Eric Peterson remembered for his service to many groups
When friends gathered recently to remember Eric Peterson, they talked of a man who was a clear-sighted advocate for the disabled, though he had lost his own vision years ago to diabetes.
Peterson, 46, a Linden Hills neighborhood activist and local and national advocate for accessible arts and disability rights, died Oct. 3 of complications stemming from diabetes.
Peterson served on the Linden Hills Neighborhood Council (LHiNC) board for the past five years, often urging the group to adopt Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) plans friendlier to the disabled.
Leonard Lang, who served on the board with Peterson, remembered how Peterson urged the group to rethink the signage they were buying for Linden Hills Park a couple of years ago. He not only got Braille on the signs, but at the right height and depth to be truly usable.
Rhea Sullivan, the former NRP coordinator for LHiNC, said Peterson brought an intensity to the group’s meetings, as well as to efforts to make arts in the Twin Cities accessible.
“He was an outspoken person, a fierce advocate. He was really known for being willing to ask the tough questions. He was willing to push until people got uncomfortable, but he made things happen,” said Rhea Sullivan, the former NRP coordinator for LHiNC.
Jon Skaalen, program coordinator for VSA Arts of Minnesota, said Peterson served on the nonprofit group’s board for seven years. The group provides programs and services to make arts available to people with disabilities.
“As a person with a disability, he developed an interest over the years in trying to make theater more accessible himself, as a theatergoer, actor and director; and then he got interested in making all aspects of life in the Twin Cities more accessible,” Skaalen said.
Skaalen said he first met Peterson, who served as president of VSA for three years, 15 years ago when the actor was appearing in a production of “Macbeth” in St. Paul.
“He and his guide dog were both good. They were both in the play. I wasn’t there the night that his guide dog went off into the audience,” Skaalen said with a laugh.
Skaalen said his friend had a dry sense of humor.
“He was always quite sober, except at a meeting he would come out with these wonderfully funny things that would lighten the whole tension of what might have been going on.”
Peterson was awarded the 2002 Jaehny Award by VSA for his efforts in making arts more accessible. He also served on the Minneapolis Advisory Committee on People with Disabilities and was active in the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party, as well as in the GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender) community.
Said Sullivan, “He was physically sick a lot of the time, but he just kind of bravely pushed on,” Sullivan said. “If I could live with half of his bravery, and half of his feistiness and determination just to make the most of what he was given, I’d be pretty darned pleased with myself.”
There will be a remembrance of Eric Peterson at the Jungle Theater, 2951 Lyndale Ave. S., on Monday, Nov. 14 at 7 p.m.