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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Brighton's ‘cherished treasure’ retires after 49 years

Apr 30, 2022 10:00AM ● By Jerry Christensen

By Jerry Christensen | [email protected]

It was the Nixon administration when Penny Petersen began working at Brighton High School. Gas was 39 cents per gallon. 

This year, Petersen ends her 49-year “stint” with Brighton in favor of a well-earned retirement. She came to the newly built high school in the early 1970s simply to fill time after her youngest child began first grade. It turns out that the new and bustling Brighton culture matched her own gifts for relating to teenagers and promoting student excellence. Perhaps the newly forming Brighton took its culture for athletic and academic excellence from Petersen. 

In her 49 years at Brighton, she has, day by day, added kindness, respect and accountability to the Brighton culture.  

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

Canyons District Chair of the School Board Nancy Tingey said, “Penny Petersen has had generational impact on students and staff at Brighton.”

“Penny Petersen is the definition of institutional memory at Brighton High. She has been involved in so many diverse aspects of Brighton over the last 49 years that she understands how programs, administrations, teams, careers have evolved over the years,” Tingey said.

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

However, much of Petersen’s service to the school community has largely gone unrecognized. In fact, the essence of her contribution can be summed up in two words—student recognition. In the 1970s she fell into the role of taking pictures at Brighton sporting events. She found that student athletes loved being recognized when those pictures were displayed in hallway cases. They became keepsakes as they were distributed to the students at the end of the year. She and her husband Bryce distributed tens of thousands of such keepsakes over the decades.  

In the 1980s, Petersen organized the school Pep Club under the moniker B.A.B.E.S. to promote school spirit and student recognition. This was during a period when Brighton would often take seven state championships a year in various sports. A highlight for Petersen was at the wrestling state championship when an unprecedented 10 Brighton wrestlers qualified for the finals. The Brighton 10 lined up on one side of the mat in their white singlets to face wrestlers from the rest of the 5A schools. It was a Brighton moment supported by Petersen’s B.A.B.E.S.

Mixed into the student recognition efforts was Petersen’s “Bengals in the News” wall. For decades, Petersen has meticulously scoured the local news to find any mention of Brighton students. She cuts the articles out or prints them from online sources, highlights the student names and posts them in the main hallway. Students and visitors alike enjoy seeing the student and school accomplishments.  

Forty-nine years of student recognition—a good time to recognize Petersen as a key component of Brighton’s positive culture[LL1] [EW2] 

“She is a Brighton cherished treasure,” Tingey said.