BROOKSVILLE — He knew exactly whose car was in the driveway.
Richard Peterson was in his early 20s, walking home in a Minnesota blizzard after work. He wanted to relax at home, but he knew his churchgoing sisters had brought an evangelist there to try to save his soul. He wasn't interested.
He went down to a bar and shot pool until the evangelist left the house. But the next day, the car came back. That day, the snow was knee-deep. He had to go inside.
In the living room, he talked to the evangelist. Soon he was on his knees, a changed person.
• • •
Richard Peterson became senior pastor at six Baptist churches. He received an honorary doctorate and wrote books on faith. He reached countless people.
It was a long road to get there. He sacrificed his burgeoning engineering career, his security and his brand new 1941 Plymouth to answer a call to minister.
At first, he subbed for his own pastor and formed a new Sunday school at a town tavern. Each week, he'd arrive early and sweep the bottles off the floors before teaching children about God.
His first official job as pastor was in South Dakota. The church had 35 members and kerosene lamp wicks that Dr. Peterson trimmed during sermons. His own home had shrunken floorboards. Snow whipped through the cracks. He earned $100 a month.
Back in Minnesota, he led a country Baptist church and worked in the field with farmers. He often took calls from folks in crisis, even the Lutherans from the church across the street.
"My father really became the pastor to the town," said Bill Peterson, one of five children. "He genuinely loved people."
He was known to yell and run across the platform. His shouting jolted sleepy kids awake. When he strained his voice preaching, doctors ordered him to calm down.
Mr. Peterson and his wife, Virginia, lived everywhere from Wyoming to California, and finally Brooksville.
He never fully retired, still dispensing biblical wisdom through the World Prophetic Ministry organization in California.
He had 2,000 books in his library. Recently, he read a book about dying and going to heaven.
When his congestive heart failure got bad, hospice came in. He preached the gospel to the volunteers, but they didn't mind — they enjoyed his wit.
Dr. Peterson was troubled by one volunteer, who he feared wouldn't discover God before he died. Dr. Peterson told the man to read a chapter in the book of Romans, that it would help him understand, his son said.
Dr. Peterson died on Nov. 3 at age 90. Just before, the volunteer sat at his bedside and wept. He had read Romans.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8857.