Charles S. Peterson (1927-2017)
We note the passing on May 10th and celebrate the life and work of a notable Mormon scholar, Charles S. “Chas” Peterson. Born in a small community on the Little Colorado River in Arizona, he echoed many other residents of small towns when he noted later about his childhood home, “I was both bored stiff with Snowflake and loved it profoundly.” Although it took him a while to discover his calling in life, he was a historian at heart.
He remembered, “My fourth-grade teacher made a big deal about history but was always sore at me for sneaking [Earl Forrest’s account of the range wars, Arizona’s Dark and Bloody Ground] into my desk and lifting the lid a little and trying to read it during math.”
After service in World War II and a mission to Sweden, he earned his BA and MA degrees at BYU and his PhD at the University of Utah. He specialized in Mormon history and the study of resource management, a natural outgrowth of his early training in farming and ranching. He served as the President of the Mormon History Association from 1975–1976, helped found the Journal of Mormon History, served as director of the Utah State Historical Society, 1969–1971, and was editor of the Utah Historical Quarterly and Western Historical Quarterly.
Peterson wrote four books and numerous articles and chapters on Mormonism and the West. His book Take Up Your Mission: Mormon Colonizing Along the Little Colorado River, 1870–1900 is not only the definitive history of the settlement of the Little Colorado region, but also a great read.
For additional information about Peterson, see his obituary in the St. George News, and a Mormon Historical Studies interview by his son, John A. Peterson, the source of the quotes above. He speaks of his winding pathway into academics, the struggle between faith and intellectualism, those who influenced him to specialize in Western history, and the development of the professional historical community in Utah and the West.
–Amy Tanner Thiriot
Ruth Pratt Clark (1954-2017)
Ruth Clark was a woman like no other, a master of comedic timing and a lover of the absurd…. from the sublime to highly delightful. Born in Salt Lake City in 1954, Ruth grew up in Holladay, Utah. Graduating from the University of Utah in Middle Eastern Studies and History, she reveled in the language and art of learning. She passed away unexpectedly, in her sleep, on Good Friday, April 14, 2017.
Never, ever bored, there was not one single person or subject in which she was not interested. She was passionate and inclusive about what and whom she loved. She was so fun and everyone thought they were her best friend. A docent at the Church History Museum, where she served for 14 years, Ruth loved every facet of Mormon History.
She was always taking a class of some sort and had a calendar full of academic conferences, at least 20, which she attended annually. These were indeed days of plenty.
Ruth appreciated all art forms, and shared her insights generously with her friends and family. Her Facebook followers recognize that her posts qualify as a college level Humanities and Religion symposium.
She valued the beauty of sculpture and the intricacies of stained glass. She saw the sacred in art. She dabbled in the classics and medieval history. She expounded on the beauty of the Hebrew faith, language and tradition. Quite often she would throw in a Hebrew phrase about some issue of discussion and elevate the conversation to a higher degree. Her travels to Israel, Egypt and Europe were in-depth studies of history, culture and faith. Ruth traveled widely. She would post daily thoughts, ideas and insights that segued beautifully into many lives.
Ruth was every inch a Pioneer, deep within her DNA. She accepted and acknowledged the “Faith of Her Fathers” to the core of her being. A direct descendent of Parley P. Pratt, she studied his life and service as part of her scholarship. A yearly participant at MHA, she happily attended the pre and post tours every year gleaning new knowledge to share within her sphere of influence.
Ruth reveled in the unusual as she studied Utah’s Spiral Jetty, an earthwork sculpture made of mud, rocks and salt, located on the northeastern shore of the Great Salt Lake. Fascinated with Labyrinths, she understood the deeper significance of walking a labyrinth as a pilgrimage, a physical action with a spiritual purpose, and the symbolic journey of a soul back to God.
A favorite of hers was the small exhibit of homemade bread, at the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers museum. Baked in 1893, by an unknown sister for use in a Sacrament service, Ruth recognized the holy work this sister accomplished for her fellow ward members.
As the Stake Relief Society President of the Sandy Utah Granite South Stake, she inspired her sisters to do more and be more. Ruth had faith in their creative ability and intellectual gifts to excel. She celebrated in their personal journey of understanding. Ruth served with her culinary skills, her time and her gentle love and wisdom. She knew and understood the Gospel of Jesus Christ. She was guided by it and all who know her are beneficiaries of her faithful life.
Ruth gathered mementos…small items as reminders of a bigger idea or place of importance. To walk into the Clark home today you will see the art she loves and souvenirs of her travels and conferences attended, many books and objects holding a tender memory. In Ruth’s home you see the life of a woman of faith and depth.
It can be said that Ruth Pratt Clark is someone who will continue to teach and inspire others to reclaim resilience and inner strength through the pattern of her life. She leaves her husband of 45 years, Day Clark, four children and five grandchildren to remember and celebrate her well-lived life and legacy. As other beloved women who have gone before, Ruth has signed her name in our hearts. She will be remembered. She has connected the dots between heaven and earth.