Andrea Peterson poured her heart into public service, teaching elementary school for more than three decades and serving nearly four terms as the first female mayor of Grand Marais, Minn.

Peterson taught on the Grand Portage Reservation and in Grand Marais, and in 1976, she was named Minnesota Teacher of the Year.

As mayor, she waged a heated battle to protect the Grand Marais shoreline from residential development. In her free time, she wrote six books, including murder mystery novels.

Peterson died of lung cancer Jan. 5, surrounded by family at her daughter's home in Champlin. She was 82.

"Whatever Andrea did, she did very well. She put her whole heart and soul into everything," said Evelyn Larsen, a longtime friend and former Grand Marais mayor and City Council member.

Peterson's teaching career began on the Grand Portage Reservation, where she and her husband, David, teamed up to teach elementary school. The Petersons cared deeply about Native American communities and built a strong rapport with children on the reservation, said Howard Piepenbrink, a close friend who met the couple during a visit to Grand Portage.

"The kids loved her. … She was just a very kindhearted educator," Piepenbrink said. The Petersons' appreciation of Native American culture rubbed off on Piepenbrink, prompting him to seek work at the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, where he spent his entire career. "They really taught me a lot."

She later went on to teach elementary school in Grand Marais, where she also got involved in local politics. Peterson was elected mayor in 1992 and served two two-year terms.

One of her administration's top priorities was to protect city-owned harbor and shore land from large-scale development. Just days before Peterson left office, the Grand Marais City Council unanimously approved an easement to preserve 60 acres of Lake Superior shoreline.

"If we hadn't done that, I think the whole harbor would have been just filled up with condominiums," Larsen said. "She was always looking for the best solutions for the city and the county."

Peterson was elected mayor again in 1998, serving a single term, according to the city of Grand Marais. When the next mayor left midterm in October 2001, Peterson was reappointed and led the town for another year.

Peterson was active in her Lutheran church and served on several local boards.

An avid reader of murder mystery novels, she ended up publishing three of her own. She also penned a broad review critiquing how children's books portrayed Native Americans.

"They thought Native Americans were very misrepresented," daughter Jessica Olsen said of her parents.

Peterson and her husband were married for 63 years and had four children — a biological daughter who died during heart surgery at 14, and three children they adopted from Korea.

The Petersons traveled often and taught their children to appreciate all communities and cultures.

"She kept saying, 'The world is big out there. Let's take a look,' " Olsen said.

In addition to Olsen, Peterson is survived by her husband, her children Jeanne Monson and Christopher Peterson, and seven grandchildren.

The family hopes to hold a memorial service in the summer if it is safer to gather.

Ryan Faircloth • 612-673-4234