In Memory of Ursula Peterson

Funeral Service

2:30 pm
Monday February 1, 2021
St. Bridget Catholic Church
211 East Division St.
River Falls WI, 54022

Final Resting Place

St. Bridget Catholic Cemetery
Cemetery Road
River Falls WI,

Printer Version

River Falls local historian, Ursula Peterson, dies at 93

Ursula Peterson died January 27, 2021, in Madison, WI, from Covid-19. Born in Germany, she moved to the United States in 1947 and lived in River Falls from 1954 to 2018. Her husband, Edward, was a history professor at UW-RF. While her husband, who taught history at UW-RF for over 50 years, specialized in the history of Europe, particularly WW II, she devoted herself to local Pierce County history and published eight monographs. The publications focused on local towns and ethnic groups, such as Bohemians, who had settled in various areas. She is also remembered for her efforts in saving South Hall on the UW-RF campus and for organizing the placement of a number of historical markers in River Falls that still stand.

Ursula Schmidt Peterson was born on April 3, 1927, in Fulda, Germany, and was raised in the city of Bad Hersfeld by her parents, Willy Schmidt and Anna Enzig. Her father died when she was four, likely as a result of complications of entombment during the Battle of Verdun in 1916. Her mother continued the operation of the business supply store, until her death in 1953. She is preceded in death by her brother, Dr. Richard Schmidt, and sister, Christa Heymann.

As a child growing up in Germany, Ursula had an interest in American history and literature. When she met her husband-to-be, Edward Peterson, in July 1945, her familiarity with his home town of St. Joseph, Missouri, and with the writings of Mark Twain, was one of many reasons for her attractive qualities to him. They married on August 29, 1946 and she came to the United States in October 1947. Their first son, John, was born in Bad Hersfeld.

After a year living in Missouri, she joined her husband, in the fall of 1948, in Madison, Wisconsin, where he had become a student at the University. She worked in Wisconsin General Hospital and did housework to support his finishing his doctor’s degree. After a year at Eastern Kentucky State College, 1953-54, they moved to River Falls in August 1954 where he taught History and Social Science for over 50 years until his death in March 2005 at the age of 79.

Second son, Michael, was born while they were in Richmond, Kentucky. In the fall of 1957, they built their house at 936 W. Maple Street (later renumbered to 1020). When she discovered in 1969 that the city was planning to move the Kinnickinnic River farther to the west and put a parking lot on the east bank, she organized a petition to “Keep the River a Park, not a Parking Lot.” The plan to move the river was subsequently rejected by River Falls voters.

She was always concerned with local history and it bothered her to discover that almost nothing had been published on River Falls or Pierce County. She started collecting old pictures of River Falls and in 1963, she started to assemble slides for a presentation on its history, which eventually grew to over 1500 slides, many of which she made herself from old pictures. She gave presentations to a variety of groups. For years, she gave the presentation to 3rd graders at Westside Elementary School.

As president of the Tuesday Club in 1969, she persuaded the club to finance lifetime historical markers, the first at the Junction Mill and “Fort Foster,” which was dedicated in November, 1969. The second, also sponsored by the Tuesday Club, was on the Greenwood Mill and the Railroad, installed in 1975. Another marker, at the Middle School, was sponsored by Doris Fuka, through the Kinnic Year Book. All of these markers are still at their original locations. Later, she worked on placing the Glen Park Municipal Swimming Pool on the National Register of Historic Places.

Her appeal to the Garden Club, of which she was repeatedly president, to beautify the area around the mill and railroad marker, inspired the Club to create Heritage Park for the Bicentennial in 1976 on the west side of the Maple street bridge and to save the old River Falls fire bell to commemorate its Volunteer Fire Department. The bell is still at this location, just to the west of the Maple street bridge. In that year, she was one of three chosen in River Falls as Women of the Year.

From 1975, she had particular pleasure in her slide lectures on the history of River Falls to school classes, notably the 3rd graders. In 1971, she became president of the Pierce County Historical Association. She decided to further interest in local history by publishing books, which reached 8 volumes. The first was literally came together on the kitchen table. The last two volumes, emphasizing the Bohemian community of Cherma and then that of El Paso, required enormous investigation of the families. They presented local history also through many family histories.

As leader of the Pierce County Historical Association (PCHA), she was the first to make the effort to preserve South Hall on the UW-RF campus. It seemed a hopeless task to stop a plan of the State of Wisconsin to demolish it. A Save South Hall committee of local alumni was formed, which by an appeal to area residents and alumni was able to get a reversal of the decision to tear down the building. A large celebration of the building in 1976 included Garrison Keilor as speaker.

