Bench at Susan Clark Junior High honors longtime teachers

Members of the Table of Knowledge dedicating a bench at Susan Clark Junior High School to Gail Petersen (third from right) and her late husband, Dick Petersen.

MUSCATINE, Iowa–For years, the Table of Knowledge, a group of Muscatine residents, has come together regularly for coffee and conversation. Though the group has changed over time, with some members moving away and others joining, they have formed a close bond and often come together to support local schools when the opportunity arises. In many cases, members from out of state will pitch in when they hear about a new project going on.

Dick Petersen, a retired Muscatine Community School District Teacher, long attended the Table of Knowledge’s outings. Petersen taught for over 30 years both at Central Middle School and Susan Clark Junior High School (then known as West Middle School) and had many stories to share. As time went on, some of his former students and kids he had coached basketball for joined the Table of Knowledge too, continuing positive relationships they had formed with him long ago. “There was always that student teacher relationship,” Tom Hendricks, a Table of Knowledge member, reflected on fondly. “There was always a good laugh.”

In September, Petersen died, and his friends with the Table of Knowledge knew they wanted to find a way to honor his memory. They also wanted to celebrate the career of his wife, Gail, who had also taught middle school in Muscatine for more than three decades.

“We were looking for some kind of a way to make a memorial for Dick,” Hendricks recalled. One day, while walking downtown past city hall, he saw the perfect answer. An engraved bench near the sidewalk made him think he and his friends should dedicate one to the Petersens. Hendricks presented the idea to his friends and, to his delight, “the group thought that was awesome.”

Together, members of the Table of Knowledge both near and far chipped in to purchase a bench. They selected one made entirely from recycled plastic by an Iowa based company, Iowa Recycling of Iowa Falls. Across the backrest of the bench, they had the inscription, “Dick and Gail Petersen, over 60 years of educating our youth,” engraved, highlighting their combined years of service.

At the beginning of November, the Table of Knowledge presented the bench to Susan Clark Junior High School, where it will sit near its Wall of Honor. Gail Petersen attended the dedication, making her one of the first people to see the new memorial.

Following the ceremony, Hendricks felt humbled to have found a way to celebrate the work and legacy of the Petersens. “It’s always a privilege to honor someone who gave so much to educate our children,” he shared. “You can’t pay them enough or repay them enough for what they did for our children and to make Muscatine a better place.”