If you have a kid who plays baseball or softball in Brighton, you probably know the name Rolly Peterson.
Rolly’s name adorns the concession stand and equipment shed at Hawkins Elementary School, where most of the teams in the Brighton Youth Baseball Softball Program play. The facility is officially called the “Roland Peterson Memorial Building,” but most folks in the Brighton baseball and softball community just call it “Rolly’s.” As in, “I’ll meet you at Rolly’s before the game.”
Rolly was heavily involved in the Brighton youth baseball program as a volunteer and coach, so when he passed away in 1988, they decided to dedicate the building at Hawkins in his memory. I love that his legacy lives on that way.
So a lot of people in Livingston County know the name Rolly Peterson, but very few people know who Rolly Peterson was.
That needs to change. You all need to know the. story behind the name on the building. Rolly Peterson was a giant of a man in Livingston County, and he was the single biggest influence on my career as a journalist.
It was 30 years ago this week that Rolly passed away, so as all of us who knew and loved Rolly reflect on this sad anniversary, it’s time you all knew his story.
Below is a column that I wrote 10 years ago today, on Dec. 28, 2008. This is the story of Rolly Peterson:
Rolly Peterson’s legacy lives on – from the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus of Dec. 28, 2008
Twenty years ago this week, Livingston County lost a legend.
Rolly Peterson was just 53 years old when he passed away of a heart attack on Christmas Eve 1988. Rolly was the vice president and general manager of Sliger/Livingston Publications, the company that at the time owned the Brighton Argus and Livingston County Press, forerunners of the Daily Press & Argus.
Rolly was a mentor, a friend, a community leader and an all-around great guy. He was also a giant, an absolute giant, in the world of Livingston County journalism.
I think of Rolly often, and always at Christmastime, because I remember how sad it was around here when we found out that he had died. I can’t believe it’s been 20 years since he was taken away from us.
I came to the LCP in 1983 as the sports editor, just a few months out of college. Rolly was the executive editor at the time, and when he found out that I was a University of Michigan grad, I could tell he took sort of a special liking to me.
Rolly was a Michigan man, too; he was a graduate of the school and his father-in-law was one of the famed football-playing Wistert brothers, and he loved his Wolverines dearly.
He also loved talking about his Wolverines, especially the basketball team, so there were plenty of times when he would call me into his office for no other reason than to shoot the bull about U-M.
Rolly approached every single subject and conversation with the enthusiasm of a kid in a candy store, and his eyes would light up when he’d start talking about the maize and blue.
“They just need to play better defense!” he’d say. “Gol-DARN it! I just can’t BELIEVE them sometimes! If they start playing defense, they might actually DO something this season!”
It was a cruel irony that just a few months after Rolly passed away, Michigan won its one and only NCAA basketball championship. Wherever he was, I’m sure he was up there smiling that enormous smile the whole time.
I miss those talks, and I miss Rolly. He taught me so much about what it means to be a community journalist, and as much as I miss our talks about Michigan basketball, I miss his guidance and insights even more.
In 1985, Rolly was elevated from his post as executive editor, and he became the vice president and general manager of the company the publisher. A year later, when then-Brighton Argus editor Rich Perlberg left for a job with the Eccentric Newspapers in Birmingham, I became the editor of the Argus.
Back in the 1960s and ’70s, Rolly was the editor of the Argus, and even though he was now in charge of six weekly papers as the publisher, the Argus was still his “baby.” And he wanted to make sure that I took good care of his baby.
I was a sports guy moving into the news world, and to be honest, I needed a lot of help and guidance. Rolly was there to provide it. If he liked something I did with the paper, he’d tell me about it. If he thought we were missing a big story, he’d tell me about it. If he thought I wrote a column that could have been better, he’d tell me about it.
I remember him calling me into his office one day to talk about a column I had written about a school millage election. “OK,” he said, “here’s the problem. You wait until the fifth paragraph before you tell the reader what the hell it is you’re writing about. Once you get there, it’s a fine column, but nobody is going to wade through five paragraphs if they don’t know what the column is about.”
I got the point, and to this day, I remember that advice. I still might not be putting out good columns, but at least I tell you right away what the hell it is I’m writing about!
More than that, though, I learned from Rolly that being a good community journalist means being involved in the community.
You have to get involved in clubs and organizations and fundraisers, and you have to get to know the people in your town. You can’t just sit in your office all day. You have to get out there.
Rolly was involved in pretty much every group and organization in Brighton. He knew everyone in town, and everyone knew him. That’s the way you do things when it comes to community journalism, and Rolly was the best of the best.
He was such a tremendous influence on my life and my career, and I’m guessing that all the other folks at this newspaper who were here 20 years ago feel the same way. We all liked Rolly, we all respected Rolly, and we all miss Rolly. Two decades later, his influence is still felt around here every single day.
His time on earth was far too brief, but as they say, it’s not how long you live that matters. It’s how you live. Rolly lived life to the fullest, and in the process, he made his profession and his community a much better place. That’s an example we can only hope to emulate.
I miss Rolly Peterson, but I’m thankful every day that I had the chance to know him and work for him. Oh, and Rolly – good news. The Michigan basketball team is having a pretty good season. If only they can start playing a little better defense…