UW-Stevens Point: Home Economics Timeline: Past To Present (1902-2002)
A celebration of 100 years of dynamic change in Home Economics
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A celebration of 100 years of dynamic change in Home Economics

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Compiled and written by Kirsten Krowas, class of  2003

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Bernadine Peterson pictured with Kathy McKinney,
Judy Pfiffner, and Kathe Stumpf

Bernadine Peterson has always had a connection with the University of Wisconsin � Stevens Point.  In 1916 her mother, Effie Alt, graduated with a Grammar Grade diploma from what was then Stevens Point Normal. Almost 30 years later, in 1945, Bernadine followed in her footsteps by graduating with a degree in Home Economics Education from Central State Teachers College (CSTC).  Carol Peterson, Bernadine�s sister, completed the circle by graduating with a degree in Elementary Education from Wisconsin State College in 1954.

Born in Marshfield, Wisconsin, Bernadine Peterson spent most of her childhood in the nearby town of Neillsville.  Her father, B.H. Peterson, sold life insurance and her mother, Effie Alt Peterson, was a teacher.  Early experiences helped her during college.  For example, learning how to cook on an oil stove was a great advantage for one of the jobs she held while in school.  Learning from her grandmother to sew meticulously put her in good stead with Bessie May Allen�s high standards.  Rita Youmans who was Bernadine�s Sunday School Teacher in Neillsville, later became the Head of the UWSP School of Home Economics program from 1953-1956.

After graduating from high school, she won a Legislative Scholarship, which paid for college books and registration, Bernadine decided to attend Central State Teachers College at Stevens Point.  The close proximity to her hometown of Neillsville was also an advantage, as no students had cars then.  This was during World War II when gas was rationed. 

The time spent in Stevens Point left Bernadine with many fond memories and delightful stories.  Many of the male students had to leave campus to serve their country during World War II.  She wonders how the college was able to stay open with such low female enrollment.  Although the Legislative Scholarship paid for registration and books, Bernadine also needed to work her way through school to pay for tuition and living expenses.  One of the first jobs she held was to help cook the school lunch for the rural school on campus.  At that time the rural school provided practicum experiences for those obtaining their Rural Education diploma by bussing rural students onto campus.  An oil stove was used to cook the lunch, and because of her experience using one as she was growing up Bernadine was quite adept at cooking on it.  However, Bernadine was never quite sure what her supervisor, Miss LaVigne, meant as she frequently commented on Bernadine�s work, �Glory be to St. Peter, child.�  Bernadine also worked for the Dean of Women, Mrs. Elizabeth Pfiffner.  Three nights a week she cooked dinner, cleaned her apartment, and did laundry.  Mary Pfiffner, her daughter, who later graduated from Point, was a 7th grader that year.  She has many fond memories of her employer whom she called a �wonderful woman.� 

Perhaps the fondest memories of her time spent in Stevens Point are the months of her senior year.  For the first time Bernadine was able to live in the only dorm, Nelson Hall.  This was a great experience even though the girls slept on Army cots left over from when the Army had occupied Nelson Hall during World War I.  For 12 weeks during the middle of winter Bernadine had to live in the Home Management House, otherwise known as Sims Cottage.  At that time the Home Economics program required students to live in the house for a period of time, to practice certain skills.  While living in the house the four girls divided the duties which included planning meals, shopping, keeping accounts, cooking, cleaning, shoveling (if it was winter), and the �favorite� job of stoking the furnace, �Old Nellie.�  Because of the war, planning meals was an especially difficult task as ration books had to be used.  If rations were used frivolously on one meal, later meals would suffer.  It was during this time that she became one of �Bessie�s girls.�  Bessie May Allen was the head of the program at the time and lived in the house with the girls to supervise and oversee their duties.  Bernadine remembers Miss Allen with great respect and as a strict taskmaster and a great teacher.   

Bernadine was a very serious student, not only because of her Legislative Scholarship, but also because �she wanted to know things.�  This love of learning drove her to take classes she did not need for graduation.  If there was a specific professor she heard had good classes, she would enroll in that class, even if it meant 20 credits for the semester.  Mr. Rogers, who taught organic chemistry, was one of her favorite professors.  On one of his exams she received a 99, but could not find anything wrong, so she asked him about the grade. Mr. Rogers told her nothing was wrong, but nobody was perfect!  In 1945 Bernadine was given the honor of writing the memorial for Mr. Rogers who had passed on the year before.  The professors who educated Bernadine rate high on her list of praise.  �The food science I learned from Miss Meston I still use today.  She taught us the why.�  Many of their names are the names we see everyday on the buildings around campus: Knutsen, Roach, Schmeekle, Allen, and others. 

