A Tribute to a True Visionary - Dec 2004 - Darryl Gumm

On Saturday, December 4th, I joined a few hundred people at Trinity Lutheran Church in Sheboygan to celebrate the life of Robert R. Peterson. Robert’s earthly life came to a conclusion on November 29th after losing his battle with cancer.

I came to know Robert as a true visionary who worked tirelessly to breathe life into his dream and his passion to restore the historic former Sheboygan Theater in Sheboygan’s Downtown. Bob was working on his dream, while I was working on mine (to develop a children’s museum) right across the street from Bob’s theater project.

During much of the time we were pouring ourselves, as community-mined volunteers, into our respective projects, we were competing for the community’s charitable dollars. Bob understood the value the children’s museum brought to the community and I understood the value the restored theater brought to the community. We had mutual respect for each other as we spent countless volunteer hours transforming our dreams into reality solely for the benefit of our community which we loved. I vividly remember, many early Saturday mornings, while I was picking up around the museum property, Bob Peterson was out in front of the newly restored theater, now called the Weill Center For the Performing Arts, sweeping the sidewalk and making sure everything was in place and presentable. In that sense, Bob and I came from the same fabric, figuratively speaking.

I admire Bob for his patience in dealing with all the politics and personal agendas which sometimes get in the way of accomplishing good things for communities and people. He was an expert in getting things done, in spite of all the obstacles which were placed on his path to achieving his goals. Bob was a very humble man who didn’t mind picking up a broom or a shovel and performing common labor to achieve his goals and realize his vision.

Even though Bob’s theater project badly needed funding, I remember meeting with him to discuss ways the financially challenged children’s museum could raise money to achieve its mission for children and families. In fact, Bob really hoped the Kohler Arts Center, Weill Center, County Historical Museum and Children’s Museum could work collectively on fund raising. In a perfect world, that might work, but I have the greatest respect for Bob Peterson for having the vision and courage to even suggest such community cooperation among non-profit organizations working hard to keep the community vibrant, exciting and cultural. It would be a real tribute to Mr. Peterson if his vision of co-operative non-profit fund raising could become reality.

Finally, during Bob’s memorial service yesterday, I discovered the great success Bob had as a husband, father and grandfather. While working with him at the Children’s Museum, I got little glimpses of Mr. Peterson, the family man, but yesterday I was introduced the “rest of the story,”– his family.

It has been said that today’s America doesn’t have many heros anymore. Perhaps, we need to pay a little closer attention to the heroes in our midst. While we were all paying our last respects to Bob Peterson, we were saying goodbye to a genuine American Hero. Thousands of people’s lives have been enriched and improved because of the life of Bob Peterson. The fruits of his labors will be enjoyed by countless people for many years to come. Bob lived a life of example. Truly, he was an instrument of peace.