ALAMEDA -- In the decades he spent as an Alameda educator, David Wayne Peterson encouraged and inspired thousands of children. But he would likely be the first to say that it was his own life that was enriched by the countless hours he spent in the classroom.
"He loved children and he delighted in the way they saw the world," said Marieka Peterson Greene, his granddaughter.
On Tuesday, family and friends of Peterson gathered at Trinity Lutheran Church on Central Avenue to remember the longtime teacher and principal, who died April 18. He was 95.
His memorial fell on the 31st annual California Day of the Teacher.
Just how much influence Peterson had during his 36-year career was underscored in June 2011, when city and Alameda Unified School District officials declared June 5 "David Peterson Day" in the city.
Peterson's work on behalf of young people did not stop, however, when he retired from the district in 1979. In 1984, he was elected to the Alameda County Board of Education and went on to serve 12 years.
"He believed God put him on this Earth to teach and to direct children," said Marieka Peterson Greene, who followed in her grandfather's footsteps and became an educator.
Peterson was born on the kitchen table at his family's farm in Linn Grove, Iowa, on March 3, 1918. He was valedictorian of his high school class and worked his way through Buena Vista University, graduating in 1940.
Peterson was teaching in Iowa when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, plunging the United States into World War II.
"My life changed when Pearl Harbor was attacked," Peterson said two years ago, when city and Alameda school officials gathered to honor him.
Along with his two roommates, Peterson enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps a month after the attack. Both his friends were shot down over the Pacific.
Peterson hoped to become a pilot, but poor vision led to a desk assignment in the Bay Area.
"He was always joking about that -- 'I flew a D.E.S.K. for the Market Street Commandos,'" said his son, Dennis Peterson.
Peterson met and married his wife, Virginia, in 1943, while still in the service. After his discharge, he attended San Francisco University and received a master's degree in 1950.
The couple lived and raised their family on Thompson Avenue, where neighbors nicknamed Peterson "The Mayor of Christmas Tree Lane" after the street's legendary holiday lights.
Peterson taught at Washington Elementary School and was vice principal at Haight and Otis elementary schools. He returned to Haight as principal before running Edison Elementary School for 20 years.
Peterson was a member of Trinity Lutheran Church more than 50 years. He was the oldest member of the congregation, Pastor David Bringman said.
"David knew the secret -- the secret to life and the secret to faith," Bringman said. "And that was to look at it like a child."
Peterson was head of the committee to build the church, where he also served on its council.
He was a member of the Alameda Elks Lodge 1015 for more than 50 years.
Peterson had a tremendous memory for people's names, his son said, a skill he undoubtedly mastered through the generations of children he met in the classroom and on the playground.
"If you had anything to do with Alameda, he knew you," Dennis Peterson said. "He knew you and he loved you."
Along with his wife Virginia, his survivors include his daughter Linda Woehl and son Dennis Peterson.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations in Peterson's memory be made to Christmas Tree Lane C/O Clay Pauli, 3259 Thompson Ave., Alameda, CA 94501.
Reach Peter Hegarty at 510-748-1654 or follow him on Twitter.com/Peter_Hegarty.