Denfeld News

Sept. 20, 2009
Duluth Budgeteer News

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 of marbles.”

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 she married.

“Too many folks who’ve lived here their whole lives don’t realize how lucky they are,” she said.

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