On the creation in 1996 of a Historical Preservation Commission, she was appointed its Historian. Her experience doing family histories for her PCHA publications turned her toward genealogy. She gave help and translations to hundreds of families and presented a large number of workshops on how to do it. Every summer from 1988 to 2004, she researched for various clients in this country and in Germany, particularly in the former East Germany. She translated the old documents and would create, with much effort, family charts going back as many as 17 generations. For years every Tuesday evening, she devoted three hours of help to amateur genealogists with their German ancestry needs at the Mormon History Center in Oakdale, MN. Ursula lived over 60 years at her house at 1020 W. Maple until 2018. She died peacefully at St. Mary Hospital in Madison, WI, after contracting Covid in a local care home. In addition to two sons, John (Madison, WI) and Michael (Edinburgh, Scotland), Ursula leaves behind four granddaughters and nine great-grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, the family encourages donations to the Pierce County Historical Association, PO Box 148, Ellsworth, WI 54011.

Funeral Services for Ursula Peterson will be held at 2:30pm on Monday, February 1, 2021 at the St. Bridget Catholic Church, 211 E. Division Street in River Falls. Following services, Ursula will be brought to her final resting place and buried next to her husband, Edward, at St. Bridget’s Catholic Cemetery in River Falls.

For family and friends unable to attend in person, the service will be live-streamed on the St. Bridget YouTube channel at:

You may also view the funeral services via Zoom:

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Meeting ID: 982 853 1377                  Passcode: Peterson
Ursula’s service and burial will be recorded and, at a later date, will be available to be viewed at


Ursula's Tribute Wall

Tributes (8):

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  • February 17, 2021

    I will never forget Ursula’s influence on my life. As a former student of History, she and Ed during my student days were very supportive and encouraged me to write and study. Ursula will be missed and remembered! It is a comfort to me to think that both Edward N. Peterson and Ursula Peterson are together.

  • I first met Ursula at the Oakdale Mormon History Center, when I had commenced researching my Posen, Pommern, and Silesian ancestry. Ursula’s enthusiasm was contagious and she encouraged me to keep researching. I found Ursula to be interesting and highly intelligent. We became friends and one year, Ursula came to our house for Christmas in spite of a snowstorm. She was a dynamo. My cousin and I eventually traveled to Poland and later my husband and I traveled to Berlin and Poland based directly on the help Ursula provided to me. As Ursula became harder of hearing and not able to drive, I visited her at her home and came to one of her birthday parties. When she was at a Wisconsin nursing home, she hated it. It was really too boring for her and she was eventually able to return to her house in River Falls. She showed me all the assistive devices and it was impressive. When she left for Madison, I followed her there too, for a visit. I am envious of all you who knew her your entire lives. You are really blessed. My life was vastly enriched by her drive, example, and dynamism. I was lucky to have spent time with her. Linda Lange

  • Creating a memorial monument somewhere on the grounds of South Hall on UWRF campus would be a way to honor Ursula’s contributions to UWRF and the local history of River Falls and surrounding communities. This would also be a way to ensure that the memory of Ursula and her contributions lives on in the hearts and minds of all UWRF Falcons, past, present, and future.

    Ronald Briel, Masters Degree graduate, 1972

  • Ursula was an inspiration to all who were privileged to know her. She had many talents and willingly shared them; a real friend to everyone. Her interest and work in local history and genealogy is a gift that lives on for generations to come. Pierce County and River Falls folks were blessed to have her as a part of their life. Thank you Ursula for the memories.

  • On behalf of myself and the River Falls Garden Club, I am grateful for the many years of friendship and collaboration with Ursula. She was instrumental in the Garden Club, and active in the annual plant sale for so many years. She was well known for her exceptional tomato plants that always sold out. On a personal note, I learned so much from her and treasured our friendship beyond words. I miss her immensely. Rest in Peace, dear Ursula.

  • Thank you for the fine tribute to Ursula. She approached me at my mother’s funeral in Martell in 1988 and handed me a document (written in Norwegian) that my grandmother had given her about my family history, but Ursula believed it belonged with my family. It is framed and on my office wall. I am a historian and a former student of Ed Peterson and all the rest of the wonderful history faculty at UWRF, but I always appreciated Ursula’s diligent efforts to document Pierce County history and of course, saving South Hall. My grandmother (Hilda Holden) enjoyed helping Ursula to identify photos and the people in them.

    Rest in peace.

  • Ursula and Ed were like second parents to me in the late 70s-early 80s. I learned so much from both of them.

  • What a beautiful tribute to Ursula. I only met her once on a phone conservation about a business I owned in the 90’s. Her love for history shined through with her questions she asked of me. Her knowledge of this area was overwhelming to listen to and read.
    Rest well Ursula, share your history along your journey home.