by Katrina Fuller
December 16, 2021
Peterson Recognized During RHJ Center Founders Day
The Robert H. Jackson Center celebrated Founders Day by honoring one of its founders, Greg Peterson.
The halls and rooms of the center were decked out in brilliant baubles and ribbons, trees and greenery as guests gathered to celebrate the occasion. Jackson Center director Kristan McMahon greeted the audience, both those attending in person and those attending virtually through Zoom.
“As we conclude our 20th anniversary year, we thought it only appropriate to continue the celebration of our founders: Carl Cappa, Elizabeth Lenna and Greg Peterson,” McMahon said. “We kicked off our 20th-anniversary celebration on Founders Day last year with tributes to all three of our founders. We were thrilled that so many of you were able to join us for that virtually. But tonight, it’s especially fitting that we can do at least part of this in person, we’re going to primarily focus on one of our founders, the illustrious Gregory L. Peterson.”
She said the occasion reminded her of a quote that is often attributed to Robert H. Jackson: “Your job today tells me nothing of your future. Your use of your leisure today tells me just what your tomorrow will be.”
“We have no greater living embodiment of that principle than Greg Peterson and the Robert H. Jackson Center,” McMahon said. “It is no exaggeration to say that without his brainpower, community ties, programming ideas, interview prowess and literal sweat — although hopefully not blood and tears — and on occasion, sheer force of will, this organization would not be here today. You’ll hear some of those stories tonight.”
McMahon then invited various community members and leaders to share their memories, some in-person while others did so virtually or through a pre-recorded message. Speakers included Mayor Eddie Sundquist, Don Wertman of Penn Yan, Peggy Morgan, Carol Drake as well as others.
Randy Sweeney, former director of the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation, took to the podium to share a few words regarding Peterson and the Robert H. Jackson Center.
“Think about all the people that have walked through the door of the Jackson Center over these 20-plus years,” Sweeney said. “And again, I had the benefit of being part of Greg’s ear a lot in the early days. He would mention the name of someone and realizing … what a wonderful thing it would be to have that individual here to showcase the Jackson Center to the community through these very special individuals. He would have no idea how to find this person or contact them. I’m telling you, it didn’t take him 24 hours before I would get a call and he had made that initial connection.”
Sweeney said the center wouldn’t exist without Peterson’s efforts and dedication.
“There was never a challenge … that was too big or a mountain too high,” he said. “I would ‘t know how to define dedication other than putting the name Greg Peterson alongside it. Greg, thank you for letting me ride along — it was a great experience, a learning experience and we had a lot of fun.”
Roland Kidder also addressed Peterson and the crowd, saying he was only there to “back up Randy Sweeney.”
“All you folks out there know this guy,” Kidder said. “You know how he operates. I know how the Jackson Center happened. He’ll see you downtown on Third and Main, he see me up at a store in Lakewood at noon, he’ll see somebody at Chautauqua that afternoon, and the next day at four o’clock, they’re in his office signing a deal.”
He added that the area owes Peterson a debt of gratitude for his efforts and that he greatly admires Peterson’s “follow through.”
“There’s a lot of people that talk the talk but they don’t walk the walk,” Kidder said. “Greg Peterson is a follow-through person — think of the dog with his teeth in your pant leg. He’s got his teeth in the pant leg of this place. He’s not going anywhere.”
Michael Hill, Chautauqua Institution president and Robert H. Jackson Center board member, also addressed the crowd, explaining that when he first came to the area, he was invited to have an interview with Peterson.
“I was told that it was an interview I had to take and to be careful,” Hill said with a laugh. “That was one of the two interviews in which Greg Peterson made me cry in this room. He is a master of unpacking the human condition. I’m a little miffed that I didn’t think to dig more deeply to ask you that uncomfortable question that you’ve asked countless people in this room. Where you think it’s just going to be a straightforward interview, and then Greg asks you, and in that moment, you’re reminded that you’re a human being and you had something to contribute that you forgot.”
Hill said it was only fitting on that evening that Peterson was being honored for “dreaming and insisting that this son of Jamestown not be forgotten in his hometown.” He joked that McMahon and himself are continuing their research on Peterson.
“Your turn is coming, my friend,” he said. “Tonight I’ll simply say … thank you for reminding us to be human. Thank you for reminding us that to be human is to dream. Thank you for looking around and realizing that to dream is to realize something like this. Cheers, my friend.”