Haddonfield Memorial High School alum provides gift for alma mater

Haddonfield Memorial High School class of 1968 member Rob Peterson (center) stands behind his creation, a cherrywood replica of the school’s mascot. At its May 31 unveiling, Peterson celebrated with members of the board of education, From left, superintendent Larry Mussoline, Justin Benford, Jaime Auletto Grookett, Heather Paoli and board president Adam Sangillo.

Earlier in the spring, Haddonfield Middle School principal Tracy Matozzo spoke to the board of education about a change in the way school days would be structured in the future, calling the potential new schedule a “Bulldawg Block.” 

On May 31, a different kind of Bulldawg block was introduced, this one in the high school’s courtyard thanks to an artistically-inclined alumnus: the Louisville, Ky., based Rob Peterson, a proud member of the class of 1968. 

The end result of Peterson’s 15 hours whittling down 700 pounds of cherrywood, measuring 54 inches tall and 33 inches wide at its base, was the carving of a mean-mugging replica of the HMHS mascot. 

“It’s an honor to be able to do this for my high school, and I want to thank my classmates who got together. It’s an honor to give back to Haddonfield,” Peterson said. 

The unveiling occurred during the high school’s annual “Arts in the Courtyard” celebration. It drew significant student interest as other events were happening simultaneously in the school’s main courtyard, while faculty, staff and several members of the school board joined the celebration. 

“We couldn’t culminate ‘Arts in the Courtyard’ with a better experience than a piece of artwork as beautiful as this,” said school district Superintendent Larry Mussoline. 

Peterson, who is recently retired, hasn’t lived in New Jersey for almost five decades, but his thoughts never strayed far from home. 

“I graduated from high school in ‘68, and then after college I worked for a year in Newark, N.J., before moving down to Kentucky in 1974 to go into the building business with an uncle. That was my business until I retired last year,” he said.

During the dedication, he further advised the current student body: “You’ll find in your time you’ll want to return and to give something back, and this is such a satisfying feeling to do it.” 

A clear offshoot of his main source of income, Peterson’s introduction to the art form didn’t occur until fairly recently.  

“I’ve had a fascination with chainsaw carvings for years. I went to a festival one year where I was able to observe these carvers in action and in competition. That was in about 2004. In 2010, our daughter got married and we had a day-after party where we decided to clean up some stumps in the yard. I did some carvings that were pretty rough, but I enjoyed it and got into it more, read about it, got the right equipment and worked for years to get where I am now,” he explained. 

Peterson admitted a piece of the bulldog’s size requires some advanced planning. He usually picks up a regular chainsaw for blocking out the piece, and to pare it down to a manageable size for detail. He later switches to a detail-carving saw for the more intricate work. To finish the work, Peterson expertly wields a die grinder or a sander. 

Joining Peterson were fellow classmates Carol (Reisner) Sime, John Stokes, Susanne Derham, Linda Stokes, Greg Derham, John Sambalino, Doug Griese, class of 1968 advisor Tom Reilly and John Price. 

Greg Derham, who first met Peterson when they were in second grade, offered the following: 

“Every time I hear ‘50 years’ I simply cannot believe it. They say the older you get, the faster time seems to fly and it’s true. When we look around the high school we attended, it is amazing to see the changes that have taken place since we were here. This high school is incredible. Our bulldog stands for the class of ‘68. We hope it will add to this wonderful place. Thank you all for the opportunity and the support of our endeavor.”