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Honorary Degree Recipient Dedicated Life to Serving Native Americans

SIOUX FALLS - Rev. Larry Peterson will receive the honorary degree Doctor of Humane Letters and address the graduating class at Augustana’s 149th Commencement Service May 24 at the Sioux Falls Arena.

Rev. Peterson grew up on a farm near Trimont, Minn. He attended Luther College with the intention of preparing for a teaching and coaching career at the high school level. After one year he changed his major to sociology.

In 1965 he enrolled at Luther Seminary after spending the previous summer at Outlaw Ranch in the Black Hills. A two-year internship in Southern California provided his first experience with the church as a multicultural community. “Those two years changed me and my concept of the church forever,” he said.

In 1980, Rev. Peterson returned to South Dakota to start a new mission in Hill City. He completed his Doctor of Ministry Degree at Luther Seminary in 1990 and in 1992 was called to serve the South Dakota Synod ELCA as Director of Native American Ministries.

Most of his time for the past 17 years was spent living and serving on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation as founder and director of the Lutheran Retreat Center.

Rev. Peterson retired in 2008 to spend more time with his son, Jeremy, and his family in Loveland, Colo., and his daughter, Heidi, and her family in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Rev. Peterson is working part-time with a non-profit foundation in Littleton, Colo.

“His empathy and patience have allowed him to connect with the Native community at a depth not often possible given the atmosphere of suspicion that surrounds Indian-White relations,” said Dr. William Swart, associate professor and chair of the Sociology Department at Augustana. “That a white man of the church had this kind of intangible presence on an Indian Reservation is a strong statement of the extraordinary influence and noteworthy contribution Pastor Peterson made among the Indian people of South Dakota.”

Dr. Geoffrey Dipple, professor and chair of the History Department at Augustana, has invited Rev. Peterson to speak on campus and also accompanied a group of students on a service learning trip to the Pine Ridge Reservation.

“Rev. Peterson’s contributions to the College community in speaking on campus and providing an opportunity for unparalleled service learning experiences are immeasurable,” said Dr. Dipple. “His work at Pine Ridge makes an important contribution to the mission of the Lutheran Church in South Dakota and serves as an important bridge to the Native American community in the state.”

Rev. Paul Rohde, Augustana Campus Pastor, said Rev. Peterson is a bridge builder between the racial and religious cultures of South Dakota. “He is not only a living witness to the transforming power of service, he has invited hundreds of white neighbors, including scores of seminarians and Augustana students and faculty, to receive the gifts of community, heritage, generosity from the Lakota people.”