John Peterson - 50 Year Legion of Honor Recipient

John Gilbert Peterson was born on November 28, 1927 in Winslow, AZ.

His father, Arthur Peterson was a fireman and Engineer on the Santa Fe Railroad.  His mother, Opal Mae Peterson, a warm and caring mother to John, his older brother, Arthur, and little sister, Joyce. His childhood was spent along “Route 66” in the Arizona towns of Winslow, Seligman, and Williams.  In elementary school, his nickname was “Shorty” because he was smaller than the other kids in his grade. 

John attended Winslow High School. He was active in school activities, and played on some of the sports teams. Unfortunately for John, his father decided to retire from the Santa Fe Railroad before the end of his senior year in high school. His father packed up the family and moved them to San Diego in March 1944. John didn’t see any of his high school friends until his 50th Reunion in 1994. He finished his senior year of high school at Sweetwater High School, where he graduated at the age of 16. 

John’s family moved to Ocean Beach shortly after they came to San Diego, and he became a California teenager.  He spent his days at the beach, body surfing, attending beach parties, and playing volleyball. 

As soon as he turned 18, he heard from the draft board, and was drafted into the Army. John was “eager and ready to go.”  John had many new experiences in the Army.  It was in the Army that he had his first cigarette and his first beer.  He graduated from Boot Camp and was sent to Fort Belvoir in Virginia. He was assigned to the Engineering School where the Army trained him as a cartographer.

John was sent to Japan as a member of the 64th Engineer Battalion and was stationed in Tokyo.  His assignment in Japan was brief, and he was discharged in March 1947.  He returned to San Diego and started working at Convair before beginning college in the fall.

John attended San Diego State College for four years on the GI Bill.  He majored in Business Administration and minored in Geography.  A highlight of his college years was joining Pi Kappa Alpha, the “Pi Kaps,” where he made lifelong friends and lived the “Fraternity Life.”

As a senior in college, John began to work part time at Kettenburg Boat Works in Point Loma.  As his college years came to an end, they offered him a full time job.  In April 1951, he joined Kettenburg full time where he spent the next 38 years.  He rose from a part-time employee to Vice President of the company. He retired in 1989 at the age of 61.

It was at Kettenburg Marine that John met the true love of his life, Norma Lee Gray from Kansas.  She was working at Kettenburg as a switchboard operator and receptionist.  Their first date was to a Padres game at Lane Field. They were married on Sept. 28, 1953 at Point Loma Methodist Church. Their love lasted for over sixty years and he called her his “bride” for the rest of her life.

The newly married Petersons bought their first home in October 1954 in Allied Gardens. Their first child, Susan, was born in December that year. They were blessed with a beautiful son, Jim, five years later.

John joined G.A.G. Kiwanis on May 21, 1966. He has been an active member for the last 50 years.  Over the last half-century, John has served as the heart, the soul, and even the conscience of the club. John served as President of the G.A.G. Kiwanis Club in 1971-72, and was named Kiwanian of the Year, the club’s highest honor, three times, and in three different decades: 1973-74, 1996-97 and 2011-12.  In September 2013, he was recognized by the Mission Times-Courier as “The Nicest Man in Allied Gardens.”

John has held nearly every committee chair position and officer position in the club.  In addition to, or in conjunction with, his membership in Kiwanis, John has volunteered for the Allied Gardens Community Council, Meals on Wheels, Allied Gardens Little League, the SDSU Circle K club, the SpringFest committee, and New Entra Casa, a nonprofit organization that helps female ex-offenders re-enter society.  

He developed a partnership between Kiwanis and the Junior Wheelchair Sports Camp, and for 24 years, has helped organize a group of Kiwanis members to serve lunch for the athletes who participate in the various wheelchair sports.  He also stores and maintains the U.S. Flags that are displayed on Waring Road in observance of every federal holiday.  Kiwanis has supported this project since 1970.

John has served as a mentor and sponsor to countless members of the Grantville-Allied Gardens Kiwanis Club, who continue to seek his wisdom, guidance, and help to this day.  In recognition of his 50 years in our Kiwanis Club, John will receive his 50-year Legion of Honor certificate from Kiwanis International.

Congratulations John!


June 28, 2016 was proclaimed John Peterson Day  by the City of San Diego.
The award to John was presented in the City Council Chambers by Councilmember Scott Sherman.