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Sigrid Peterson

Obituary of Sigrid Peterson

Sigrid Peterson departed this life in the early hours of December 13, peacefully in her sleep. She thereby put behind her the struggle against Parkinson's disease and the decline of vision that had beset her this past year and more. Sigrid Neumann-Silkow was born in 1931 in Pomerania in eastern Germany and grew up there, living in small towns and the countryside where things at least appeared stable. When the war started, she was spared, she has said, direct experience with it because of where she lived. She could not help but feel its impact, however, with the death of her father in action in North Africa already in 1941. The final stage of the war was a different matter. As she with her mother and three young siblings found themselves in a small port looking to flee to the west, she faced the most dramatic and perilous moment of her life when the Red Army threatened to encircle the area and cut off any flight. Somehow they found space aboard a small ship carrying refugees westward on the Baltic Sea which then managed to avoid Russian and Allied bombers bent on destroying such ships. The ship successfully reached the historic city of Luebeck, which became the home of Sigrid and her family for the next several years. As it lay in the British zone of occupation, the local population came under British military rule which in Sigrid's view was fair and just. In fact, she struck up a friendship with an English family, which has lasted until the present time. When she reached the end of her teen years, she attended the University of Marburg and became trained in physical therapy, a practical career choice. Working first in the Bonn area and later in Hamburg, she found it a satisfying calling. But it was not to be. On a trip to France she met an American for the first time, a graduate student scheduled to pursue seminars in his field of medieval China in Paris that year. They stayed in contact, visited each other in France and Germany, and in October of 1958 got married in Luebeck. Now Sigrid was tied to Charles' academic schedule. However, she could hardly -- and didn't - complain, for it led to three years in the beautiful city of Seattle, two and a-half in the historic city of Kyoto, Japan, and another year in Paris. It was in the course of these travels and moves that the couple added two sons to the dinner table, making life more interesting. Then the move back to the U.S.: in mid-1966 the Department of History of Cornell recruited Charles and the family began its long residence in Ithaca. Sigrid loved Ithaca and Cornell from the beginning. With the landscape and the gorges not only so beautiful but also so accessible how could she not become an energetic hiker and a serious photographer? Once the boys were often off on their own, how could she not pick up her tennis racquet again and head for the courts? But it was the cultural climate and offerings at Cornell that excited her the most. Music was foremost: the first-rate professional series were irresistible, while the Department of Music sponsored a seemingly endless string of high-quality concerts. Theatre too offered many plays and performances of interest, while in its heyday Cornell Cinema always had an ambitious schedule. Then a new museum was built boosting the arts. Eventually, Sigrid received a chance to participate in this world of art, administratively if not artistically. Hired by the Department of Music to work part-time at the box office, she worked her way up in her twenty years of service to become Events Manager. In this capacity she had to make sure that everything was set up so that the performance could take place. She loved it, and when she retired she missed it. She had other interests as well, such as Big Red hockey of which she was an avid fan and the courses and lectures at Lifelong, which time and again proved informative and stimulating. Sigrid was a warm, open, gracious and generous person, always ready to help a friend or even a stranger in need. She will be sorely missed on two continents. She is survived by her husband Charles of Ithaca; by son Wolfgang E. Peterson and his wife Erma Peterson of Spencer, NY; by son Aki N. C. Peterson of Spokane, WA; and by her sister Lily Skerhutt of Hamburg, Germany. It is hoped that the current pandemic will be under adequate control by spring for a memorial to be held in her honor. Donations in her memory may be made to Hospicare Ithaca or to the Cornell Botanical Gardens.
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