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A difference maker

After 52 years at SJP, Froehle ready for life’s next chapter

This fall, when students returned to their classes at St. John’s Prep, there was a change in the fabric of the school. For the first time since cattle and pig barns dotted the adjacent St. John’s University (SJU) grounds, Pete Froehle wasn’t there. Pete hadn’t planned to be a teacher. His dream was to be an engineer. However, in 1959, while still a senior at SJU, he was asked to help teach physics at the Prep school. “It did not take long for me,” Pete said, “to realize that teaching high school was for me.” He ended up staying there for the next 52 years. One thing Pete hasn’t noticed over the years is a change in the students. “Students today are really no different than they were back then,” Pete averred. “I never experienced anything but respect [from them] … I treated everybody with respect too.” Pete also coached the Prep school track and field team for 40 years, and early on, he took advantage of the newly empty cow barns. “A lot of times we would be able to practice with the discus inside those barns,” Pete remembered with a smile. Later, needing a windbreak, Pete planted evergreens around the north end of the track. Some of these trees are still there overlooking the current football field. Then, in 1970, Pete led his team to the state private school championship. More recently, Coach Lance Nydeen has asked Pete, now 74, to work with young hurdler Zoe Novak. Between Zoe’s skill and Pete’s knowledge Zoe went on to break the St. John’s Prep low hurdle record and ran in the state meet. This year, Pete looks forward to helping Zoe excel on the high hurdles as well. Initially, Pete was from Melrose, later moving, at age nine, to Thief River Falls. Hockey was very important there with many outdoor rinks. One game particularly stood out, when the temperature was around thirty degrees below zero; “the ref dropped the puck and it split into several pieces.” Pete recalled.  He still has fond memories of his early life in Melrose too, remembering the WWII years when he picked milkweed pods and sold them for 10 cents per pound to the government. These were used to make flotation vests for the military. He also enjoyed walking a mile to the local creamery to buy buttermilk for 5 cents a gallon. In high school Pete became a top athlete, making it to the state meet as a shotputter and excelling in football. “I had a football scholarship to North Dakota State,” Pete recalled, “[however] my parish priest’s assistant called me over, we had a long discussion, and I went to St. John’s. There he played football and threw the shot and discus. However, the first day of practice his sophomore year he suffered a career ending injury in an all-out scrimmage. Soon after this injury, coach Gagliardi quit scheduling full scrimmages. “He is famous for his huge football success,” Pete remarked, “that he achieved without football scrimmages.” While at St. John’s, Pete also had the privilege of studying physics with Father Casper; who served as an inspiration for him. “I tried to imitate his teaching style of caring, modeling, and scholarship,” stated Pete.  During his years teaching at the Prep School Pete had many accomplishments; among them the time he and chemistry teacher Mike Percuoco founded the NASA project at Prep. Indeed, on August 10, 2001 one of the project’s experiments, testing whether in micro-gravity there would be a mutation in corn seeds exposed to primary cosmic rays, flew into space on Space Shuttle Discovery. Also during this period, there was a break-in in Pete’s classroom. “I had a stainless steel NASA container in my classroom on loan,” Pete recalled. The thieves not realizing its value overlooked this very expensive container. There have been many changes during Pete’s years at Prep: “In my early days of teaching there was a large (eight feet long and one foot wide) slide rule that was used to teach slide rule use and to actually calculate some physics problems,” Pete remembered. There are now computer assisted devices and advanced simulations, such as the Plasma deposition work Pete did for 3M. In addition, Pete has published numerous articles, helped develop a 5k cross-country ski course behind the Prep School, and, in recent years, was chosen twice (1999 and 2006) by Prep seniors to be their commencement speaker. These days, though, Pete enjoys spending more time with his wife of 52 years, Caroline, his children, Stephanie, Stephen, and Susan, and his eight grandchildren. He still keeps busy; biking over 900 miles this summer, and doing woodwork, some of which has been sold to help support the Prep School. In addition, he still helps with the track team. He looks back at his time at Prep fondly. “I never had one day in all the years I taught there,” Pete said, “that I thought ‘gee I wish I didn’t have to go to school today’.”

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