Peterson Memorial Garden dedicated at Pioneer

By Jeff Hudson, Davis Enterprise

Family and friends gathered on Thursday afternoon for the dedication of the Dorothy Peterson Memorial Garden at Pioneer Elementary.

Peterson — a retired teacher and passionate booster of school gardens, school recycling and farm-to-school programs — passed away in April 2016. Sheryl Yamamoto, garden coordinator at Pioneer for the past three years, recalled Peterson’s “zest for life, keen talent for teaching, and love of children… (a woman with an) indomitable spirit and wholehearted investment in garden education and community.”

Peterson began teaching in Davis in 1962, at the newly built East Davis Elementary (later renamed Valley Oak). She later worked at North Davis Elementary and Pioneer Elementary. For most of her career, she was a special education teacher.

Peterson started her first school garden outside her classroom at Pioneer, converting a barren, neglected triangle of soil into a green, appealing space. Her enthusiasm led to additional projects, which she continued to pursue (with vigor) after she retired from teaching in 1999.

Peterson was recognized with the Brinley Award (for a special contributions in the Davis community) in 2010. And in 2014, Peterson was named “Woman of the Year” by legislator Lois Wolk for her tireless dedication and long involvement in school gardening and school-district-wide recycling programs.

Speaking at the garden dedication on Thursday, Davis school board president Barbara Archer remembered Peterson as “a dear friend” whom Archer first met when she volunteered to help with a school garden. “She was a force of nature,” Archer recalled.

Pioneer principal Matt Duffy was one of several speakers who fondly recalled Peterson’s outgoing manner, and the friendly (and persistent) way she brought together volunteers to see projects through to completion.

Yamamoto thanked Duffy, as well as various others who helped create the memorial garden, including local garden designer Lynn Hatamiya, ceramic artist Linda Fitz Gibbon (who will do more work with students in the fall), the Yolo Arts program, contractor Darren McCaffrey (who installed the flagstone pathway and the irrigation system), and volunteer coordinator Hung Doan (who worked with more than two dozen volunteers who contributed over 100 hours total), for the considerable time and effort they put into the project.

She also thanked restaurant owner Bobby Coyote (owner of the Dos Coyotes Border Cafes), who donated funding for the garden project. And Yamamoto thanked “the nearly 300 students who helped plant the garden and clean extra mortar from the (ceramic) butterflies.”

Among the garden’s features, Yamamoto mentioned “a variety of native and non-native plants that attract and provide habitat for butterflies.” In addition, “two 50-gallon rain barrels allow us to teach lessons about water catchment and environmental stewardship… We’ve built an interactive garden that offers children a variety of experiences and educational opportunities. I hope that — like Dorothy — this garden will welcome and inspire people of all ages, as well as provide an example of the power of collaboration and community spirit.