July 28, 1928 - December 28, 2021
Beloved Marion Educator and “Matriarch of the Arts”, Yolonde Byassee Peterson took her final bow Tuesday, December 28, 2021, at 10:18 PM at Heartland Regional Medical Center of Marion. She was escorted off the earthly stage with her niece by marriage, Linda Byassee, and dear neighbor, Jenna Fletcher by her side. She was born Thelma Yolonde Byassee on July 28, 1928, to Sarah Elizabeth (Vaughn) Byassee and James Henry Byassee of Creal Springs, IL. Foreshadowing a lifetime of her name being spelled and pronounced incorrectly, her first name was recorded in error, as “Helen”, on her birth certificate and had to be reissued. “Yolonde” was the youngest of three children, Rosella Byassee (Taylor) and James Howard Byassee who were 16 and 13 years older than she respectively. She was a beautiful and amazingly talented child. Yolonde attended school through 8th grade in Creal Springs, and transferred to Marion Township High School, with the avid insistence of her big brother, because Marion offered music curriculum. Her teaching career began early in life. She taught piano lessons at age twelve, and dreamed about being a professional concert pianist. In later years, Yolonde recalled that her father gave her the most important life advice, telling her “Life on the road was often a lonely one with an uncertain future”. Sadly, he passed unexpectedly in 1947. Yolonde made the decision to stay home, care of her mother, and pursue her education and teaching career. She faced many challenges during those years: Her health was shattered due to contracting tuberculosis, which took years to recover and left lifelong health issues. Fearing spread of the disease, engagement and marriage was postponed for two years after her recovery. Thereafter, she married Guy “Pete” Peterson of Creal Springs on August 8, 1951, and they celebrated 70 years together before he passed in October 2021. During college and early professional years, she faced prejudice against women, derision for her small-town roots, and jealousy from her peers. In college, she ‘gigged’ with the newly returned military band members of WWII, such as Gene Stieman and other big band greats, touring and playing at local venues. She was the first accompanist for the Jean Street Modern Dance Troupe, touring with them for two years. She studied with many music greats of the time: Nadia Boulanger of the Sorbonne in Paris, the foremost female teacher of composition in the twentieth century; renowned choral director Dr. Lara Hoggard, Dr. Robert Mueller and Fred Waring, whom she considered a brilliant man. Waring “taught me the most I ever gained from actual teaching, having 77 years in show business and holding 500 patents.” Mrs. Peterson graduated from SIU-C in 1957, with a Bachelor of Music Education degree. During her career as a choral director, she served many times as festival accompanist or conductor, and was honored to conduct the 1250 voice elementary choir at SIU “Music Under the Stars” in the early 60s. She taught nearly 40 years in Marion Unit 2 schools in Creal Springs, Pittsburg, Marion Junior High and High School. Mrs. Peterson brought the Broadway stage to MHS in 1964, premiering “Oklahoma” with her students as the cast. She produced classic Broadway musicals from then until she retired in 1989. Mrs. Peterson inspired excellence in her students by exemplifying excellence in herself. She served in all capacities as music and orchestra director, costume designer, set designer, choreographer, stage manager, publicity and marketing director of the shows. She also brought Hollywood-like glamour to her town with her sequined gowns from New York. Her intension was for students to feel a part of something very special and she dressed the part of the showman to give students excitement and pride in their production. In 1967-68, after studying with Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians, she formed the first swing choir in the area. Through the years the MHS Show Choir made many guest appearances and were the first downstate group to ever perform for the Illinois Association of School Boards in Chicago in 1982. Mrs. Peterson graduated June, 1970, from SIU-C with a Master of Science in Education. In 1973 she began another chapter of her impactful career. Mayor Robert Butler shared Jaclyn Hancock’s vision to reclaim the abandoned Orpheum Theater to repurpose as a cultural and fine arts center. Yolonde was asked to spearhead that endeavor. In August of 1974, the former Orpheum Theater reopened as the Marion Cultural and Civic Center. Grand Opening was held May 9, 1975, with Will Rogers as the featured performer. The Civic Center came to be considered Marion’s “Crown Jewel”, with the total refurbishment, expansion, and preservation of the 1922 theater. The MCCC hosted many greats during her 48-year tenure as Chairman of the Board. Among performers were Van Cliburn, Red Skelton, Debbie Reynolds, Reba McEntire, Ferrante and Teicher. The Civic Center was tragically destroyed by fire March 9, 1997. During a news conference, with ashes still burning, she and the mayor vowed the Center to rise again like a phoenix. After years of fundraising including donations from private and corporate sectors, the rebuilding began. Peterson could be seen on the construction site nearly every day with her hard