Former President Dr. James Peterson ’64 Dies at 78The alumnus led the Science Museum of Minnesota for nearly two decades before returning to serve as Gustavus president from 2003-2008.
Posted on November 1st, 2021 by

Dr. James Peterson '64 (1942-2021)

James Lincoln Peterson, a 1964 graduate of Gustavus Adolphus College who served as the College’s 15th president from 2003-2008, died on Friday, October 29 after living with pancreatic cancer for over three years.

Peterson’s legacy at Gustavus includes strengthening the College’s relationships with Sweden and the Lutheran Church, introducing a new provost-led academic leadership model, and growing the College’s endowment value as it surpassed $100 million for the first time. He also oversaw the creation of the John S. Kendall Center for Engaged Learning and the Glen and LaVonne Johnson Center for Environmental Innovation along with the the construction of a new football stadium and renovation of several other athletics and wellness facilities.

Former Gustavus President Dr. James Peterson ’64

“The Gustavus community mourns the loss of a gracious, thoughtful, and humble leader who inspired a passion for the liberal arts in students and colleagues,” President Rebecca Bergman said. “Jim and Susan (Rev. Susan Pepin Peterson ’65) truly exemplify the College’s core values of excellence, community, justice, service, and faith.”

The son of a Lutheran pastor, Peterson continued a family legacy by following his parents and older brother to Gustavus. After graduating in 1964, Peterson worked as a high school science teacher in Peoria, Ill., and Osseo, Minn., before pursuing a doctorate in entomology from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. After receiving his PhD in 1972, Peterson was a research associate at the University of Wisconsin, Madison for two years before moving to Washington, D.C. to serve as a staff ecologist for the National Commission on Water Quality. From 1976-1984, Peterson served as vice president in the areas of systematics and evolutionary biology, environmental research, and institutional advancement at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.

Peterson returned to Minnesota in 1984 to serve as president of the Science Museum of Minnesota for 19 years, where he grew the budget and the staff and steered a new $100-million, 325,000-square-foot facility through the Minnesota Legislature.

After retiring from Gustavus, Peterson served as the interim president at Northland College in Ashland, Wis. He and his wife Susan were honored with the Greater Gustavus Award—the highest honor given by the College’s Alumni Association—in 2008. In 2010, Peterson was awarded the Royal Order of the Polar Star by the Swedish crown in recognition of his service to Gustavus and work to foster relationships with individuals and organizations to strengthen ties with Sweden.

Peterson is survived by his wife, Rev. Susan Peterson ’65, children Erika ’94 (Nathan Eklund) and Hans (Amy Walter-Peterson), grandchildren Peter and Samuel, and brothers Paul ‘62 (Cynthia Harris) and Tim (Victoria Radar). His funeral is planned for Thursday, November 11 at 3 p.m. at Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, followed by an inurnment service at Gustavus Adolphus College on Friday, November 12, at 2 p.m.


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication Luc Hatlestad



  1. Dr. Michael Hendrickson says:

    Jim was a close college mate and friend that I will sorely miss. I remember fondly when my son Erik entered GAC for his freshman year during the time Jim was President. He made a point of seeking Erik out on the day he moved into his dorm with great fanfare followed by the Director of Admissions, announcing loudly that he was looking for Erik Hendrickson. Erik never forgot his “welcome” as well as did all his classmates!

    Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Susan and family. Unfortunately, living in Monterey, CA limits our ability to attend his memorial service. Mike and Sandy Hendrickson

  2. Stacia Vogel says:

    Deep condolences to Jim’s dear family; may you find peace during your time of grief knowing how much he loved you! It was clear that family brought him such joy, which he in turn shared with the world, near and far!

    I’m saddened by the news of his passing, but so very grateful to have worked for such an amazing leader at Gustavus Adolphus College. He was a bold visionary and a kind leader . . . President “Jim” Peterson had a brilliant mind and a heart of gold!

    He made our world a better place and he lives on in the hearts of all who knew him. And, he left a legacy through his servant leadership at Gustavus and elsewhere.