I was lucky enough to be raised in a home that was just across the alley from that most Americana of institutions: the neighborhood grocery store. From the time that I was allowed to go over there by myself, probably age 5, my mom would give me two nickels a day to spend. Those nickels would buy a handful of candy, or maybe a Shasta pop, or I could pool them and spring for a luxurious bottle of Coke.
The man running the store was a big teddy bear. That was my impression of him. A warm, friendly, loving individual who filled the air with old songs while he cut meat in the butcher area, stocked the shelves, or ran the register. He was tolerant of kids who read the comics without buying them. He’d even let them have the occasional piece of candy “on credit,” knowing that it would probably never be settled. His name was Mark Peterson, and it turns out he had a pretty darned interesting life.
Mark was born in Booneville, Arkansas in 1919. His parents were sharecroppers, so it was lean living, the kind of living that builds character. Eventually, the family relocated to the mining boom town of Miami sometime after 1925.
There was a depression on, so Mark did what he could do for spare change. This included hanging around the Coleman rear entrance and scoring tips for handling performers’ luggage and equipment. He shook hands with Will Rogers as a result, and received a nice gratuity as well. He met other famous personalities, and his own easygoing, friendly style meant that he could talk to anyone, including the rich and famous.
Mark was a big kid who excelled in sports, becoming a member of the Wardogs football team.
World War II started soon after Mark got out of school, and he enlisted in 1941. Mark landed in Normandy with the First and Third Armies and went on to survive the Battle of the Bulge. He found himself working as a medic. Among the injured soldiers he treated was the son-in-law of General George Patton, whom he ended up observing meeting with the soldier. He came home safe and sound to his own wife and child when the conflict was over.
Mark went to work at the newly-opened Goodrich plant. But it wasn’t long before he got into retail store management. Safeway hired him, and he ended up managing stores in Tulsa, Pryor, Miami, and Picher.
His life remained interesting during those years. He was robbed at gunpoint five times in stores he managed. His wife never got used to that, and this caused her to wonder, when he wasn’t home on time, if he was tied up in the cooler yet again.
After leaving Safeway and returning permanently to Miami, Mark spent some time selling ads for KGLC radio. He also practiced the butcher trade over at Brandon’s Food Center when they were on NW 1st Street. In the early 60’s, he purchased Moonwink Grocery at NW J and 9th. Moonwink had opened in 1950, and it was actually a shopping center, with spaces for other businesses besides the grocery. I remember a barber by the name of Paul Buffington who was there. It was at Moonwink Grocery where I met the man who was such an influence on me.
Moonwink had opened in 1950, and had changed hands a couple of times afterwards. It was a good match for Mark, who had spent more time in the grocery trade than any other over the years. He ran a booming business there until around 1972, when he sold out. By 1975, Moonwink was demolished. Two multi-family dwellings were put up in its place.
I’m glad I’d moved away by then. That would have been a sad thing to see.
Mark ran for Ottawa county clerk in 1972, and the well-loved candidate won. He served until 1981. After that, he worked in the District Attorney’s office until he retired.
He passed away on April 4, 2008, at the age of 88. He was surrounded by friends and family, and it was the end of a life well lived.
The last time I saw Mark was about 1970. We had returned to town from where we had moved in SW Missouri. We were at the Gibson’s store, and I spotted him from a distance and ran up to him. He shook my hand like an adult (I was ten), and we had a nice little conversation. Having researched his life with the help of his son Robert, I can say that Mark Peterson typified an interesting local Miami character, and anyone who was lucky enough to know him personally will testify that he was one of the warmest, friendliest individuals to ever call this wonderful town home.