John and Frances Peterson spent more than 30 years in Lawrence following their retirement from government jobs in Washington, D.C., but then left for Texas to be closer to family.
But now a gift from their estate could live on even longer on the Kansas University campus, to the tune of $1.2 million.
That's the amount, in cash and farmland property, that the couple willed to KU, the KU Endowment Association announced Thursday. The announcement comes a bit less than a year after Frances' death in March 2012 at age 94. Her husband died in September 2009, when he was 88.
John Peterson earned bachelor's and master's degrees, in business and political science, from KU in the 1940s. In between, he served in World War II. The Petersons moved to Lawrence in 1974 after retiring from federal government jobs in Washington, D.C., and stayed until 2007.
The gift from their estate will go toward three purposes at KU: $470,000 to create an endowment for the Dean's Scholars program in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; $230,000 to help the Department of Dance bring in visiting dancers and choreographers; and $500,000 to contribute to a renovation of the School of Music's recital hall in Murphy Hall as well as an international exchange program for music students.
Danny Anderson, KU's dean of liberal arts and sciences, said the gift would create the first large endowment for the Dean's Scholars program. That program awards renewable scholarships to a handful of top students in the College, while also connecting students with scholarship donors who can serve as mentors while also learn about students' college experiences today.
"It's a very important connection," Anderson said.
Dale Seuferling, president of the Endowment, said the Petersons supported the idea of renewable scholarships for students, even before that was the form most of KU's scholarships took.
"They sort of saw the value for that many years ago," Seuferling said.
The Petersons also enjoyed music and dance programs during their time in Lawrence, Seuferling said. Frances Peterson was a member of the Lawrence Chamber Orchestra.
Their gift to the dance department will establish an endowment for bringing visiting artists to campus. That's a practice that helps keep students and faculty connected to contemporary trends, Anderson said.
And for the music school, part of the Petersons' gift will contribute to a $1.5 million effort to renovate Swarthout Recital Hall.
The hall, more than 55 years old, is badly in need of some improvements, said Dean of Music Robert Walzel. Its seats and stage are weathered, and its technology capabilities and acoustics are outdated.
"It's a nice space, but it's worn out," Walzel said.
The music school will also use the gift for its summer exchange program that takes students to Eutin, Germany, Lawrence's sister city.
Walzel and Anderson both said the news of the gift was a thrill.
John and Frances Peterson both volunteered at Watkins Community Museum of History. John also was a member of the Kansas State Historical Society and wrote a book about early Lawrence architect John G. Haskell.
They were honored posthumously by the Douglas County Conservation District in 2012 for establishing a grassland buffer on their farmland in the western part of the county. That land was part of their gift to the Endowment, which will manage it as agricultural land and use the proceeds to benefit the KU programs.
Another $1.2 million from the Petersons' estate went to the Nature Conservancy.