Acclaimed Anoka County finance director steps humbly into retirement

  • Article by: PAUL LEVY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 10, 2014 - 1:30 PM

As Anoka County finance director, Cevin Petersen built an enviable record while keeping his feet on the ground.

Cevin Petersen learned to pole vault as a child and earned All-America honors at Mankato State nearly 40 years ago. But only now, at the infancy stage of his retirement, can the longtime Anoka County finance director appreciate the heights he’s reached.

“Even in high school, when I finished sixth in the state in the pole vault, it was easy for me to stay humble,” said Petersen, 59, whose first name is pronounced Kevin. “I was practicing with college athletes. That will keep a high school kid humble.”

He remained humble at Mankato State where, after seeing 22 of 28 fellow students drop out of a math class, he decided it might be a good idea to change his major from math to computer science. He stayed humble after college. At his first real job — making some of the first network personal computers for a company in Detroit — Petersen recalls working with “truly brilliant people with IQs that were 100 points higher than mine.”

But by the time Petersen was running Anoka County’s finances, decades later, the B student from Mankato State (now Minnesota State, Mankato) had thoroughly learned the value of a AAA bond rating.

Under Petersen’s guidance, Anoka County repeatedly achieved the highest credit rating.

From his rise as the county’s chief accountant in 1986 to Finance & Central Services Division manager, the county was awarded the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Finance Reporting 26 straight years and the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award 16 years in a row from the Government Finance Officers Association.

Petersen also earned the professional certification of certified government finance manager, recognized as the mark of excellence in federal, state and local government.

“I’m proudest of my evolution in becoming one of the best finance directors in the state of Minnesota,” said Petersen, who retired two weeks ago.

His ability to work with the range of personalities that have shaped the Anoka County board over the years has been crucial to his success, said Dan Erhart, the now-retired former chairman of the board.

“Cevin’s retirement is a tremendous loss for Anoka County,” Erhart said. “Cevin is smart and he knows how to get along with people. He’s resourceful, dedicated and understood the long-term needs of our community.”

Life in Mankato

Petersen assumed early on that he’d be a teacher, like his parents. He was 8 years old when the family moved from Fargo, N.D., to Mankato. He enrolled at the Wilson Campus School, on the Mankato State campus.

At the Wilson School, he was allowed more freedom than students might experience at other schools. He could pick and choose courses and “learned how to go to college.”

He became a basketball star, scoring a school-record 29 points in one game. And he honed the pole vaulting skills he’d learned from his father — enough so that he competed in varsity meets in the seventh grade. He and his buddies picked up a few bucks working for a local businessman — Glen Taylor.

Petersen, a two-year captain of the Mankato State track team, graduated from college and married Sue Bengelsdorf, of Bloomington, in 1977. A year later, the young couple moved to Detroit before being transferred to Miami, where they lived for what seemed like two very long years.

“Detroit was tough, but in Miami, we had a young baby and people were being gunned down,” he recalled. “It was time to pack.”

The next stop was Atlanta, but the Petersens, with two young sons, longed for Minnesota. When Cevin was offered a job as the Blue Earth County accountant, he jumped at the chance to work under Terry Johnson.

Johnson would leave Blue Earth for Anoka County, where he eventually served as county administrator. Petersen soon followed.

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