Erika Petersen will take over as Manalapan town clerk when her mother, Lisa Petersen, retires this month after 18 years on the job. ‘The town residents are losing a wonderful, caring person,’ Manager Linda Stumpf says. Erika Petersen will be promoted from deputy clerk. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Dan Moffett
The only thing typical about Lisa Petersen’s workdays are the atypical assignments that are sure to land on her desk in Manalapan.
When the county elections supervisor moved up municipal deadlines for candidate qualifying last year, Petersen hastily revamped the town’s schedule. When the coronavirus pandemic struck, she oversaw safety measures in Town Hall. When Police Chief Carmen Mattox had a leaking roof in his office, naturally he called Petersen, the town clerk.
“I don’t know how I got into roofing maintenance,” she said, “but that’s what you do in a small town. My job has changed through the years because I kept taking on more and more.”
When people move to Manalapan, Petersen leads the welcomes and when they move away, she sends farewells. When residents complain, she takes their phone calls, and when they ask questions, she looks for answers. She works with contractors, inspectors and grumpy neighbors.
Since she’s also director of the town’s library, Petersen, 66, runs its lecture series. It was Petersen who came up with the plan for a park and gazebo in the library’s backyard. “I think of the library as the heartbeat of the town,” she said.
For 18 years, Petersen has served Manalapan as concierge, referee, researcher, big sister, ambassador and, yes, municipal clerk.
But all that ends this month when she begins her retirement.
“I feel as though I’ve lost my right hand,” said Town Manager Linda Stumpf.
Petersen, Stumpf and Mattox call themselves “the triumvirate” — “we all bring different things to the table,” Petersen said. They have worked together in Manalapan for nearly two decades. In fact, Stumpf and former Manager Greg Dunham interviewed Petersen for the clerk’s job.
“Chief Mattox, Lisa and I have been through so many adventures in Manalapan,” Stumpf said. “I have had the best work colleague and best friend anyone could ask for. The town residents are losing a wonderful, caring person.”
Mayor Keith Waters said Petersen “epitomizes the elegance, character and gentle grace of this wonderful place we call home.”
“My father always told me, ‘It is not hard to recognize a winner when you see one,’’’ the mayor said, “and I am delighted to say that I recognized Lisa the moment we met.”
It’s not a stretch to say Petersen knows every address in Manalapan. “I have this thing for numbers,” she explained. “I can tell you everyone’s house number. It’s terrible because I use valuable brain cells for information I could easily look up.”
Originally from Augusta, Georgia, Petersen graduated from Florida State University, where she met her husband, Tom. His career in the space industry brought them to South Florida, and eventually to a home in Juno Beach.
Renovating that house is a project for the Petersens’ retirement, and there’s also a piece of property on the St. Johns River near Palatka where they hope to build a vacation home.
Spending time with her 3-year-old grandson, Soren, is on the agenda, too. His mother just happens to be the next town clerk of Manalapan. Petersen’s daughter, Erika, was hired as deputy clerk six months ago, and takes over as town clerk this month.
A graduate of Florida International University, Erika Petersen, 36, earned a master’s degree in architecture from the Savannah College of Art and Design.
“Erika will bring a lot more to the building side than my knowledge,” Lisa Petersen said. “She interned for the town during college. Everybody knows her. I tease her and say I’ve been training her since she was born to take my place.”
Manalapan will show its appreciation for Petersen on Jan. 27 with a party and celebration at the library.
“It’s been a wonderful 18 years,” she said. “I have no complaints. The residents have been so kind.”
Waters put it this way: “She will be sorely missed but never forgotten. Well done, Miss Lisa, well done!”
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