After graduation Bernadine�s first job was teaching home economics at a school in Port Edwards.  She learned that she loved teaching.  After that she taught in Johnson Creek where she prepared the school lunch, which she also used as a teaching tool because the students helped to cook and clean.  The connection to Stevens Point continued while Bernadine was in her second year of teaching at Johnson Creek.  After contracting the mumps and having to be quarantined for two weeks during the school year, Bessie May Allen sent Doris See, who would later become a 1948 Central State Teachers College Home Economics graduate, to Johnson Creek to sub for Bernadine for two weeks. 

  At Johnson Creek, Bernadine also had the opportunity to teach high school English.  In fact there was a time when the principal told her that if she taught a senior English class every senior would take it, even though it was not required, because she was the teacher.  She decided to take him up on the offer and good-naturedly gave the students a hard time about it, saying that they had just given her more work.  One senior did not know the alphabet well, but was a good artist.  When it came time to read Macbeth, she asked him to draw the whole play on a long sheet of paper.  He illustrated it beautifully and showed that he did understand the play.  �They learned something and had fun doing it.�  While teaching at Kansas State later on in her career Bernadine had the opportunity to meet one of her former English students who was one of only four who went on to college and he had received his doctorate.  In later years she was heartily welcomed back at homecoming where she was able to see many of the students she taught at a get together held in her honor. 

From Johnson Creek Bernadine took jobs in a few other cities such as Poynette (where she was advisor to the state Future Homemakers of America), Reedsburg, and Columbus (where she worked with student teachers).  In Columbus Bernadine met Dr. Agnes Jones.  Bernadine had student teachers from UW-Madison when she taught at the Columbus High School.  Dr. Jones was a faculty member at the University at that time who would visit the student teachers.  In later years Dr. Jones would join the UW-Stevens Point faculty and become head of the Home Economics Program.

 While in Poynette Bernadine decided to go back to school for her Master�s at UW-Madison.  To make extra money during the summer she found a job at Carmen�s, a women�s clothing store on the square in Madison.  Bernadine recalls life on the square with fondness, �At that time people wore a dress and heels, and streets were well traveled and safe.� 

After finishing her master�s Bernadine went on to the University of Kansas for two years where she headed the Home Economics Education program.  This provided her with a different experience because Home Economics was affiliated with the College of Letters and Science.  After this she returned to Madison on a General Foods Fellowship and in 1961 received her PH. D.  Bernadine spent four years as the Chair of the Home Economics Education department at Kansas State University.  The program enjoyed 4 years of success, with enrollment increasing by 500%.  Bernadine met the co-author of a textbook she had used in college.  The book, Foods, was written by Justin, Rust, and Vail and was used religiously by the Home Economic students.  It was Rust whom Bernadine succeeded as Program Head at Kansas State.  She describes Rust as the �nicest person� and was honored to have the opportunity to succeed her. 

Leaving her position at Kansas State University, Bernadine moved to Madison and took the position of Home Economics Education Chair.  This provided her with the opportunity to move closer to home to help care for her parents. She eventually took a job with the UW-Extension and worked with them full-time until her retirement.  Extension is a program from the University of Wisconsin-Madison that communicates research findings to the general public, in the areas of home economics, agriculture, or youth development. Bernadine was a district program leader.  Her responsibility was to help the Family Living Agents plan and evaluate their programs.  She also created a student internship program for those who were studying to be agents.  During this time another connection with Stevens Point was made.  Mary Heisler, who graduated from Stevens Point with a master�s in 1975, was an extension agent in Bernadine�s district.  After seventeen years in Extension, Bernadine retired and moved on to volunteer activities.

One of the first things Bernadine did after retiring was to volunteer for the Wisconsin State Historical Society.  This was the perfect group for her because of her love of history and learning, and the desire to meet people outside her profession.  Bernadine helped the Society in many different ways, writing publications, working at the front desk, helping with the student internships, and giving tours to students.

Today Bernadine still offers her time to many groups, one of which is the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.  We are fortunate that Bernadine Peterson is such a strong believer in the Home Economics program here and that she agreed to be a leadership donor to the Home Economics Endowment.  With her support and wisdom we will reach our goal and continue to educate students about the heritage of the program to which they belong.  In Dr. Bernadine Peterson�s words, �You have to know where you came from to understand where you are today.�        


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