History: Louis F. Peterson, Mason County’s first ‘music man’

June 25, 2019

Louis Peterson, 1916

History: Louis F. Peterson, Mason County’s first ‘music man’

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.


There are many buildings and roads in Mason County that are named in memory of a particular person. I was thinking about this recently as I watched my two daughters perform in their dance recitals at L.F. Peterson Auditorium in Ludington.

Louis F. Peterson organized the first Ludington High School boys band in 1927 and a girls band in 1928. He was 43-years-old in 1927 and had been well known in the Ludington music scene at that point. At that time, organized music programs in public schools were rare. By 1929, the two bands were combined. Peterson went on to start music programs in about 30 high schools in west Michigan in the 1930s, including Scottville and Pentwater.

The Rainbow Gardens Orchestra, 1928. Peterson seated in front. Back, from left: Jerry Lanard, Fred Nelson, Grant Ashbacker, Art Graegor, Ted Gates, Bill Eastman, Al Brockhaus.

Prior to working at the school, Peterson had a music studio where he taught violin, clarinet, and saxophone to near 1,000 pupils, according to his obituary.

Peterson was born on Sept. 3, 1884 in Denmark, the son of Lars and Marianne Peterson. His family immigrated to Mason County, to what is now Pere Marquette Township, when he was 4-years-old.

His early teen years were spent working in a lumber mill, until he was injured, losing half of his left foot. He then concentrated on music.

“Music was Mr. Peterson’s lodestar,” his obituary stated. “Since he was a little boy when he listened in awe to his father tell of his grandfather who was concert mast for 32 years in on of Denmark’s theaters. Mr. Peterson loved music in all forms and especially the violin.”

“I just seemed always to want to know music,” the obituary quoted Peterson from a news article. “There was something in me that made me restless and only music would overcome it. Even today my music offers me expression which no other means affords.”

At the age of 15, Peterson formed a four-piece orchestra. That size soon grew to 15 pieces when he was 18. He directed an orchestra, under contract, for the Lyric Theatre on South James Street in Ludington for 15 years.

Peterson married Daisy Adams on Aug. 18, 1904. They had a daughter, Muriel (Tageson).

Besides directing music at the schools, Peterson was well known for leading bands at Rainbow Gardens, a nightclub located at the present site of the Ludington Area Jaycess mini golf course at Stearns Park.

Lyric Theatre, center, Cable Piano Company, left, Cigar Store, right, South James Street, 1920s

Peterson died in August 1947 at the age of 62 while playing golf in Suttons Bay. He had still been the Ludington band director at that time.

Louis Peterson, 1928

In September 1974, the Ludington Area School District’s board of education voted to name its new auditorium the Louis F. Peterson Center for the Performing Arts. The auditorium was formally dedicated in November of that year with performances from community and high school bands.

Editor’s note: This article is just a brief glimpse of L.F. Peterson. In 1981, Sylvia Nickelson published a biography about Peterson, “Once in a Lifetime.” The book has far more detail about Peterson’s life and is available for viewing at the Mason County District Library Ludington branch.

This story is copyrighted © 2019, all rights reserved by Media Group 31, LLC, PO Box 21, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

Ludington High School boys band, 1927

Scottville High School pep band, mid-1940s. From left: Walter “Skeeter” Listing, Dick Buck, Ted Thompson, Bob Stakenas, Charles Thompson, Bill Bentz, Merlin Reeds, Earl Anderson, Ed Stakenas.

Ludington High School girls band, 1928.

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