Peter James Iverson
April 4, 1944 – February 14, 2021
Peter James Iverson was born in Whittier, California in 1944. On occasion, he wryly observed that sharing a birthplace with Richard Nixon was not a distinction he particularly relished. He was the first child of William James Iverson and Adelaide Veronica (Schmitt) Iverson. Peter and his brothers, David and Paul, were raised in Menlo Park, California. His family was enmeshed in the rich social scene of Stanford University, where his father was a professor and his mother was the life of the party and an incredible hostess, as well as a long-time volunteer for the League of Women Voters. He was passionate about sports. At Carleton College, where he received his bachelor’s degree in history, he rebelled against the Vietnam War (risking expulsion during the draft) and registered African-Americans to vote in the Jim Crow South. He continued on an academic path, receiving his master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
It was at Madison Peter turned to his great academic passion, Native American history. He leapt at the opportunity to teach at what was then Navajo Community College (now Diné College). His connection to the living communities of Native peoples, particularly the Diné, inspired his scholarship and his teaching for his entire career. He loved old traditions and new, both weaving and rodeo. He loved to listen and to engage, to teach and to play basketball with his students. He rebelled against a historical tradition that stuck to the archives, becoming a role model for modern historians who relied on oral histories and non-traditional sources. He taught this approach, insisting that his graduate students interact and collaborate with the Native peoples whose histories they were writing.
Peter wrote ten books (including Diné: A History of the Navajos (2002), We Are Still Here (1998), Barry Goldwater: Native Arizonan (1997), and Carlos Montezuma (1982)) and edited five additional volumes, as well as writing dozens of chapters, articles, and essays. These works, often written in collaboration with Native scholars and artists, broke new ground in the study of Native Peoples and the American West in the twentieth century. He always acknowledged with respect and gratitude his teachers from the Navajo Nation and other indigenous communities. During his long career, he received many prestigious fellowships and honors for his pioneering work. He was the winner of the Chief Manuelito Appreciation Award for Contributions to Navajo Education, the Ak-Chin Indian Community Service Award, the American Indian Historians Association Award, the Wyoming Council for the Humanities Award, the Western Writers of America Award, and the Distinguished Achievement Award of the Carleton College Alumni Association. He was named a McNickle Center for American History Fellow, a three-time National Endowment of the Humanities Fellow, a Leadership Fellow of the Kellogg Foundation, an Arizona Humanities Council Public Scholar, and a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow. Peter was the first Arizona State University’s Regents’ Professor of History. He also served as a professor of history at the University of Wyoming and as Anderson Visiting Professor of American Studies at Carleton College. He received awards for teaching, doctoral mentorship, and work as a faculty member at Arizona State University and the University of Wyoming. He served as Director of Graduate Studies in History at Arizona State University. He was associate editor of The Historian from 1990-1995, and consulted on five documentary films. He was extremely active in several professional associations including serving as the President of the Western History Association and Acting Director of the D'Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies. For over three decades, he loved working with his students. His work as a mentor notably included a large number of Native, non-traditional, and first-generation students. To his delight, many of his scores of PhD advisees continued as professional historians and others pursued history in a variety of non-traditional ways. He believed teaching was the best job in the world. His impact as a scholar continues to spread.
Peter loved stories. This was true whether he was entertaining his students, his colleagues, or his family. Whether he was writing for fellow historians or Native American children, he passionately believed in the power of memory, the meaning of place, the value of listening, and the potential of storytelling. He emphasized the centrality of character for historical figures and all of us, insisting that ultimately “who you are is more important than what you do.”
Peter’s great love was his wife Kaaren. Peter and Kaaren raised four children with joy and a sense of celebration and adventure. He was so proud of his children, celebrating their triumphs and sending them love regardless of whatever challenges they faced. Peter served as example of excellence and compassion to his children and their spouses: Tim Warder, Scott and Lissa Warder, Erika Iverson, and Jens Iverson and Kate Orlovsky. He doted on their four grandchildren (Carmen, Roman, Freya, and Ada). He is survived by his wife, his children, his grandchildren, his brothers and their spouses (David Iverson and Lynn Fuller, and Paul and Yoko Iverson), and his nieces and their families (Ayuko Iverson, Ajith Satya, and Akemi Satya; and Laura, Kevin, Hannah, and William Beare). Peter died on 14 February 2021 in Tempe, Arizona, where Peter and Kaaren made their home for many decades. He will be sorely missed by his family, and the much wider community of people who loved and admired him. Services will be planned at a later time. In lieu of flowers, the family invites donations to the Peter and Kaaren Iverson Native American Scholarship Fund, which will support Native Americans studying at ASU. Donations may be made at https://www.asufoundation.org/education-and-scholarship/donor-named-funds/peter-and-kaaren-iverson-native-american-scholarship-CA123453.html or http://bit.ly/PKINAS or checks may be made payable to “ASU Foundation” and sent to the ASU Foundation, Attn: Cash Receipting, P.O. Box 2260, Tempe, AZ 85280-2260. Please indicate “In Memory of Dr. Peter Iverson” in the memo field. All gifts are tax deductible and will be added to a permanently endowed scholarship fund. To send condolences or sign the online guestbook, please go to the Green Acres Mortuary and Cemetery (https://www.dignitymemorial.com/obituaries/scottsdale-az/peter-iverson-10062056).
