Rooted in Medford, four generations of the Peterson family have gone to the University of Wisconsin–Madison and returned to an award-winning family business that has built roads across the state.
The family business began, Tim Peterson ’85 said, sometime after his great-grandfather was met with defeat on Bear Island. He had purchased the land, which is now part of the Apostle Island National Lakeshore in Lake Superior, and planned to log it.
The trees, however, were infested with an insect that had hollowed them. He instead began to do the work that would eventually lead to the creation of James Peterson Sons, Inc., which started with a horse-drawn earth scraper.
Jim says he was uncertain about college as he finished high school. His grandfather had attended short courses in agriculture at UW–Madison, and his father had a UW–Madison accounting degree. His family urged him to get an education, and he started somewhat reluctantly at a technical college closer to home.
“I took calculus, I took physics — I thought it wasn’t so bad,” he says. “To get an engineering degree, I wanted to go to Madison.”
My time at UW–Madison taught me how to systematically solve a problem.
He plunged into not only the College of Engineering, but family life, with a wife and twin daughters. They lived west of campus in Hill Farms, and Tim caught one of the early buses to make the campus’s most dreaded class time: 7:45 a.m. Sleepless nights came and went, and Tim graduated in 1985. He went to work at the family business, which at the time had some 40 employees. It now has approximately 200.
“There have been times I have directly used my engineering degree,” he says, “But more importantly, I learned to think, to be resourceful. My time at UW–Madison taught me how to systematically solve a problem.”
Peterson says that when he left Medford to go to UW–Madison, it was far less common than it is today. But these days, students in Taylor County are determined to attend the elite programs offered by the Madison campus.
One recent UW–Madison graduate was his son, Landon Peterson, the goalie for the Badger hockey team who graduated in 2015. He earned a degree in economics.
“It’s a great place to go to school,” Tim says. “I have a lot of really good memories of everything.”