hat perched upon her coiffed hair. When Governor Rod Blagojevich toured the new center upon completion in 2004, “Mrs. P” donned her hat and proceeded to climb the rung ladder to the roof with him behind her. She was 76 years old! She served as Chairman of the Board from 1973 until December 1, 2021. From 1970 to 1985, she and her husband conducted Foreign Study League Educational Tours for 488 persons from Marion and other States, traveling to 11 European countries, several Mediterranean and Greek Islands. Mrs. Peterson knew no limits to her service and was active in many civic groups and charitable causes. She was Musical Director at First United Methodist Church in Marion for over 43 years; taught private piano, organ, accordion and vocal lessons for 50 years; was a member of the Marion Cultural and Civic Center Board for 48 years; a member Friends Board of WSIU for 6 years, and received an award for her service; member of Marion Fortnightly Club for 17 year and Delta Kappa Gamma for 60 years Director of Volunteers for the Arts Choir for four years; member of the JALC Womens’ Health Conference Committee and other capacities for 20 years; member of Marion Main Street, 6 years. She was a longtime member of Marion First Baptist Church. She was awarded the “Woman of Achievement Award”, 1979; Mayor’s Service Award, 2002; the Award of Excellence for Service to the performing arts 2004 by the Greater Marion Area Chamber of Commerce. In 2004, she was recognized as “A Leader Among Us” by the Southern Illinoisan’s Business Journal. She received the SIU Inspiring Woman of Achievement Award in 2006. Her former students surprised her with a Flash Mob Tribute in December of 2011. In 2018, the MCCC Auditorium was named in her honor, “The Yolonde B. Peterson Performance Hall.” She was recognized as a “Marion Star” in 2018, by Swinford Publications. Mrs. Peterson has left a legacy that reaches around the globe, with many students following in her footsteps as music educators and performers. Her presence will be missed by former students, friends, and associates. Surviving family members include nephews and spouse, James Byassee and wife, Linda Pinson Byassee, and Don Byassee all of Marion; great nieces and nephews, Elizabeth Byassee Shore and husband, Jeff of Marion, Amanda Yolonde Byassee Gott and husband, Ashley of Marion, Margaret Byassee Edmondson and husband, Shawn of O’Fallon, MO; E. J. Byassee and Amanda Ross Byassee of Marion; Kevin Cox and wife, Mary, of Arnold, MD; nieces, Kara Cox Santi of Marion, Cammy Cox Duggins and husband, Mark, of Golconda, IL; great-great nieces and nephews, Benjamin Shore of St. Louis, MO, Victoria Shore of Marion, Jamie, Alex and Jeremy Gott all of Marion, Henry and Evangeline Edmondson of O’Fallon, MO, Rylee and Jason Byassee of Marion, Max Duggins and wife, Natacha of Charlotte, NC, Samuel Duggins of Long Beach, MS, Nico Santi of Marion and great-great-great nephew, Silas Duggins of Charlotte, NC. She leaves dear friends, John, Jenna (De Mattei), and David Fletcher, Caroline (Fletcher) and husband, Austin Mallow all of Marion, Gina (De Mattei) and husband, Larry Crippen of Mooresville, NC, Dr. Clay and Lety De Mattei of Marion, Johnny De Mattei of Berthoud, CO, Mike and Ronda De Mattei of Marion, J. J. and Teresa De Mattei of Centralia, Ed and Gloria Davis of St. Louis, as well as Barbara Bradley and Sue McCoskey both of Marion. Mrs. Peterson was preceded in death by her husband, Guy H. Peterson, her parents and her two siblings; as well as her niece, Barbara Jane Taylor Cox. The family is grateful to her dedicated caregivers, Donna Austin, Pam Girdner, Heather Duplantis, Brenda Williamson, Shane Taylor and ICU staff at Heartland Regional Medical Center. Arrangements have been entrusted to Wilson-McReynolds Funeral Home, 900 North Court Street, Marion, IL. The visitation will be on Monday, January 3rd, from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at the Marion Cultural and Civic Center, located on the Marion Tower Square, in Marion. The funeral service will be at 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday, January 4, 2022, in the Yolonde B. Peterson Performance Hall at the Marion Cultural and Civic Center with Dr. Bob Dickerson and Rev. Alan Rhein presiding. Interment will follow next to her husband, in Rose Hill Cemetery of Marion. The family requests for those who prefer, memorial contributions be given to “MCCC Foundation Yolonde B Peterson Scholarship.” Memorial contributions may be mailed in care of Wilson-McReynolds Funeral Home, 900 N. Court Street, Marion, IL, 62959. Memorial envelopes will be available at the Civic Center and funeral home. For additional information call the funeral home at 618-993-2131. Due to the executive order by the Governor of Illinois and the request of the family, for all those attending the visitation and funeral service inside, the wearing of a face mask and practice of social distancing is required. The service will be livestreamed on The Marion-Star Illinois facebook page.
Beloved Marion Educator and “Matriarch of the Arts”, Yolonde Byassee Peterson took her final bow Tuesday, December 28, 2021, at 10:18 PM at Heartland Regional Medical Center of Marion. She was escorted off the earthly stage with... View Obituary & Service Information
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