Charles S. Peterson, 79, was not exactly a founding father of the 113-year-old city of Snoqualmie, but in his long career serving the city as Mayor, Councilman, and Planning Commissioner, he definitely shaped the community that Snoqualmie, and the whole Upper Valley, is today.
“I love my city,” he had said in 2011, when announcing his plans to run for re-election to city council. “I like, to the best of my ability, to work with people and make it better. If you’re going to be involved in something, you should step up to the plate and be part of it.”
Peterson lived by those words. He held a seat on city council from 1967 to 1973, was sworn in as Mayor in 1974 and served until 1981, then “retired” to the city planning commission until running for city council again. He returned to the city council in 2004 and was re-elected in 2015 to his fourth consecutive term. On Jan. 9, 2010, Peterson was presented a key to the city by Mayor Matt Larson for his outstanding and exemplary service to the city.
“Snoqualmie lost its most dedicated and longest-serving public official this week,” said Mayor Matt Larson, adding that Peterson’s tenure with the city happened at the times his leadership was most needed. “His experience and wisdom gave Charles the ability to provide an oft-needed bridge between old and new Snoqualmie. He was a strong and effective advocate for historic downtown, but he also quickly adapted to evolving priorities and consistently fought for the principal that we are “one community.”
The Snoqualmie City Council observed a moment of silence for Peterson before its regular meeting, Monday, April 10. Also at the meeting, former Snoqualmie Mayor Fuzzy Fletcher asked the council to consider renaming a park or other facility in Peterson’s honor, saying, “I personally can’t think of anybody right off the top of my head who put in more time and more diligence, and zillions of hours away from his family…. helping the city.”
Larson responded by saying that discussion had already been started.
During his time in office, Peterson developed a reputation for forthrightness and fair dealing, as he handled the complex issues of the Snoqualmie Ridge annexation and the more recent Snoqualmie Mill Site annexation. As Mayor in 1976, he provided from his own pocket the $1 purchase price for the city to acquire the former bank building on the corner of Falls Avenue and River Street, across from Carmichael’s Hardware. As a City Councilman, he also served as the city’s liaison to the Meadowbrook Farm Association, and was involved in the city’s efforts to purchase and preserve the property in 1996.
“It’s difficult to imagine anyone with more experience in city government, and who has had more influence in the shaping of a city than Charles, with his decades of work as a Snoqualmie Planning Commission member, council member, mayor and current council member,” Meadowbrook Farm Association President Mary Norton wrote in a statement to the board of directors Monday. “His quiet thoughtful leadership, experience and insight will be much missed by many people. His long advocacy of Meadowbrook will be especially missed.”
Peterson died early Saturday, April 8, at Swedish Hospital, after a short illness. He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Carol, and a son and daughter, Ryan and Julie.
He was born Dec. 31, 1937, in Snoqualmie, and was, as Pastor Lee Carney correctly supposed, baptized at her Snoqualmie United Methodist Church.
Carney had been pastor to the Petersons for only the past year or so, she said, but she quickly recognized their deep commitment to the community.
“One of the goofy things about him is he presented this kind of gruff character, but underneath you discover that he’s really listening and looking for a way to solve challenges,” she said. “His influence in the broader community, is … everywhere you look from the library to Meadowbrook Farm, to the different parks, to the health of the city. His legacy will continue to bear that fruit.”
For another longtime Valley resident and active community member, Peterson exemplified integrity in his work on the annexation of Snoqualmie Ridge in 1990.
Dave Battey wrote, “I had the honor of serving on the Snoqualmie Planning Commission with Charles Peterson, as we hammered out the annexation and planning details for Phase I of Snoqualmie Ridge. There were nine very dedicated citizen volunteers on the Planning Commission back then, and they took the Snoqualmie Ridge planning issues seriously — but none more than Charles Peterson. Since he’d been Snoqualmie’s mayor and deeply involved in the city for most of his adult life, the commission listened to Charles, and trusted him. Charles helped us hone Ridge planning like no-one else.”
Peterson, though, worked for Weyerhaeuser and was a union leader, Battey noted, and his career depended on the type of forests that would be eliminated with the development of Snoqualmie Ridge.
“So Charles worked to make the Ridge successful – but he was the only one of the nine Planning Commission members to vote against the Ridge,” Battey finished. “We were proud to work with an individual who was able to recognize the inevitability of a project that impacted hundreds of acres of his precious forest and still work diligently toward the best possible final product.”
Larson was also struck by Peterson’s integrity, starting with their first meeting, during Larson’s first mayoral campaign.
“I knocked on his door and introduced myself. He said, ‘yeah, I know who you are, and I’m not sure I like you.’” Larson said, “It was classic Charles.”
That forthrightness was the foundation of their mutually respectful relationship. “I always knew where I stood with (Charles),” Larson said. “He did not hold grudges nor re-litigate the past. Charles fought strongly for the things he cared about, but he did so with respect and dignity. And win or lose, he would roll up his sleeves and support the decision of the majority because he consistently wanted the community he so deeply loved to succeed. There are few things in Snoqualmie that do not bear his mark.”
North Bend Mayor Ken Hearing praised Peterson’s dedication to the community, saying “Councilmember Peterson’s contributions, which spanned over 19 years of public service to the greater Snoqualmie Valley, were immeasurable. In fact, he had the vision of a combined North Bend/Snoqualmie Police Department in the ’70s and that vision became a reality in 2014. The citizens of both Snoqualmie and North Bend benefited from the legacy of Charles Peterson’s commitment and service to our beautiful small towns.”
Peterson grew up in Snoqualmie and aside from his military service in 1962 and 1963, spent his whole life here. He married his long-time sweetheart Carol Jones on April 13, a Friday, in Washington, D.C. and three weeks later was deployed to Greenland.
When he returned to Snoqualmie, he also returned to Weyerhaeuser, where he’d been working as an electrician. He quickly moved into management, as well as into local politics. Carol did the same, working as an aide for U.S. Representative Julia Butler Hansen, and then for her successor Don Bonker, representing Washington’s 3rd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Together, the Petersons have also been involved in the efforts to build the Mount Si Senior Center and the Snoqualmie Valley Hospital, which originally opened in 1983.
They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on Friday, April 13, 2013, with an open house at Snoqualmie City Hall.
A memorial service for Charles S. Peterson will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 15, at Snoqualmie United Methodist Church. A reception at Snoqualmie City Hall will follow.
Donations may be made to the Charles S. Peterson City Memorial Fund at Sno Falls Credit Union.