May 28, 2013
Duluth News Tribune
Secret to life? Keep busy, and take things 'a day at a time'
By John Lundy
If Jan Petersen had time to write a book, she could call it “100 Next Year.”
The Lakeside neighborhood woman, known as “Mrs. Pete” to a generation of Denfeld High School students, turns 99 on Wednesday. On Thursday, she’ll dance with Mayor Don Ness — six decades her junior — on the stage of the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center’s Symphony Hall as part of the extravaganza introducing author Chris Crowley’s “Younger Next Year” talk.
“Mrs. Pete is an inspiration to us all,” Ness wrote in an e-mail. “It’ll be an honor to share the stage with her.”
Petersen — who like Ness is a Duluth Central High School graduate — had her own thoughts about the big dance.
“If he starts twirling me around, I’ll probably drop dead right there,” Petersen said with an infectious laugh. She was interviewed on Friday in her tidy home, which was decorated with family pictures and a few dozen birthday cards.
Finding a time to interview Petersen wasn’t easy. On Thursday she had her weekly golf game at the Pike Lake Auto Club and her AARP meeting. Friday’s interview was sandwiched between an appointment with her hairdresser and a trip to the family cabin. The family has gotten big: three daughters, six grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. Her husband, Bud Petersen, died in 2003.
Her full schedule bespeaks one of Petersen’s own rules for staying young.
“I keep very active,” she said. “I try hard to take a day at a time, and I don’t think you can feel sorry for yourself.”
She also has had a lifetime of healthy eating because her mother was a good cook, she said.
Petersen may be best known among those who attended Denfeld from 1958 to 1976, when she taught health and physical education. She also sponsored the cheerleaders and Power Club, the school’s pep club.
Although she had taught before she was married, she had to be talked into returning to the classroom in 1958 while she had children at home.
“I wouldn’t even sign a contract the first year,” she said. “(I said) you better hire someone else by November.”
But she stuck with it because she loved teaching and loved the students, who soon took to calling her “Mrs. Pete,” she said. She still attends many of their class reunions and plays golf with some of her former students.
Petersen professes to be mystified by her own age and health.
“If anyone told me I’d live to be this old, I’d have told them they were absolutely nuts,” she said.
Her mother lived to be 86, but her father only to 62. She walks without assistance, drives without needing glasses and until a year ago golfed without using a cart to get around the course. She lives on her own, relishes her independence and feels good.
“I never have an ache,” Petersen said. “I never have an ache or a pain.”
She paid her yearly visit to the doctor this month.
“He said whatever you’re doing, keep doing it, because it must be right,” Petersen said.
She sees her long life as a gift.
“It’s the good Lord,” she said. “I’m very, very fortunate. I am richly blessed. I know that.”