From the editor: Celebrating Dad's good life

 

January 27, 2023

Pete Peterson drove his 1939 Dodge Phaeton to Cloquet, Minnesota, in 2019.

It snowed the morning my dad died in Indiana earlier this month, big white flakes that weren't in the forecast, as if Mother Nature wanted to honor my Minnesota-born-and -raised father one last time.

I will miss him dearly, but I take comfort in the fact that Lloyd "Pete" Peterson packed plenty of living into his 87 years of life.

We grew up hearing about pond hockey games with magazines for shin pads, and Dad's secret way of turning on the lights at the Worthington city rink so he could continue playing until 10 or 11 p.m. as a teenager. On the few days each winter that our southern Indiana town would produce safe ice on the lakes and ponds, he was carving a path forward and backward, dazzling me, and other kids, and even teaching us a little hockey.

We heard about the handstand on top of the water tower in Worthington, too.

"That was Jerry Smith," my dad told me from his hospice bed earlier this month. "I was there, but I wasn't that crazy."

Thank goodness, or I might not be here to tell tales of Dad: the teacher, the adventurer, the doer and the problem solver.

Growing up, he told me that my generation would have multiple careers, unlike previous generations that often found a factory job they worked for 40 years like my grandpa, or teaching auto mechanics like Dad.

He went on to illustrate that with his own life, taking early retirement from teaching when the state of Illinois offered it, and landing an unexpected new (part-time) gig at an air conditioning conference that summer with the United Nations and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The UN and EPA officials were looking for someone to teach mechanics in Third World countries to recycle freon, the chemical that made air conditioners cold and holes in the ozone layer. When Dad applied, they asked what languages he spoke.

"I speak mechanic," he told them. He got the job and they simply hired a translator in every country he visited from Mexico to China, 16 countries in all.

A few years after that program ended, he and a wealthy friend decided it would be a good idea to start a vocational school in Lawrenceville, Illinois, where my dad had taught for over 20 years. The high school had closed down its auto mechanics program within a few years of his retirement, so there were fewer options than ever for kids who had no interest (or financial ability) in a four-year degree. He and Frank spent a couple of years planning and putting together the school, but when it came time to hire a director, most of the folks they interviewed were looking for at least $70,000 a year, more than they could afford. So Dad embarked on his final job as director of a vocational school in his mid-70s.

He was a doer.

When the local swimming pool was going to shut down for the summer when I was growing up, he went to the city of Vincennes and proposed relocating to a local gravel pit, and he ended up in charge.

He taught gymnastics at the local YMCA and various high schools for a couple decades every weekend, starting each section with a long-winded lecture on safety, held while he walked back and forth on the floor ... on his hands.

He didn't watch much TV.

Instead, he built model airplanes in the basement in his free time, graduating from u-control airplanes that he would fly with us and other neighborhood kids, to radio-control gliders and World War II models of fighter planes. Too young for WWII and too old for Korea, he had wanted to be a pilot until he saw a man with a sign: "Will fly for food" and realized there was a glut of pilots with plenty of experience. Instead, he studied science and vocational education.

An old-car buff, Dad cherished the 1932 Ford Model B sedan that he drag-raced in college, and enjoyed banging around town in his candy apple green 1940 Ford truck. His final "car love" was a 1939 Dodge Phaeton that he bought just before he turned 83 years old. It brought him new energy, which he spent out in the garage for a few years, getting the stately old convertible just right, even safe enough to drive all the way to Minnesota to visit us.

I once called him on my own trip to Minnesota in my late 20s, when the headlights on my old Comet were failing and I didn't know why. He had me hold the pay phone handset up to the car, then told me to go inside and buy a can of WD-40 and spray it in the alternator. It did the trick, at least until I could drive it home and he could fix it.

That kind of advice often went in one ear and out the other, much to his frustration (and now mine). We both liked to argue, which (mostly) ended after my mom, ever the peacemaker, died at age 50. As an adult, I often regretted not listening better, but he was still there for me, at the other end of the phone, whether I was living in England or Idaho or Minnesota, ready to talk cars, kids or whether I was crazy to want to start a newspaper.

Me, Dad and my brother Eric at a car show in Vincennes, Indiana, in the fall of 2021.

Not crazy, he said, gently letting me know that a job I truly enjoyed might be even more valuable than investing more money in a retirement account.

He was one of our first subscribers.

I will miss him dearly, but he is still here, in my head and my memories. So is one of his favorite Louis Armstrong songs. It begins with, "Heaven, I'm in heaven."

Contact Pine Knot News editor Jana Peterson by dropping by the office at 122 Avenue C in Cloquet, emailing [email protected] or calling 218-213-1231. Just know that she may or may not burst into tears if the conversation dips into Dad territory, but that's OK.

 
 

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