Parade grand marshals fixtures of community for nearly six decades

Normen and Doris Peterson
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Normen Peterson’s lengthy career in photography and auctioneering began with a cow.

“I had a cow, an Ayrshire imported from Scotland – her name was ‘Burton Dairy Maid’ – and I purchased her in 1958 at the state Ayrshire sale,” the Wykoff native explained, “then I showed her in Washington at the National Dairy Cattle Congress, and she was grand champion there.  They claimed that I was the youngest at that time to own the national grand champion.  Then I showed her in 1960 at the international show in Chicago, and she got first aged cow and grand reserve champion there.  There wasn’t a livestock photographer there because of a snowstorm, and that’s kind of the reason I went into photography.” 

Since that time, Peterson estimated he has photographed in about 25 different states and four foreign countries; he added he’s nearing 45,000 head, and he’s done more than 1,000 weddings, one of them in England. 

That’s when his wife, Doris, interjected, “He sold that Ayrshire cow right after Chicago, and I had a houseful of new appliances and furniture.” 

And 58 years later, the Petersons, grand marshals of the 2018 Wykoff Fall Fest grand parade, don’t have that cow, but they certainly have some of their original honey-“moo”-oon furniture in the farmhouse on Toppy Hill Farm, just northwest of Wykoff, where they’ve managed the businesses that sprang up from the sale of that Scottish miss. There is professional photography, of course, with which Doris assists, but also Normen’s dairy cow auctioneering business that requires that Doris lend her expertise in creating catalogs and handbills for the farmers and livestock companies selling their herds. 

Normen credits his wife, “She’s 51 percent of the operation.” 

Doris counters, “I’m just the assistant.” 

Certainly, without having had a cow, the Petersons might not be who they’ve become today, but even before that, there was something meant to be about these two.  The two met on his 21st birthday. 

“We were dancing at the Pla-Mor Ballroom in Rochester, and he was attracted to my girlfriend before he got to me, but she was already dancing with someone else,” said Doris, who is originally from Wisconsin, but has lived in Minnesota for 58 years now. 

The relationship developed and the two were married in Mondovi, Wisconsin.  Doris noted that their first year of marriage, they were lucky not to have sold the cow for the houseful of appliances and furniture before settling down.

“Our first year of marriage, we were on the move quite a bit — we moved and moved and moved, and finally, we sold the cow and were here for our first anniversary,” said Doris.

They welcomed three children, Brad, Jodie and Jana.  Brad and his wife operate the dairy farm at Toppy Hill with Normen’s occasional assistance, Jodie lives in Hammon, Wisconsin, and Jana lives in Stewartville and owns a dog grooming business.  Over the years, while and after their trio lived with them, they expanded their livestock auctioneering and photography businesses.  Normen shared that he’s also been a livestock broker merchandising cattle privately ever since he graduated from Wykoff High School in 1956. 

“I had the opportunity to auctioneer in eight or nine different states, and I’ve done all types of auctions, but we kind of really specialized in dairy cattle auctions, including one in Mexico that we’ve gone down for for several years in a row,” he said.  “And for our photography, the bride who wanted us to come to England had come here to learn about livestock photography said that if she got married, we had to come to England to photograph her wedding, so we did.  When I started livestock photography, there was probably three in the U.S. and one in Canada that did dairy photography.” 

Doris clarified that the crossover from dairy photography to family and wedding photography is an obvious one to people who live in places such as Wykoff.  “Most of our brides and grooms are from a rural area and know that we’re in cow photography,” she said.     

The Petersons have been members of Wykoff United Methodist Church for as long as they’ve been married, and they’ve seen fit to do things to help the Wykoff community thrive whenever they could.

“I started the community auction with Louis Schmidt way back in the ‘60s, 1968, and it got to be one of the largest community auctions in the area,” said Normen. “I got a plaque from the Wykoff Farmers’ Union in 1993 marking 25 years of auctioning.”

“The community did a lot with the money,” said Doris. “It was spent on lots of projects.” 

Though they haven’t retired, the Petersons have taken advantage of time to enjoy their hobbies — going to cattle shows for Normen and quilting for Doris — and also their grandchildren.  They have four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren and they love to “spoil those great-grandchildren,” said Doris.

Toppy Hill’s the place they plan to remain, just outside of Wykoff. 

“We both like country living,” said Doris. “We like the wide-open spaces, jumping on the Gator and going where we want to.” 

Besides, it would feel udderly wrong to move somewhere else, given that Normen’s father, Ernest, farmed outside of Wykoff as well and was horseback grand marshal of the Fall Fest parade for at least two decades. 

“It’s always fun at Fall Fest,” said Doris. “People come back, and it’s good to see people again.  There are a lot of class reunions, and it’s a good time to meet in Wykoff.”

After that, they’ll likely wander home again and settle into the chair next to the 58-year-old table that they got when Normen sold that cow.