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Getting Involved

Penny Petersen’s Picture-Perfect Brighton High Career Ending after 49 years

Penny Petersen has worked at Brighton High for almost as long as the 52-year-old school has been in existence. In her 49 years with the Bengals, she has worn many hats. But it was a side-hustle — a non-paying one — that endeared her to so many student-athletes. That, and her bright spirit, deep affection for teenagers, and desire to make Brighton into a welcoming haven for all who have called its halls, classrooms, and sports and arts venues home.

Interactions with students, usually from the big window of her office in the school’s main hallway, have always been a highlight of her day.

“It makes you feel good,” she said. “It makes them feel good.”

Making people feel good comes naturally to Petersen, whose career and volunteerism are highlighted in a heartwarming Connect Canyons podcast featuring the soon-to-be retiree.

“Penny simply is one of the best,” former Brighton and NFL linebacker Bryan Kehl said. “She represents everything that is amazing about Brighton High School.”

Petersen, who recently celebrated her 78th birthday, has decided to make this year at Brighton High her last. Along with asking for her career reflections, we connected with some of her colleagues and former students who refer to her as “an institution,” the “real deal,” and the “sunshine at Brighton High.”

The unassuming Petersen, who’d never own up to such labels, looks back on the past half century with fondness and pride. She started at Brighton in 1972 to fill her time after her youngest boy started first grade. Though nervous, at first, she soon found she really liked working with teenagers, and had had a special knack for it.

Over the years, she has worked in the copy and counseling centers and the records office. But Petersen’s claim to fame – her story, as she tells it – traces back to an off-campus Bengal football game she really wanted to attend.

She proposed taking a school camera to the game and snapping action shots of the football players. Her principal gave her permission. Petersen jokes that she accidentally took some decent pictures, which she then put in a glass display case at school. The photos, eventually given to the players, were a big hit. The football coach then asked her to be the official team photographer the following summer.

And so began Penny’s side-gig as a sports photographer. She talked her late husband Bryce into helping her — colleagues say the two were a package-deal — and before they knew it, word about their shutterbug talents began to spread on campus. They ended up being photographers for nine Brighton teams.

“It was just honestly, it was so much fun,” she said.

Penny and Bryce became the official chroniclers of Brighton Athletics at a time when the school was on the rise as a formidable powerhouse in sports. They snapped team photos of baseball, volleyball, soccer, basketball, and football players and captured pivotal moments in competition for display in school trophy cases.  And at the end of each school year, they took care to deliver the photos to the students and their families for safe keeping.

“She was almost like the PR person for Brighton High,” Brighton High principal Tom Sherwood said. “She did a great job with that.”

Sherwood said she also volunteered her time to make Brighton a great place to learn and work, from selling and collecting tickets at games to organizing staff parties and managing the Bengal Hall of Fame showcase of renowned alumni.

In 1996, Penny was awarded the Super Fan Award by the Utah High School Activities Association. She and Bryce were inducted into the Brighton Wall of Fame in 2001 and given the Bengal volunteers of the year award in 2006.

Penny and Bryce would typically take about two rolls of 36 pictures at every game for every team. In 30 years, that’s about 40,000 precious keepsakes.

Gratitude and occasional hugs from athletes were Penny’s reward.

“We were at a football banquet and one of the football captains literally said, ‘We really owe Bryce and Penny Peterson a vote of thank you, because they made it possible for us to hold our memories in our hands and look at them anytime we want for the rest of our lives,’” recalls Penny.

That, she noted, really hit home for her.

“I really feel like in my own little way, I touched their lives through the memories that they can hold her hands and look at for their whole life.”

And, while in retirement, she looks forward to reading and spending time with her six grandchildren whom she calls “my best friends in the whole world,” Petersen is a little nervous about what the future holds. When the COVID-19 health crisis calms down, she hopes to volunteer to cuddle premature babies in the NICU of a local hospital — which would be fitting for a tender-hearted woman who always finds ways to touch lives.

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Lucie Chamberlain

Alta View Elementary

If a movie about super teachers were ever made, Lucie Chamberlain would be a prime candidate for a leading role. Fortunately for her kindergarten students at Alta View Elementary, she already thrives in a supporting role for them. Parents thank her for being a “super teacher.” She is also described as an “amazing colleague.” Whether students need help in the classroom or from home while sick, Lucie goes above and beyond to help them learn, overcome fears, and feel important and cared for. Lucie is the reason a number of kids went from hating school to loving it, according to parents. The way she exudes patience, sweetness, positive energy, and love for her students with special needs melts is appreciated and admired. One parent noted: “Both my kids wish she could be their teacher forever.” Another added:  “She treats every student like their learning and their feelings are her priority.” Super teacher, indeed!

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