Philip Charles Petersen, 73, a lifelong resident of Riley, passed away at his home July 9, with his sons by his side.
Philip was born Nov. 7, 1942, in the old stone hospital in Burns.
Phil was raised on the Upper Valley Ranch near Riley, where he attended grades 1 through 8 at the two-room Suntex grade school. His parents drove him and his three brothers the 13 miles each way to school on unimproved dirt roads. His four brothers and he were an integral part of the family operation. Phil started running machinery when he was 9 years old. None of the four sons were ever allowed to drive teams, although all of them did gather cattle and brand calves at a young age.
Phil attended Burns Union High School (BUHS) and lived in the boarder house the first two years, and then his mother moved to town during the school year. He participated in wrestling and football in high school. As a graduate in 1960, he was part of the first class to graduate from the then new high school. Phil would tell stories of his memories growing up. One of his favorite stories was how, during his junior year, the sloughs down through the valley froze, and he and his brothers spent evenings skating on the ice and burning old tires to stay warm.
During his senior year in high school, he along with four friends, Dennis Lesser, Orville Cheek, Dan Jordan and Claude Usery, joined the Army National Guard (ANG) and spent the rest of 1960 training at Fort Ord and Fort Bliss. They all committed to staying together the entire time through training; this was their first venture into the real world and these experiences generated a lot great memories that were talked about at class reunions. Phil retired from the ANG in 1987, with 20 years of service.
In 1961, Phil began attending Oregon State University, majoring in industrial arts education. In mid-year of 1965, he finished his course work with his bachelor’s. In January, his first teaching job was at Calapooya Junior High School in Albany. Two and a half years later, an old classmate from college called and asked if he would be interested in a job at Reynolds High School, and he spent one year at Reynolds. In the fall of 1970, he applied for a job opening at Burns Union High School, and spent the rest of his teaching career at BUHS, and later at Lincoln Junior High. He was awarded the 1982 Harney Co. Jaycees Educator of the year and the 1985 American Industrial Arts Teacher of the Year.
He spent his life working with cattle. In 1976, his brother, Jon, and he formed a partnership and leased their uncle Herb’s ranch on Soldier Creek. They ran cattle there until 1982. In 1982, they leased the Whither’s ranch at Harney. After six years of running cattle on Uncle Herb’s ranch on Soldier Creek, in 1988, they moved their operation back to the Upper Valley Ranch. Then, in the spring of 1991, Phil and his brother, Jon, dissolved the partnership and divided the cattle. Phil continued to run the ranch until 1998, when he developed liver disease and had to sell most of his cattle. In 1998, Phil moved to what is known as the Peck Field with his remaining cattle. In 2004, he had a liver transplant, which was better than he had dared to hope for.
Velda Pace McEldowney and he were married in 1967. He and Velda’s two sons, Steven and Terry, were joined in the family in 1972 by Matthew. The cattle operation was always a family affair, which meant the kids spent most of their free time and vacation time doing ranch related work; even as the boys got older, Phil and Velda could always count on them for help. All three of the boys were raised the same, and Phil and Velda always wanted them to know that they proved themselves to be a great blessing. One of Phil’s and the boys’ special memories together was to go fishing on Silver Creek every Memorial Day. Even though they never caught many fish, the boys were always excited to do this, and continue this tradition with their own families today.
Phil is survived by his wife, Velda Petersen; sons, Steven, Terry and Matthew; nine grandchildren; two great-granddaughters; brothers, George, Daryl and Jon; as well as many nephews, nieces, friends and colleagues, all of whom held great respect and love for him and will forever hold his memory dear.
A ceremonial service to honor his life will be held Saturday, July 25, from 3 p.m. until 5 p.m. at the Burns Elks Lodge, 118 N Broadway Ave. in Burns. Family and friends are encouraged to join to share their own account and reflection of their memories.