ORONO, Maine — There’s nothing glamorous about the job Ilze Petersons does at the Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine.
As the center’s program director, Petersons stuffs envelopes, makes phone calls, organizes overnight bus trips to Augusta and Washington, D.C., and stands outside in extremes of cold and hot temperatures at peace vigils.
Yet that kind of dedication over her 15 years at the Peace and Justice Center was one of the reasons Petersons was chosen as one of the recipients of the 23rd annual Maryann Hartman Awards, which were presented Wednesday evening during a ceremony at the University of Maine’s Buchanan Alumni House.
Catherine Beller-McKenna and Kirsten Walter also were named recipients of the award, which is sponsored by the Women in the Curriculum and Women’s Studies Program at UM. Codi Booher, a UM freshman, was recognized as the Young Women’s Social Justice Award winner.
The Maryann Hartman Award is named for the late Maryann Hartman, associate professor of speech communication at the university. It recognizes Maine women whose achievements in the arts, politics, business, education, health care and community service provide inspiration for women.
“Ilze Petersons has joined a remarkable group of talented women, recognized not only this year but for the past 23 years,” said Ann Schonberger, director of UM’s Women in the Curriculum and Women’s Studies Program. “Her contributions to peace and social justice in eastern Maine and beyond are path-breaking.”
Petersons, 65, accepted her award to applause and a standing ovation from more than 150 people, including her longtime partner, University of Maine philosophy professor Doug Allen.
She was shocked, Petersons said before the ceremony, when she found out she had been nominated and won the Maryann Hartman Award.
“The reward of my work is being able to do the work, being able to work for peace and justice,” the Orono resident said. “I think many people would like to be able to do that, and I feel very fortunate.”
Petersons, who was born in Latvia during World War II, emigrated to the U.S. with her family in 1950 and started her career as a community organizer in Chicago. She has been in Maine since 1977 and worked for various organizations before joining the Peace and Justice Center.
The center, which is based in Bangor, organizes a variety of activities throughout the year, including a Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration in January, the Hope Festival, which brings together about 80 peace, justice and environmental organizations each spring, and a weekly peace vigil held on Tuesdays across from the federal building in Bangor. The center also has a monthly film series and a monthly newsletter.
Petersons thanked the center’s volunteers, of which there are about 100, and noted that the center is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.
“If it was just me doing it, I’d be invisible,” she said.
Voices of Peace, a choir that rehearses at the Peace and Justice Center, performed Wednesday in Petersons’ honor. She joined the group for the song, “One Of Us Can Make A Difference.”
Beller-McKenna, who lives in Durham, N.H., is music director of Women in Harmony, a Portland-based women’s chorus, which seeks to build bridges among women through singing.
Walters, a Bates College graduate now living in Leeds, created the Lots to Gardens program eight years ago in the Lewiston area. The program since has expanded to 16 gardens at seven sites, several downtown park projects, and a variety of community programs.
Booher, who grew up in the Portland area, was active in community and environmental issues while she was a student at Biddeford High School. She’s been focusing on school since she arrived at UM, so the awards evening may give Booher a boost to getting involved on campus.
“I need to kind of start doing [activism] stuff again,” she said.
Then-BDN reporter Alicia Anstead was a 2007 Maryann Hartman Award winner.