The estate of John and Fran Peterson of Lawrence has donated $1 million to the Nature Conservancy in Kansas, one of the organization’s largest gifts.
“We are very excited,” said Rich Bailey, director of philanthropy for the Nature Conservancy in Kansas.
The Petersons’ gift has been designated for land acquisition. The only larger gift the organization has received was $4.8 million in 2004 from Frank and Frances Horton of Wellington.
John Peterson, a World War II veteran, was originally from Logan County. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Kansas. He worked for the U.S. Treasury Department and the Department of Defense in Washington. He died in 2009.
His wife, Fran, was a native Texan, and also worked for the U.S. Treasury Department. She died in 2012.
When the couple retired in 1974, they moved to rural Douglas County and became involved in local civic groups, including the Lawrence Chamber Orchestra and the League of Women Voters. On a state level, John Peterson was a member of the Kansas State Historical Society and wrote extensively on early Kansas.
The Petersons became involved in the Nature Conservancy in 1989 when the organization’s state office was being created. The first project they helped support was acquiring land at Cheyenne Bottoms near Great Bend. In 1999, they helped acquire land in Logan County for the creation of the Smoky Valley Ranch.
The Nature Conservancy has protected more than 95,000 acres of land and easements in Kansas. Top priorities include the short grass prairie at Smoky Valley Ranch in western Kansas, the central Kansas wetlands at Cheyenne Bottoms and the tall grass prairie in eastern Kansas, including the Flint Hills. It is the largest conservation organization in Kansas.
In addition to the Nature Conservancy donation, the Petersons also donated $1.2 million to KU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the School of Music and the School of Dance.