Life Story / Obituary
This one is different!” Victor Gibbons Peterson’s mother often said of her third child, born June 23, 1941 in the Chatham area of Chicago . Perhaps the first notable difference was that, because Vic’s parents Victor Paul and Julia Mary (Gibbons) Peterson were unable to decide on a name for their son prior to leaving the hospital, Vic’s birth certificate simply read “Boy Peterson.” Very quickly, though, his mom and dad decided on “Vic”
From an early age Vic demonstrated a fierce sense of independence combined with a thirst for adventure, qualities his parents encouraged. He was that kid who actually did try to dig a “hole to China.” By the age of seven, he was allowed to go alone to Rainbow Beach, five miles from home. But being as enterprising and fearless as he was adventurous, he soon discovered that he could pocket the three or four cents his mother gave him for streetcar fare, and get to the beach for free by hitchhiking.
As a teenager, hitchhiking became his preferred mode of transportation, and took him all up and down the South Shore. One of his favorite places to go was “Pill Hill”, an area so-called because of the many wealthy University of Chicago physicians who lived there. With his gift for entrepreneurship, Vic found he could charge them a much higher rate than usual for his lawn-mowing services.
Having “chosen the right parents” who raised him with the philosophy that personal service takes priority, Vic was a proud Boy Scout, ultimately attaining the rank of Eagle Scout.
One summer Vic rallied some friends to take an unsupervised camping & canoeing trip up to Canada, which Vic’s parents allowed. At the time, Vic was just 14 years old, while the youngest of the boys, his best friend Bob Mull, was only 12. That memorable trip concluded with a chase by the Canadian Mounted Police and a stern caution not to return to Canada.
At 16, Vic set his sights across the ocean. Having saved up his money, he flew from Chicago to Copenhagen, then spent the next five months hitchhiking through seventeen countries from Italy to the Arctic Circle. It was during that trip that Vic learned the importance of a “name.” While Vic had long been known as “Victor,” his parents had neglected to change his name legally. In Europe he was twice detained during border crossings, believed to be an AWOL American soldier, because the name “Boy Peterson” on his birth certificate did not match the name on his passport. Returning to the states, he filed the paperwork to officially become Victor Gibbons Peterson, no longer a “boy” in name or experience.
In the fall he enrolled at Calumet High School in Chicago. It was then that he met Bonnie Couser in a soda shop on 79th & Racine. They dated for a fun two and a half years. Always the jokester, on prom night Vic showed up at Bonnie’s door wearing a white tuxedo jacket and red plaid Bermuda shorts! After high school Bonnie and Vic amicably parted ways, with Bonnie pursuing her dream of becoming a flight attendant and Vic heading east to enroll in the Culinary Institute of America. Of course they thought they’d stay connected.
It was on the east coast, in Newhaven, Connecticut that Vic’s life took its greatest turn. One crisp fall evening in October 1960, Vic, just 19 and an aspiring chef, volunteered to chauffer five young ladies from Albertus Magnus College, to a mixer at the Culinary Institute in his 1955 Buick Roadmaster. To Vic’s mind, all of the girls seemed loud, pushy, and flighty except for the quiet, pretty women sitting behind him. Her name, was Jean Mesaric. Vic pursued the smart and gentle Jean, and they began dating. At the time, Jean was living in a Catholic orphanage, taking care of the children for her room and board while she attended college. Vic would often invite Jean’s charges to join the two of them on outings. At other times he would go over to cook dinner for the entire orphanage. Eventually Vic won Jean’s heart, and on May 12, 1962 they were married. It would be a lifelong friendship, partnership, and romance.
The next year, Vic & Jean welcomed a daughter, Mary-Lynn. And soon after, they had three more children, Victor Anthony, Gary Walter (named for Vic’s lifelong friend Gary Cooper), and Ann-Christine. Joy was mixed with sorrow as Mary-Lynn and Victor were diagnosed with complete heart blocks which required intensive medical care and frequent hospitalizations. At the same time Vic’s job as manager of several Friendly Ice Cream stores was taking a toll, as he was continually sent to the most troubled locations as a ”fixer.” When the stress of his job combined with the children’s illnesses landed Vic in the hospital, he and Jean knew something had to change.
In October 1967, with Ann-Christine barely a month old, the couple packed up the car and made their way to Chicago to join Vic’s parents and brother Walt in the family marine business. Tragedy struck in December of that year when little Anne-Christine died of SIDS. Sixteen months after Anne-Christine’s passing, another son, Kurt Albert was born. Kurt, too, was diagnosed with a severe heart problem. This further set Vic on a course of hard work, determined to grow the family business. Vic was a savvy businessman, expanding JG Peterson, into Port Supply, and Port Locker, making personal service a priority. As his businesses prospered, Vic’s lucrative enterprises expanded to include boat yards, and eventually real estate.
Vic also inherited his own father’s passion for sailing. Beginning with a small boat that Vic and his brother Walt built in their early teens, he would eventually own more than fifteen boats during his lifetime, and spent decades racing competitively on the Great Lakes. One major highlight of his sailing career was winning the Chicago-Mackinac Race Trophy in the 1978 Race to Mackinac event, due to a “happy accident” with a mainsail. Ultimately he was honored with induction into the illustrious “Island Goats Sailing Society,” for having completed twenty-eight consecutive Chicago to Mackinac races. Sailing, for Vic, was also a wonderful way to create great adventures for his family, especially his sons who often raced with him.
Upon retirement, Vic continued to spend his time near the water – in Suttons Bay, Michigan in the summer and Safety Harbor Florida in the winter. April 2018 brought the sorrow of the passing of his wife of 56 years , Jean. But happiness gradually returned to Vic when later that year he reconnected with Bonnie (Couser) Petersen. In September of 2018, Vic called Bonnie to ask if she’d like to become an “item,” and on April 18, 2019, Vic Peterson and Bonnie Petersen held a commitment ceremony, to validate their union of spirit and devotion, though not of name. As Bonnie told Vic, “If you think I’m marrying you to change one letter, forget about it!” It was a story that Vic, with his pervasive sense of humor, loved to repeat.
Suppose we are standing by the seashore. Nearby a ship spreads its white billowing sails to the fresh, moving breeze and sets a course for the blue ocean. . . . The ship is an object of beauty and strength. . . . We stand and watch it until, at length and at last, the proud vessel appears to be a mere speck of white cloud, just where the sea and the sky come together. . . . Then someone in our midst says, “There! The ship is gone. . . .” But gone where? . . . Merely gone from our sight. That’s all. That ship is still just as large in mast, hull and spar it was when it left our side. . . . And it is just as able to bear its load, —our companion, father, grandfather, friend— to his destined heavenly port. . . . The ship’s diminished size is in us – not it. Just at the moment when someone in our gathering says, “There! . . . it’s gone!” there are other distant eyes watching from the other side as the ship comes into view, and those voices readily take up the happy cry, “Here he comes!!!”
Standing by the shore are: devoted wife, Bonnie Petersen; children, Mary-Lynn (Anthony Clarke),Vic Peterson (Tracy Harrison), Gary Peterson (Elena Peterson), Kurt (deceased) survived by (Serena McCann)
Welcoming Vic on that distant shore: Jean Peterson, cherished, wife of 56 years, Kurt beloved son, Ann-Christine baby daughter, Dear grandsons Emilio and Jacob.
Vic, We wish you smooth sailing!