One family’s generosity is helping to pave the way for future leaders and scholars at the University of Minnesota. The Edward and Norma Peterson Scholarship, a gift from both of their estates, is a testament to the power of education and resilience.

We spoke with Matt Musel, great-nephew to Norma, about his family’s ties to the University and their commitment to paying forward the opportunities that can change lives. 

Creating Memories

A sepia toned photo of two young girls from the 1940s
Elnor and Norma Peterson

A big-picture look at the Peterson family gives us an indication of the deep connection they have to the University. Three generations have studied here: Matt, his brother, a cousin, his mother and her sister, and his grandmother and her sister.

That first generation includes his grandmother Elnor Peterson Pahl and her sister Norma. Elnor attended the U for two years, then left to teach in rural South Dakota. This was during World War II, when many women went to work while the men fought overseas. 

Norma, who was two years younger, came to the university for a year right after the war ended. “She liked to say she spent more time at the drugstore drinking malteds than she did in class.”

But Norma had stories, and she told them with delight. “She always talked about going to the U, that was still important to her,” Matt says. “There's a professional wrestler from Minnesota named Vern Gagne, and she always would tell the story of sitting next to him in class.”

There’s also the story about a socialist professor. Norma wrote an essay ”in a Communist style just so she could get a good grade” in his class.

Strengthening Ties

The next generation is Norma and Elnor’s children, three of whom have degrees from the University of Minnesota. Elnor's eldest daughter earned a graduate certificate and licensure to be a vision educator. Elnor's second daughter received her bachelor's degree, worked with the Women's Center, and was part of a kazoo band in Sanford Hall. 

Norma had one son, Edward, who attended the College of Continuing and Professional Studies, creating his own major around legal studies. He then attended law school in Washington, DC, before joining the Air Force. Afterward, he served as JAG (Judge Advocate General) Corps attorney in Colorado and Texas.

“So this is Norma and Edward, and this is who the scholarship is named after,” Matt says. The two would spend holidays together in Edward’s home in Dallas, and they would meet in Las Vegas a couple of times a year or travel to Europe together. 

“Whenever Edward came back he would drive around the U of M campus … it held a very important place in his memory.”

Celebrating Unique Paths

Black and white photo of Norma Peterson
Norma Peterson

Norma Peterson passed away in August of 2020 at the age of 90 after living independently for years. “She was just that kind of very self-sufficient, driven woman,” says Matt. As a young woman, she worked at AT&T as a telephone operator in the 1940s, where she became one of the first women managers in the sales division. 

This drive is typical of the Peterson women, he continues. His great-grandmother raised Elnor and Norma alone after her husband died of tuberculosis, and she made it possible for both of them to go to college.

“And the same is true for Norma. Right when she was sending her son to the University of Minnesota, she was a single mother. So I think that the interest in (CCAPS) is both that Ed got a degree from there, but also that this college serves the more nontraditional students, the students that are taking a more unique path to completing their degrees.”

When Norma died, she had no estate plan, which meant that her resources went to Edward, which was her intention. In Edward’s will, the entire estate went to the University of Minnesota.

Paying It Forward

In the third generation of the family are Matt and his brother, who both have degrees from the U. Matt’s brother has a master’s in history, and Matt earned an Inter-College Program degree from CCAPS, focusing on organizational development. He also has a master's degree from UMD.

In 2012, CCAPS wrote a piece about a generous gift Matt made in his estate. He sent the story to his relatives, and it inspired his cousin Edward to plan something similar. 

“I connected him to Lynn Praska in the planned giving team at the University of Minnesota Foundation,” says Matt. “Lynn has been a real angel to help with this gift.” 

Lynn Praska, senior program manager of Gift Planning, emailed and talked with Ed numerous times between 2012 and 2021, even though they never met in person. “I learned that his goal after retirement was to travel every six weeks and he was successful at doing that for many years,” she says.

A Legacy Established

Edward Peterson passed away suddenly in 2021, one year after his mother Norma died. While he had intended to finalize his will with an attorney, he had only completed a handwritten will. 

He was living in Texas at the time, Matt explains, and a handwritten will is legally valid in the Texas court system. However, the only will found was a copy, so it wasn't legally valid. When representatives of the court later went into Edward’s house, they miraculously found the handwritten original will.

Photo of Ed Peterson in his Air Force uniform
Edward Peterson

“If that wasn't there, then we would have had a different scenario,” Matt says, “because the money would have had to probably go to my parents, and then my parents would have had to give it to the U, which would have been a much longer course of action.” 

Luckily, Edward and Norma’s wishes would be fulfilled, and future University of Minnesota students will benefit from their family’s generosity and love of education through the Edward and Norma Peterson Scholarship. 

“That's what both of them wanted,” adds Matt. “They wanted to know that they would have what they needed for their lifetime, and that whatever they didn't need would benefit the University in a scholarship.”

What Lynn Praska remembers most about Ed was his love for his mother. “Originally, his estate gift was to benefit her, but if something happened to her first, it would benefit the U of M. When he became a U of M Heritage Society member, he included his mom's name with his, just like the scholarship honors both of them.”

The love was definitely a two-way street. One year at the annual U of M Heritage Society Dinner, Lynn recalls, Norma brought a bag full of framed pictures from the various stages of Ed's life to show her. “She was so incredibly proud of him,” Lynn says.


All family photos courtesy of Matt Musel. Photo of Burton Hall courtesy of University of Minnesota Archives.


Mia Boos is a writer and content strategist with the College of Continuing and Professional Studies, covering the College’s graduate programs and undergraduate individualized degree programs. She joined the CCAPS Marketing team in 2014 and has worked for Thomson Reuters and New York University. Connect with her via LinkedIn