Carl O. Peterson

Carl Peterson

KNOX — Carl O. Peterson, a dedicated dairy farmer who led other farmers, died peacefully at his Knox home on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017, surrounded by his beloved family. He was 88.

A humble man, he wanted a small funeral, but people came from all over the Northeast to honor him, said his son-in-law, Jeff Proper.

Mr. Peterson served for 26 years on the board of directors for Agri-Mark and as chairman of Agri-Mark for 14 years — the dairy cooperative markets more than 300 million gallons of farm-fresh milk each year for 1,300 farming families and six New England states.

“He was concerned not just about farms now but about farms in the future,” said Mr. Proper. “He looked out for the young farmers.”

Mr. Peterson died on the farm where he was born, which has been in his family for five generations. He had lived his whole life on Bozenkill Farm — 800 acres on Bozenkill Road in the Helderbergs.

Born on June 17, 1929 at the family home, he was the son of the late Oscar and Florence Alexson Peterson. He graduated from Duanesburg Central School, having skipped several grades, said his daughter, Marcia Proper.

“He was accepted at Harvard,” said Mr. Proper “He sat down with his mother and father. They said they would sell the farm and pay for him to go. It broke his heart. So he decided to stay on the farm and help his parents.”

At a dance, he met Marjorie “Midge” Durfee, the woman who would become his wife. She lived nearby on Knox Cave Road. They married on March 8, 1952. Their union of over 65 years ended only with his death. “They had a lot of fun together,” said Mrs. Proper. “They were fond of each other.”

The Petersons kept on dancing, as well as farming together. “They were on the Pete Williams show for a couple of seasons,” said their daughter.

As a father, Mr. Peterson “was gentle and kind,” Mrs. Proper said. He never hit his children or disciplined them harshly, she said. His pet name for her was “Petunia.”

“He could make you feel that small,” she said, pinching her thumb and forefinger together, “with just a few words. You grew up not wanting to hear those words because you didn’t want to disappoint him.”

She also said of her father, “He was the hardest-working man I’ve known in my life. He never shirked a task.”

During one period of his life, Mr. Peterson went for 17 years straight without once missing a morning milking or an evening milking, she said. Bozenkill Farm had between 125 and 150 cows.

This schedule meant no family vacations, said Mrs. Proper. Although the Peterson children would take occasional day trips with their mother and their aunt and cousins to Story Town or the Catskill Game Farm, her father never took a day off.

Mrs. Proper said her back-to-school assignments on what she’d done over the summer never included the vacations described by her classmates. “I would write about a calf being born,” she said.

Still, the lessons she learned from her father were more valuable than school lessons. She said he taught her “patience, integrity, humility, and determination.”

The Peterson family did take Saturday nights off to go to the Fonda Speedway and watch the stock-car races. “They were still watching the NASCAR races every Sunday until he passed,” said Mrs. Proper.

Mr. Peterson enjoyed much of his work. “He loved hay season, and bailing hay,” said his daughter. “And not just the tractor work; he’d help us loading,” added her husband.

Mr. Peterson also enjoyed producing maple syrup. He started during the war, when sugar was rationed. “His mother needed more sugar,” said Mr. Proper. “Oscar decided to tap the trees,” he said of Mr. Peterson’s father. “That started a family tradition.” Collecting sap the old-fashioned way, in buckets, and then boiling it down to syrup, Mr. Peterson “sat by that fire every day,” said Mr. Proper, “right up until this year.”

Despite his hard work on the farm, Mr. Peterson made time for community service. In addition to his service to Agri-Mark, he was a member of Albany County Farm Bureau, along with the Cooperative Extension Service, and was on the Farm Credit board of directors. He also chaired the Knox Board of Assessment Review.

And he served for 13 years on the Duanesburg School Board. “He handed me my diploma,” said Mrs. Proper.

A half-dozen years ago, when the weight of snow from a huge storm collapsed his barn, Mr. Peterson decided not to rebuild as he had after a tornado ripped through his silo. He sold his cows.

His grandson Justin Peterson is now farming the land, growing soybeans, corn, and hay. “He wanted the farm to stay in the family,” said his daughter.

She also said, “He was proud of every one of his grandchildren. They each went in their own direction. He always said, ‘If you love what you’re doing, you’ll never work a day in your life.’” They all followed his advice and followed their hearts, she said.

Mr. Peterson was “stubborn to the end,” his daughter said. “He would not go to the hospital.”

“We promised him it would be at home,” said Mr. Proper of his death. “He didn’t want drugs. He passed peaceful.”

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Carl O. Peterson is survived by his beloved wife, Marjorie “Midge” “Granny” Peterson; their children, Marcia Proper and her husband, Jeff, of Gallupville, Mark Peterson of Duanesburg, Keith Peterson and his wife Karen, of Burke, and Tammy Peterson of Knox.

He is also survived by nine cherished grandchildren and their spouses, Rebecca Schweigard and her husband, Edward, of  Howes Cave, Joshua Burtt and his wife, Karie, of Knox, Annie Burtt and Frank Santos of Voorheesville, Eric Peterson of Schenectady, Justin Peterson and his wife, Maribel, of Knox, Keith Peterson and his wife, Patricia, of Massena, Neil Peterson and his wife Chrissy, of Chateaugay, Jacob Peterson and his wife, Erica, of Burke, and Virginia (Phil) Soulia and her husband, Phil, of Tennessee; and by 21 loved great-grandchildren.

His sister, Thelma Murphy, died before him.

A funeral service was held at the Duanesburg Presbyterian Reformed Church on Monday, Oct. 2; interment followed at Grove Cemetery in Quaker Street, New York.

Online condolences may be sent to www.whitevanburenfh.com.

Memorial contributions may be made to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis, TN  38105.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

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