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March 16, 2022

Pioneering Nurse Bequeaths $2.4 million Estate to North Park University

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The unassuming “millionaire next door” who eventually earned her PhD, Wilma Peterson bequeathed almost her entire estate of more than $2.4 million to North Park University, marking a significant gift in the history of the University.

Wilma Peterson photo

Peterson, who was 99 years old when she died in March 2020, worked and taught young nurses at nearby Swedish Hospital in the mid-1950s and early 1960s, when the hospital was affiliated with North Park and the Evangelical Covenant Church, where she also was a lifelong member and had her religious roots.

As her will decrees, the estate gift — which was fully received in October 2021 — will be divided between the North Park University School of Nursing and North Park Theological Seminary to establish named, endowed faculty chairs in both schools. Peterson, who began working with administrators around 2008 to establish the endowed gifts, lived a long and frugal life in a Portland suburb, which allowed the eventual gift to grow. Born to a large Canadian farming family in rural Saskatchewan in 1921, Peterson was the first in her family to go to university in 1942 and eventually earned her master’s degree in 1953 and a doctorate in 1977, in biology with an emphasis on human physiology because there were few nursing doctorates available.

“Wilma’s life highlights several elements of the North Park story, past, and present. That includes the determination and subsequent generosity of groundbreaking first-generation students who have been central to North Park’s culture since its founding in 1891 as a college for predominantly Swedish immigrants,” said North Park President Mary K. Surridge.

“Today, Wilma’s legacy promises to live on at North Park by providing a stellar education to many of our nursing and theological studies students, who are also often first-generation students with unique backgrounds of their own. Her story will inspire many of our students,” said Surridge.

Peterson became a United States citizen while working and teaching at Swedish Hospital. She attended North Park Covenant Church near North Park.

North Park is planning investiture ceremonies inducting selected professors into the Wilma E. Peterson faculty chairs.

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