John Petersen, namesake of Petersen Events Center, passes away

John Petersen’s legacy will live on through the Petersen Events Center.

Petersen, who is the Pete’s namesake, died Saturday, Pitt spokesperson Ken Service said.

Petersen, an alumnus and benefactor of the University, passed away after a two-year battle with brain cancer. As of Sunday afternoon, his family has not yet made funeral arrangements. Petersen was 86.

In a statement, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said Petersen’s abundant giving to the University helped shape it into what it is today.

“[Petersen] set an example for many others by his steadfast belief in and support of the University of Pittsburgh, which helped Pitt become the outstanding institution it is today,” Gallagher said.

Known for donating $10 million in 1999 to fund the construction of the Petersen Events Center, Petersen was the former Chief Executive Officer of the Erie Insurance Group and earned a business degree from Pitt in 1951.

After three years of construction, the Petersen Events Center opened on April 27, 2002 and both the Pitt men’s and women’s basketball teams played their first games in the Pete in November 2002.

Before funding the Pete, Petersen and his wife, Gertrude, endowed scholarships for students in need from their hometown in Erie. At Pitt, the couple endowed the Petersen Institute of Nanoscience and Engineering, a multidisciplinary research center for nanoscale science.

Because of his character and his generosity, Gallagher said, Pitt will miss Petersen.

“We are all saddened by the death of John Petersen,” Gallagher said. “We have lost not only a remarkably generous benefactor, but also a man whose values, commitment and focus have had an immeasurable positive impact on the University of Pittsburgh.”