Remembering Amy Petersen

Amy visiting New
York City in October

About Amy

On Sunday, October 26, 2003, Amy Petersen, a minor in the Department of Religious Studies, died unexpectedly at her apartment in Tuscaloosa. The faculty, staff, and students in the department were shocked and greatly saddened by this news. Amy had already taken several classes in the Department and was currently enrolled in two classes.

In the midst of their shocking and extremely sad news, members of Amy’s family — who came to Tuscaloosa from their home in Huntsville, AL — visited Manly Hall, to let us know how much Amy appreciated our work and how stimulated she was by all of her classes. We are both flattered and greatly humbled that Amy’s mother, Jo, took the time to speak with us at what can only be described as an extremely difficult time.

Update from Amy’s Family

On October 26, 2006, Amy’s mother, Ms. Jo Petersen, came to Tuscaloosa to deliver, in person, the final installment that allowed the Amy Lynn Petersen Endowed Support Fund to reach its initial goal. As of June 15, 2007, the University of Alabama Board of Trustees passed a resolution to endow this fund to provide a book each for all REL 490 students beginning the Spring 2008 semester. Bookplates, in memory of Amy, are now being designed.

Amy’s family hopes that the fund will continue to grow and, perhaps someday, endow a student scholarship in Amy’s memory.

Gifts in Amy’s Memory

Anyone interested in making a contribution to this fund can give via the University’s online giving page.

A portrait of Amy
painted by her mother,
Jo Petersen

From the Huntsville Times

“UA Student’s Death Saddens Many Who Thought Her Special”
Amy Petersen Chose Religious Studies; It was a Perfect Fit

By Mary Anne Zollar, Staff Writer

At age 3, Amy Petersen was upset when “Sesame Street’s” Cookie Monster defined “sharing” by ripping a fellow puppet’s feather pillow in half. From a young age, according to her mother Josephine Petersen, Amy abhorred violence, “She wasn’t afraid of confrontation, she just didn’t believe in it,” Petersen said of her daughter. “She wanted people to get along.”

Amy lived her life just as she left it last Sunday. In peace. She was 24. Amy, a student at the University of Alabama, died of natural causes in the Tuscaloosa apartment she shared with her original college roommate, Amanda Norwood. “The girls were accustomed to sleeping late on Sunday,” said her mother, who resides here. The pair had enjoyed a Saturday night out with friends and returned home to rest. Norwood left in the morning to visit her boyfriend and found Amy, still apparently asleep, when she returned in the afternoon. “She shook her and said, ‘Look, it’s time for you to get up,’ ” said Petersen. But Amy had died in the night.

Josephine and Robert Petersen brought one-month-old Amy and her 9-year-old sister, Terri, to Huntsville in 1979. Tall and slender, Amy excelled in ice skating and studied ballet at Performing Danz Arts. She became a vegetarian. She loved buying shoes. She was a natural poet. Amy graduated from Grissom High School in 1997 and worked for a year at Joe Muggs and Colonial Bank before deciding to go to college. She paid her own way and studied advertising. It wasn’t to her liking, and she floundered a little bit, but she stayed in the college town.

She took a break from school and worked another year, as a waitress and selling mobile homes. She returned to school with renewed resolve and began courses in religious studies. Amy had found something to throw her passion into. But she eschewed the typical college model. She wanted room to think.

New College, a program in the university’s arts and sciences department, allowed her to design her own course of study incorporating psychology, art and religion. She had made the cut, proving her self-discipline with letters of recommendation and had met with her new adviser, Dr. Jerry Rosenberg, one week ago Thursday. “One of our prime criteria is to be self-motivated,” said Rosenberg. “She seemed just thrilled to have that opportunity.”

Amy sat in Dr. Russell McCutcheon’s religious studies classes twice. He saw in her a “good scholar in the making.” “She was up to the discussion, and a lot of people aren’t,” McCutcheon said. “She would talk and integrate material she learned and take it in new directions.” He saw in the young woman a fascination with cross-cultural beliefs and behaviors. “She ‘got’ what the study of religion was and what it wasn’t,” he said. “That’s one of the things that makes it (her death) particularly sad for me.”

A former employer, Chad Noland, praised Amy in a letter of recommendation to New College. “Once Amy makes a decision, she does not look back,” wrote Noland, who had hired Amy to sell manufactured housing. “Not only will she become an academic asset to your institution, she will also become a source of inspiration to other students.”

Her sister, Terri Buteau, said Amy never thought she was “anything special.” But the outpouring of devotion from friends across the country has proved she was anything but ordinary. A group of coworkers from Cafe Venice is raising money to commission a portrait of Amy to hang in the restaurant where she waited tables. Management is closing the restaurant for the duration of Amy’s memorial services so that all employees may attend.

Several classmates plan to plant a tree in the school quad, where Amy liked to walk her dog, Sable. Friends are organizing a memorial service on campus for students who won’t be able to attend Amy’s funeral in Huntsville and burial in Nebraska. And the calls, e-mails and tributes keep coming in. “I’m a skeptic, but this has renewed my faith in mankind,” said Petersen. “Amy helped contribute to that.”

Amy is survived by her mother, Josephine Petersen; her father and stepmother, Robert and Janice Petersen; her sister and brother-in-law, Terri and Mark Buteau; three stepbrothers, Chris, Todd and Kirk Sprikle; one niece, Tyler; and two nephews, Christopher and Nicholas Buteau, all of Huntsville.

A memorial service was held Friday at Laughlin Service Funeral Home. A celebration of Amy’s life will be held Sunday at the University of Alabama. Burial will be in Gates Family Cemetery in Gates, Neb.

Her family requests donations to the University of Alabama for the benefit of students enrolled in religious studies, in care of Dr. Russell McCutcheon, 212 Manly, Box 870264, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0264.