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Life Story: Long­time ag agent a ‘trouper and a fighter’

Man devoted most of career to promoting agriculture industry and education

  • Peterson-Mahlon-031517

Even though more than three decades have passed, Pat LaVelle hasn’t forgotten Mahlon Peterson’s interview for the job of Eau Claire County UW-Extension agricultural agent.

“He was wearing a three-piece suit and had wingtip shoes on,” said LaVelle, a longtime Eau Claire County supervisor who served on the ag extension committee back then.

“He was wearing white socks with his wingtips, and I said to Colleen (Bates, a fellow board and committee member), ‘He’s got to be a farmer.’ That’s one of the reasons we hired him,” LaVelle said chuckling. “I always reminded him of that.”

Peterson, who served as the Eau Claire County UW-Extension ag agent from 1987 until 2013, died Sunday. The Eau Claire resident was 71.

“He was a trouper and a fighter,” said LaVelle, explaining Peterson had battled health problems in recent years, “and I always told him he was one of my heroes.”

“I’ve seen him a lot more in the last two years than in the 25 years he was with the county,” said LaVelle, noting the pair worked out Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at L.E. Phillips Senior Center. “I’m really going to miss him.”

Like LaVelle, Bates kept in touch with Peterson after he retired from Eau Claire County.

“He was always keeping track of what was going on, and every once in a while, I’d get a call,” she said, laughing. “He’d shared his feelings, and we would reminisce.”

Before Peterson’s hiring as ag agent, he was an agriculture teacher in Wisconsin and Iowa and also worked as a salesman for a short period, according to an article in The Country Today, a rural life newspaper published by APG Media of Wisconsin.

Peterson grew up on a dairy, beef, hog and poultry farm in eastern Iowa, and he attended UW-Platteville for agricultural education and started his career teaching at Verona High School. During his career as an ag agent, he also was the state swine team leader.

“He certainly was someone who committed himself fully and saw projects through,” said Tammy Vaassen, executive vice president of the Lancaster-based Wisconsin Pork Association. “He was one of those agents who could really relate so well with individuals and try to find the right answers and right resources for people.”

His efforts were recognized. He was named the 2012 Friend of Agriculture at the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual Breakfast in the Valley. In 2013, he received the Aggie Award, which is given to individuals who have helped move the agriculture industry forward. It’s coordinated by North Country Enterprises, the farm show and WAXX Radio. 

After retiring from the UW-Extension in 2013, Peterson still worked with the Wisconsin Pork Association, continuing his lifelong commitment to helping the agricultural industry.

“He was a true friend of the pork industry and agriculture who is truly going to be missed for his professional contributions and his overall friendship and demeanor,” Vaassen said.

Bates and LaVelle couldn’t agree more.

“He certainly was a person who was very dedicated to his work, and he was well thought of by the people he served,” Bates said. “He was a good, good guy.”

“I don’t think anybody could say a bad word about him,” said LaVelle, who had planned to visit Peterson on Monday, so he could provide a “Mahlon update” to the close-knit group who worked out with them at the Senior Center. “He was a nice guy. What more can I say?”

Contact: 715-830-5838,, @CTOBrien on Twitter

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