Mr. Pete was born and raised in International Falls, Minnesota. He is the son of the late John Peterson, who worked in the schools in the area and was an integral part of Bronco sports for many years. Mr. Pete played on some of the best hockey teams to ever come out of the Falls, winning the State Championship in 1964, 1965 and 1966. He graduated from Falls High School in 1966 and headed to Duluth, Minnesota to pursue a degree in Education.
In the fall of 1973, he married the love of his life, Renee (Brouillard) Peterson and joined the teaching team in International Falls, Minnesota. From that day forward, he dedicated his life to the children in his community. In addition to being everyone’s favorite teacher, he was also a Bronco hockey coach for many decades. He retired from teaching in 2009 after giving everything had to his students for over 35 years.
He had a knack for bringing out the best in every kid, not just the smart kids or the kids that were struggling. He cared about EVERY kid. He went above and beyond the call of duty, spending countless hours at the school on weekends to make the kids in his class feel special. He created the idea of the “Light Game” to get his students excited about math. He packed up his entire class and took them out to his house every year for a BBQ to celebrate the end of the school year. He made his class run around the school building and do Chicken Fat every morning to wake their brains up enough to learn. He was a maniac on the kickball field, spending his “prep” hours outside playing and bonding with his students. He spray painted clay pigeons and hand-poured candles for his students to bring home to give their parents for Christmas every year around the holidays. He put on a full-fledged Christmas play with a set handmade by he and his fourth graders every year. He was a legend. He was the teacher that every kid wanted and every parent wanted their child to have.
We put out a feeler on Facebook for some stories about Mr. Pete and here are a few excerpts from the GIGANTIC response we got.
“He inspired me to be a teacher. I know it was long ago, but he made such an impression on me about making personal connections with students, playing to their strengths, and making learning fun. When I look back on 4th grade, I don’t remember sitting down and doing work. I remember playing the math game to master facts, I remember writing plays to practice writing sentences, I remember performing those plays to build confidence and communication skills. We learned how to work together and have fun. We worked hard academically, but it was about so much more. It was about building community and being so very proud to be part of his class.”
“Mr. Pete saw the special qualities that each student had, even if they didn’t yet see it in themselves. I was never (ever) athletic, but man was I proud of myself when I could run around that building twice without stopping! He presented us with opportunities to try new things, and in that process we learned about ourselves and it really built up our self-esteem. It was ok if we didn’t do well, but he always encouraged us to keep trying. He called me Amy Lou….I think most of us had nicknames, and it made us feel special. We all felt a bond with Mr. Pete – he was definitely my favorite teacher.”
“One thing that Mr. Pete did that I will never, EVER forget….I always checked out the cheesy history books on our library day. I recall Mr. Pete asking me if I had read them all and noted that I really liked history. The next week, he brought HIS own book into class, Insignifica, that was full of little tidbits of history. This was the first act of an adult (other than my folks) trusting me as a young person with something that belonged to them. It spoke HUGELY to me, it gave me self-confidence and trust in myself, and I felt like this teacher was a real friend. And it was a really, really good book that I can still see in my head. I was not just a student and he was not just my teacher, we were friends. There are so many things I realize as an adult that went unnoticed as kids. Mr. Pete encouraged us to be active and healthy, something that was rather ignored in the 80s public school system. Whether it was Chicken Fat in the morning, kickball at recess, or running around the school, he was always getting us to get outside.”
“Mr Pete comes to mind in many of my memories. I always loved starting our day doing “Chicken Fat” along with the record player every morning. I also always enjoyed the competitive kickball games. He always encouraged us in friendly competition. I could go on and on about the things we did in class like one of my favorites, the math Light Game. Mr Pete was a huge influence in my life and I try to give to my recruiting students the same passion he gave us. Although I will never be able to compare to him. Thank you for everything Mr. Pete!”
” I could practically write a book on my fourth grade year! There are so many things that made it my best year in school, all thanks to “Mr. Pete”. He will always be that to me no matter how many years go by. I was shy in school. So much so, that sometimes the thought of blending with other kids terrified me. I preferred to work on my own and keep to myself. Mr. Pete caught onto this right away and instead of making me feel inadequate (as most teachers did), he sought out my strengths as a student and person and built me up. I always felt like teacher’s pet when I was around him, maybe I was, maybe I wasn’t, but what counts is he made me feel like I mattered. Mr. Pete was always quick with praise. I always felt so good about myself in his class. He made me feel like I counted, like I was important, and that I could do anything I set my mind to. In Mr. Pete’s class I felt invincible! I dreaded the day that year ended because I knew I would never have another teacher as special as he was. And I didn’t. He changed my life forever. When I left his class, I left with more confidence, I believed in myself and it set me up to be more successful throughout the rest of my years in school and beyond. I kept in touch with Mr. Pete on and off though the years, stopping back to visit him in his room after school a few times. Mr. Pete truly loved and cared about his students and where they went and what they accomplished beyond his class. Every time I’ve run into him since, he asks me about my life and how things are going. He always said, you better go into a field involving math! You would make a great accountant. It was pretty special that he remembered the little details and continued to care no matter how many years passed. I will always be thankful to Mr. Pete for what he did for me. He inspired me to always strive for the best and to believe in myself. Mr. Pete is an awesome man and teacher. His legacy will forever remain in my heart.”
“I feel so lucky to have had Mr. Pete as my fourth grade teacher. I can really remember learning such a wide array of things. Every subject was important. The thing I remember most is the Christmas play. I was very shy and Mr Pete cast me as Rudolf the red nosed reindeer. I think that did so much for my confidence. I think he knew it would be good to challenge me in that way. As I grew older I would see him and he would always have such nice things to say and always have such an interest in my life. He has touched so many lives in this community and I am so happy I was able to be a part of his class.”
“I have many memories of 4th grade with Mr. Pete. One special time for me was on my birthday. Mr. Pete was not only my teacher, he was my neighbor. At my birthday party we decided to go visit Mr. Pete. He joined us and came back to my birthday party and jumped on the trampoline with us and led us in a game of kickball. This impacted me and I will never forget the day my teacher saw 17 little kids as more than an annoyance….he saw us an an opportunity to invest in our lives in a personal way. I am so thankful I have it all on video!”
“Mr. Pete was my favorite teacher! I have been lucky to run into him quite a few times and chat a bit since I was in his class. His timed multiplication tests were such a great way to learn and it made us all proud of ourselves when we completed one, and he always showed us he was proud too. If I remember correctly didn’t we go out to his house to play a kickball game once? I loved that he brought physical fitness into our daily routine with chicken fat every morning. He is such a kind man and I am so happy I was in his 4th grade class.”
“I loved everything about 4th grade and Mr. Peterson! I remember starting the day off with the exercise mentioned above, brushing our teeth in the big sink down the hall. There was the timed math and Snoopy on the wall with a tail you didn’t want to get snipped! I remember the Christmas play and a candle holder we made. Mr. Peterson not only taught life lessons but taught us to believe in ourselves. He saw I didn’t belong on the lower reading group and moved me up which gave me confidence the rest if my academic career. Simply the best teacher ever! As a teacher now, I haven’t seen many who compare. Last memory was the end if the year party at his house! How many teachers invite kids over to play?!”
“I loved everything about 4th grade thanks to Mr. Peterson. I loved doing chicken-fat every morning, running laps around the school and of course the Christmas play. He was the best teacher I ever could have had!!”