Sept. 20, 2009
At 95, life is full for retired Duluth
teacher ‘Mrs. Pete’
By Jana Peterson
Trying to get an interview with Janet Petersen
wasn’t as easy as one might expect with someone who has been
retired for 33 years.
On Wednesday she was playing golf with three former
students in the morning, then going out for lunch; after that she
was meeting her niece. On Thursday, the 95-year-old was picking
up three friends to play bridge.
“I gallivant,” Petersen said.
Indeed, she does.
“Mrs. Pete,” as she’s known
to thousands of Duluth Denfeld High School students who first met
her as a teacher from 1958 to 1976, celebrated her 95th birthday
with a big party at the Pike Lake Auto Club golf course, where she
still plays golf on Thursday mornings during the summer months with
the ladies’ league.
Although she’s done with her Thursday golf
league for now, the slim white-haired woman will pick up golf again
when she gets to her condo in Brownsville, Texas, after Christmas.
(Note: Petersen has shot a hole-in-one in both Duluth and Brownsville.)
Despite the fact that both her parents emigrated
from Scotland, Petersen didn’t start playing golf until she
was in her early 50s.
Petersen credits her fitness of mind and body
— she easily could pass for someone 20 years younger —
to staying active, love of church and family, and good genes. Her
sister, Elsie, who died last week, would have been 98 next month.
“I tell everybody to keep active,”
she said. “Don’t sit down and feel sorry for yourself.
If you lose your spouse [her beloved husband, Bud, died in 2003]
keep on living; that’s what he would want you to do. And don’t
watch the boob tube too much.”
Petersen has had a lifetime of being active.
“My dad played golf and curled; he was very
athletic,” said Petersen, whose maiden name was Falconer.
“I loved going up to Northland [Country Club] in the winter.
We could go up and ski or toboggan. And I would always try to fight
my little brother’s battles, even if he was losing in a game
After attending first grade in Elgin, Scotland,
where she lived with her Grandma and Grandpa Brodie for a year,
Petersen went to elementary school at Lakeside, junior high at East
and high school at Central.
Despite being a Central grad who raised three
daughters who graduated from East, she still cheers for Denfeld
at game time.
“I was there for 17 years,” she explained.
“I was at Central for only three.”
At Denfeld, Petersen taught physical education,
plus she was the cheerleader and Girls’ Club adviser as well
as the Power Club (pep club) sponsor. Her gym classes were for girls
only; Petersen retired just after Title IX passed, granting equal
opportunity for girls’ athletics in school.
“I’m all for Women’s Lib,”
Petersen said. “I like certain courtesies, like men opening
the door, but men were so in control before. We’re just as
smart as men, sometimes smarter.”
She recalled a fellow teacher who hid her marriage
until the end of the school year, because only single women were
supposed to teach. Married women, it was assumed then, had husbands
to look after them while they stayed at home.
“That was a dumb rule,” she said.
Fortunately, it was no longer in play when Petersen
took her teaching job at Denfeld.
“Everyone loves Mrs. Pete,” former
student Sandy Ehle said. “Just her whole being is an inspiration.
It was a good experience to have her as a teacher and an adviser.”
Petersen has kept in touch with many of her former
students. She has attended most of the Class of 1960’s functions
and already is planning to go to their 50th reunion next fall.
“It’s amazing,” Ehle said. “Mrs. Pete remembers
everyone by their maiden name. She saw me and said ‘Sandy
Downs, how are you?’ ”
“I loved my years at Denfeld. I think I
taught at the best of times,” Petersen said. “But I
love being retired, too.”
She also loves living in Duluth. Petersen can
point out her back window to the house where she was born in 1914,
and she has lived in her little green house since shortly after
“Too many folks who’ve lived here
their whole lives don’t realize how lucky they are,”