Earl B. Peterson, who served as ASA’s CEO between 1978 and 1990, has passed away, leaving behind a legacy based on his skills as a money manager and practical administrator.
“I knew Earl casually before he joined the ASA staff, so I was unaware of his many talents. When he went to work for the Association, I realized that he was just what we needed to grow and mature into a full-fledged breeding registry,” said Tom Risinger, the Crockett, Texas-based breeder who served two separate terms on the ASA Board. “He was definitely the right man at the right time!”
Risinger’s astute observation was echoed by longtime staff member Steve McGuire. During Peterson’s 15 years on the ASA staff, first as Executive Administrator and from his subsequent tenure as Executive Vice-President, McGuire grew to appreciate his work ethic. “I had been working part-time for Simmental and Earl put me on as a permanent employee. He gave me many opportunities and experiences — I learned a great deal during that time. He had a talented, smart, logical business mind, and as Bob Hough wrote in his 2017 book, ‘Simmental has been very fortunate to have the right leaders come along at the right time.’ Earl was one of those leaders,” McGuire said.
Among many accomplishments, several groundbreaking programs were established on Peterson’s watch, including:
• The entire data processing system was moved in-house. Previously, Boeing Computer Services had provided data processing services.
• Financial reserves were greatly increased, allowing the Association to survive internal problems that surfaced in the early 1990s.
• An industry-envied, education-based junior program was expanded and a scholarship program established.
• A 25-year relationship was developed with Cornell University for genetic evaluation.
• ASA’s own magazine, the Register, was founded as a for-profit subsidiary.
• Professional staff was increased to include a geneticist, public relations director, youth director, and certified public accountant.
A Rich Legacy
Peterson passed away May 4, at his retirement home in Chandler, Arizona, after a difficult battle with cancer. He was born May 18, 1934, in Albia, Iowa, the third child and first son of 13 children born to Joye Obert and Ruth Francis Peterson.
During World War II, the family migrated to Sandpoint, Idaho, where Earl began elementary school. Ultimately, he graduated from high school in Beach, North Dakota, and earned a B.S. degree in Agricultural Education from North Dakota State University. His M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Ag Business were achieved at Montana State University. A portion of his college education was financed by the G.I. Bill — a direct result of a two-year hitch in the US Army in the 1950s.
In addition to his decade-and-a-half at ASA, his multifaceted career included stints as a teacher, country banker, and university finance and business officer. After concluding his work at ASA, he served several years on the headquarters staff of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and concluded his working career as an industry consultant.
He married Jeannine Knote in 1960 and became the father of two sons, Todd (Dana), Silverthorne, Colorado; and Tim (Sallee), Missoula, Montana. He was also the proud grandfather of Kyle, Grand Junction; and Jaimee, Denver. Sadly, Jeannine lost her own battle with breast cancer, passing away in 2005. Later, Peterson met and married his second wife, Rosella, of the family home in Chandler.
In addition to his wife, children, and grandchildren, Earl is survived by three brothers and four sisters, plus dozens of nephews, nieces, and cousins. A memorial scholarship fund has been established in the name of “Earl and Jeannine Peterson” with the North Dakota State University Development Foundation to provide financial assistance to students from small North Dakota towns.
In addition to Risinger and McGuire, tributes also came in from Wade Shafer, ASA’s current CEO, and two other former Trustees who had worked with Earl during his time at ASA.
“I wasn’t around when Earl was our CEO, but before he retired to Arizona, he was a frequent visitor to the office, and I got to know him that way. You could tell that he cared deeply for our future and was very proud of our new headquarters building. Before Earl left Bozeman, he donated his treadmill to our office fitness room,” Shafer said.
“I had a prior connection to him through his brother, Harvey, an animal scientist at the University of Minnesota Crookston, who I knew growing up in Minnesota,” Shafer added.
“I served as a Trustee in the late 1980s and early 90s, and he was CEO during a time when ASA was badly in need of strong financial leadership,” said Willie Altenburg, Wellington, Colorado. “Earl put in long hours, traveled extensively, and provided strong leadership on behalf of the ASA and our cattle during very difficult times.”
Jim Nickeson, Veblen, SD, who served six years as a Trustee including a term as Board Chairman, offered these reflections: “When I was elected treasurer, Earl came to me and told me that I had an opportunity that not many other treasurers would ever have. Because much of our investment principle had matured that year, he pointed out that we could lock up the principle at an interest rate of 15.5% for some years. That made me look good, but in reality, it was all Earl,” he recalled.
“I often asked Earl’s advice for years after I left the Board, and sometimes I can still feel him sitting next to me yet today,” Nickeson concluded. “Rest in peace, old friend.”
ASA has enjoyed the leadership of six different men and each, in his own way brought a unique perspective and expertise to the job.
The first was Dale Lynch (196869), who served for a brief time as the founding organization was created. Initially, the CEO carried the title of Executive Secretary, but the position title was changed in the late 1980s to Executive Vice President, while Peterson was CEO.
Lynch was followed by Don Vaniman (1969-78), whose calling card was his devotion to and strong belief in performance principles assuring that the breed would be forever based on sound science. Vaniman also possessed an innate sense for positive public relations.
As the organization moved forward, Peterson was hired in 1975 and spent his first three years installing a rigorous accounting and payroll system, plus an impressive employee benefits package. When Vaniman moved on to a career in real estate, Peterson took over as CEO.
EVP number four was Canadian Brian Kitchen, hired in 1990, who focused on international markets and insisted on bringing the Register in-house.
Dr. Jerry Lipsey (1996-2013), who had been on the faculty at the University of Missouri, was an animal scientist. He believed in hiring good people, allowing them to utilize their skills. His focus was on heterosis and ushered in the era of SimAngus™.
Dr. Wade Shafer(2013 to present) had been on the staff as ASA’s Director of Performance. Under his leadership, the Association created International Genetics Solutions (IGS), the world’s largest collection of cattle records, through a collaboration of 19 progressive beef organizations.