When Eugene Peterson walked into the wrong workshop session during the 1983 annual convention of the National Association of Home Builders, his life changed forever.

The session was on remodeling, and Peterson, an experienced homebuilder who had once even built a $1.5 million commercial project, lumped remodelers with con men. Not surprisingly, he got up to leave the meeting and find another workshop.By the time he got to the back of the room, the speaker had said some things about remodeling that impressed him. So he went back to his seat and later changed the scope of his business activity.

Today, Peterson owns First General Services, 667 W. 7250 South, a Midvale company specializing in restoring homes damaged by fire, water, wind, automobiles or sewer backups.

He has established such a reputation that earlier this year he received the designation as certified graduate remodeler by the National Association of Home Builders Remodelers Council, one of 214 remodelers in the country to hold the title.

Last year he was selected as remodeler of the year by the Home Builders Association of Greater Salt Lake, an organization he will be serving as president until November. In 1988, Remodeling Magazine selected Peterson as one of the top 50 remodelers in the United States.

It took three years for Peterson to change his homebuilding business into a remodeling business. During this time, he was introduced to insurance repair work, which now takes up 90 percent of his efforts. He still does some regular remodeling work and once in a while builds a house under special circumstances.

Peterson said insurance companies have the responsibility to return a house or apartment to the condition before the fire or water damage. That's why they call himor other remodelers. He looks at the

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problem and prepares a scope of damage or detailed estimate on which the insurance company bases its payment.

The owner decides if the work will be done and who gets the job, said Peterson, who gets about 60 percent of the jobs on which he provides estimates. His 10 employees do all the repair and remodeling work except for plumbing, electrical and heating work, which goes to subcontractors.

Some of the more memorable repair jobs for First General include repairs to a house that stemmed from an argument that saw a man start a room on fire and push his wife's head through a door; repairs to houses in Kearns when two planes collided Jan. 15, 1987; some burned apartments in Provo; and a burned log cabin in Spring City, Sanpete County.

His company also does work to stabilize buildings that are settling and gets involved when insurance claims go to arbitration. He has prepared 570 scopes of damage for 95 different insurance adjusters and independent parties.

It hasn't been homebuilding and remodeling forever for the 46-year-old Upland, Calif., native who went on a mission toChile for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He received a bachelor's degree in business from Sacramento State College in 1969 and had a student deferment from serving in the military during the Vietnam War.

He was in the Naval Reserve during college because of the deferment. When he graduated, he went to Aviation Officer Candidate School, Pensacola, Fla. After receiving his wings, Peterson was a helicopter pilot assigned to minesweeping duty in Haiphong Harbor off the coast of North Vietnam. Later he did some minesweeping near the Suez Canal.

Peterson was assigned as an instructor in the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, between 1974-77. While there, he became interested in building homes. He said he couldn't afford a house, but with the encouragement of his brother-in-law, he built one anyway.

He built one house the first year in Ames, two the second year and seven the third year. Peterson was about to get assigned to sea duty so he resigned his commission, received a reserve commission and moved to Utah in 1977. He formed five construction companies in Idaho and Utah with his brother-in-law, Robert Quayle, but they later separated and Peterson moved to Salt Lake City.

Peterson eventually built some condominiums, the commercial project and some houses. He was a member of the Home Builders Association of Greater Salt Lake and attended the convention when he wandered into the wrong workshop. He is glad he did.