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 1936 Grad's Advice: "Stay Active"

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Janet Petersen at her home in 2009.
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Janet (Falconer) Petersen, Duluth State Teachers College 1936 May Fete Queen

Alumna Janet Petersen Stays in Touch with UMD

Emeritus Alumni Board Member Janet Petersen has the secret for living a long life. “Stay active,” she says. This 95-year-old graduate from the Duluth State Teachers College (DSTC) golfs, writes poetry, and drives her friends to church. Petersen, who has been an energetic person since her college days, hasn’t slowed down. Not even after she married, had three daughters, and taught physical education at Duluth’s Denfeld High School.

Petersen has made the news lately. Her church wrote a newsletter about her. The Duluth Budgeteer newspaper wrote a story in mid-September and shortly after that, a Duluth TV-station announced that Petersen’s former students from Denfeld were throwing a surprise party for her. “I was watching the news, so they gave away the surprise,” she said. Nearly 100 people honored Petersen at the event.

When she attended DSTC as Janet Falconer, Petersen was always on the go. She graduated with a four-year degree in physical education and social science, with certification to teach kindergarten through grade 12. Her list of activities is long. She was a member of the basketball team; the women’s athletic association; the class cabinet; and a writer for the student newspaper — the Fort Nightly Chronicle. She also was a cheerleader; a member of the Barkers — the DSTC pep club; and a member of a dance group called Orchesis. “I was a bit of a tomboy and Dr. Graybeal, the Phy. Ed. teacher, had to keep reminding me to be graceful,” Petersen said. Petersen was so well liked by her classmates, she was elected May Fete queen.

She was athletically inclined, even in grade school. “I wanted to be gym teacher,” she said. “My father was a builder. He built the Cotton School and when he took me to see it, I told him that maybe I would be a gym teacher there one day.”

While in college, she student taught in the DSTC Lab School, at Central High School, and at East Junior High. After graduation she went right to work: first in Wrenshall; then in Moose Lake where she was in charge of cheerleaders. After that she taught at Lincoln Junior High and Central High School. Petersen took a break to spend time with her three daughters when they were young. It took a little bit of convincing to get her back into the classroom, but when she went back to Denfeld in 1959, she stayed for 17 years. “I just loved it!,” she said. Her friendship with former students continues today. She still golfs with a group of former students from Denfeld.

Petersen has strong connections to UMD. Five family members are alumni: her daughter, Jean McCall (1970); son-in-law, Tim McCall (1972); daughter, Kathy Jo Petersen (1972); granddaughter, Tera Young (1997); and grandson, Gregg McCall (2000).

She has been a member of the alumni board since 1996 and now has the title of Director Emeritus. Petersen helped organize her 50th class reunion with Bob Williams. “Beth Brown was the Alumni Director when I first joined the board. That’s when we would call alumni for donations.” Perhaps it was Petersen’s school spirit that prompted alumna Virginia Murray to nominate her for the board. After all, Petersen has had season tickets to the men’s hockey games since they played in the old curling club.

Petersen comes to campus often. “It's amazing to see all the new buildings,” she said. “It’s hard to compare the campus now with the lower campus in 1936. On the one hand, students now have so many advantages but when I went to the teachers college, we had something they don’t have. We got to know all of our classmates really well.”

Petersen has always followed her own advice. From her activities in college, to her teaching career, to life in her ninth decade, she stays active. She has a little bit more to say about living long, “Spend time with young people and play golf.” 

Written by Cheryl Reitan

UMD home page editor, Cheryl Reitan, creitan@d.umn.edu
NEW RELEASES, UMD media contact, Susan Latto, slatto@d.umn.edu, 218-726-8830

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