Typically, that part of the St. Charles City Council agenda identified as “Presentation,” which falls between the “Pledge of Allegiance” and the “Omnibus Vote,” is reserved for those occasions when the mayor and council single out a resident or group or business for their contributions to the city.
But on Monday night, it was a time for 92-year-old Melvin Peterson, known as St. Charles living historian, to single out three city officials for honors, which he did by presenting them each with a horseshoe — a symbol of luck — holding a small plaque, thanking each of them for their years of service to the community.
“Most of the time, when you come to a council meeting, you’re here asking for something. Well, here tonight I’m going to give,” said Peterson, who was accompanied by his wife, Ruth, in the City Council Chambers.
“I used to eat cookies on Ruth Peterson’s front porch on 7th Street,” recalled Mayor Donald DeWitte, shortly before her husband called on him to receive his horseshoe and plaque.
“The first horseshoe I have here is a pair of Budweiser Clydesdale horseshoes,” Peterson said. “The reason I had to use that is the oak board that I wanted to put for printing on it took that much more room. What is on this board: Thank you for your years of service to the city of St. Charles as alderman, 1993-2005, and mayor, 2005-2013, Don DeWitte.”
DeWitte was clearly touched as he thanked Peterson.
“Melvin is the greatest historian we have in this community — he really knows where all the bodies are buried,” DeWitte said, drawing a chuckle from the audience. “Anybody who wants to know anything about the history of this community, this man is a walking encyclopedia.”
DeWitte added that Peterson has honored him with similar horseshoe gifts in the past, including when he first was elected mayor. “I will keep this one proudly with the other two or three you’ve given me,” he said.
Next in line for honors from Peterson was 4th Ward Alderman Jim Martin, the city’s longest serving seated alderman. “I knew Melvin when he was just a kid,” quipped Martin as he accepted his award. “He taught me to shovel corn on the farm.”
Martin recalled growing up outside of St. Charles near Peterson’s farm, and that during World War II, “I always carried my little milk pail and went up there and got a gallon of milk every day, fresh from the cows. Thank you Melvin.”
Last to be singled out by Peterson was St. Charles interim Fire Chief Joe Schelstreet, who has been serving the city for 27 years and whom Peterson said he has known all his life.
“I had the great pleasure of serving on the board of directors for the (St. Charles) Heritage Center with Melvin,” said Schelstreet, who acknowledged Peterson as the city’s living historian. “Thank you very much.”
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