for Amtrak and operating a private grain testing laboratory. She and Mark Peterson also volunteered as First Responder trainers. Mark and Nancy Peterson divorced in 2004, but continued to operate their incorporated farm and ranch together. Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who appointed Peterson to her position, said during the service that she was concerned only with helping ag producers. Peterson, who was active in the Montana Democratic Party and worked with Schweitzer's campaign for governor in 2004, didn’t let personal politics enter into her work, he said. Schweitzer said that when he was working with Peterson on the state Farm Service Agency committee she chaired the committee for eight years the first case they heard was an appeal by a prominent Republican family in the state. “Nancy made it clear we would do all we could to help,” Schweitzer said. “We found a way, found the rules, found the words, to make the family whole again. “She was a daughter, sister, mother, grandmother there is nothing in life to match the ability to say at the end, she was my friend.” Schweitzer said in an interview after the service that Peterson will be difficult to replace as agriculture director. “She was born to be director of the Department of Agriculture. There’s never been anyone more passionate, articulate and committed to Montana agriculture,” he said. He said she had an edge on knowledge that few politicians have, including first-hand experience with things like talking to bankers about financing during a bad year and dealing with implement dealers and fertilizers dealers and other community businesses. “She brought personal knowledge in agriculture. She hadn’t come up through the ranks talking about agriculture, she came up through the ranks producing agriculture,” he said. “ It’s not something you can learn about, you have to live it, and she lived it.” Schweitzer said Peterson had started many valuable programs while in office, such as programs to promote alternative fuels like biodiesel, and the state government will try to continue what she has started. “We’ll go on, but it would have been Easier with her,” he said. Ed Lipp of Hingham said he had known Peterson since she was in school, while he was a substitute mail carrier delivering mail to her parent’s farm. She was also his regular dance partner, he added. “I did a number of waltzes with her over the years. She loved to dance. She was a beautiful dancer,” Lipp said. “She was just a wonderful person.” He added that Peterson was one member of state government who people could count on to return calls. When he called her office to talk about Conservation Reserve Program issues, she would call him back, sometimes late at night, Lipp said. “She used her own personal time to call,” he said. “She was a very dedicated person. They don't make ’em like her every day.” State Rep. John Musgrove of Havre said much the same after the service. “She got out of her sickbed to take care of agriculture,” he said to another attending the service. “She would go down to Salt Lake (City) and get her treatment then hurry back so dedicated. She was a very dedicated lady.” Members of the governor’s administration who attended the funeral also praised Peterson after the service, saying she was a joy to work with. “It was wonderful,” said Pam Coty of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. “She was smart, efficient; she was strong, articulate.” “She was always positive, always smiling, always can-do,” added Jan Lombardi, the governor’s education advisor. Paul Tuss, executive director of Bear Paw Development Corp. in Havre, said he knew Peterson a little before she was appointed because of her work in agriculture and in the community. Once she became director of agriculture, “I got to know her really well,” he said. “You couldn’t have asked for better support from anyone.” She was very involved in Bear Paw’s work to help producers break into valueadded agriculture, including being instrumental in finding funding for its value-added ag coordinator position when the original funding ran out, Tuss said. “She will be missed,” he added.