No public services are scheduled at this time. Receive a notification when services are updated.
Peter James Iverson
February 28, 2021
My most sincere condolences on the death of Dr Iversen. I had the privilege to he in his Honors Senior seminar many years ago. The topic was the Navajo and I learned much and whetted my appetite to learn more. A treasure of a man.
February 26, 2021
My Condolences for your family. My thoughts are with you all.
February 26, 2021
As a graduate student at ASU beginning in 2009, I was fortunate to be a part of Dr. Iverson's last graduate seminar ("Natives and Newcomers") before his retirement in 2010. I fondly remember the field trips we took as part of that class, visiting local Native communities and individuals. I also appreciated the tremendous care and concern that Dr. Iverson took when evaluating our research papers. The final two weeks of the semester, he held class at his house near the ASU campus, and he and his wife provided all of us with catered lunch as we sat in his living room presenting and discussing those final research papers. When I asked Dr. Iverson to write letters of recommendation for me, he again invited me to his house, and we had a long conversation about my career goals so that he could write the most effective letter possible. It was obvious that he cared deeply about his graduate students and their success in the field, and this is something that can often go underrecognized in the profession, as many people focus on the publications, grants, and awards. I'll always have fond memories of my time at ASU and the role that Dr. Iverson played in my education, and for that I am deeply grateful to him.
February 25, 2021
Although my heart immediately became heavy upon first seeing that Peter had passed, I quickly recalled the wondrous semesters during the earliest years at Navajo Community College where I first got to know Peter. He was so very kind, always appearing to give a extra moment of thought before speaking. I recall him and his lovely wife joining our student body at our dances and how he cut a fine rug in his brown leather dingo boots. Wow! What a hoot for everyone who was a part of those earliest years of NCC. Muddy, slippery walks during winter to our classes, faculty who brought such a wide swath of knowledge from far flung universities and Navajo instructors who were masters in silversmithing, weaving, and a Code Talker who taught Navajo language to the unusual mixture of Navajo cowboys and cowgirls, bordertown students, and some from far away South Dakota reservations. Peter would end his golden years as an ASU Sun Devil and imparted his brilliance to its history department which will remain a cherished gift from his unquenchable thirst to tell the stories of Indigenous people who returned the admiration he endeared. I am truly honored to have been an acquaintance of Peter Iverson whose teaching and inspiration will continue on. Many blessings to the family and know that I share in your sympathy.
February 25, 2021
I was very sad to learn of the passing of Dr. Iverson as he was such a wonderful and kind man. My heart and sincere condolences go out to his family during this time of loss.
I had the privilege to have him as my thesis advisor at Arizona State University when I earned my MA. I admired him greatly. A brilliant scholar who shared his knowledge with humility and grace. Every story revealed his deep love of history. His warm sense of humor emerged when the story had a funny element involved and I remember his happy laughter.
He will be missed by all who had the pleasure to know him during his lifetime but the students who receive his scholarship will keep him remembered forever.
February 25, 2021
I knew Dr. Iverson first when I was a graduate student at ASU and he was a much sought after thesis and/or dissertation advisor. His knowledge and kindness drew students to want to work with him. Later when I worked in the Labriola Center at ASU Library I got to know Dr. Iverson better. He was a tremendous supporter of the Center donating significant research material to Labriola over the years including the often used Peter Iverson Collection. I will miss the mentoring and support Dr. Iverson provided to me over the years. Thank you for all your kindness.
February 24, 2021
it was my honor to be one of Peter's colleagues at the History Department. I worked with some of his students and we shared some committees. He was a true scholar and gentleman, always courteous and full of camaraderie. I was saddened by his death, but consoled by the thought that he leaves a great scholarly legacy behind.
Knox and Debbie Kimberly
February 24, 2021
Karen, greetings from a voice from your past and may Peace be with you in your time of loss. Debbie and I have very fond memories of the times we were with the two of you - including at Halloween when as I recall, Peter dressed up as Nixon. Blessings to you in your onward journey and may the extraordinary memories of his life so well lived give you comfort. -- Knox Kimberly, Austin TX