Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Farewell to a great man

It was just over a year ago - Pearl Harbor Day, 2011 - that I blogged about my high school history teacher, Pete Finelli, (click HERE to read that piece) and the effect he had on me.

I don't really have much to add to what I wrote back then, but Pete passed away earlier this week, and I couldn't let that go by without trying to add a few words.

He lived to age 84, was married to the lovely Lucille for 61 years, and really lived a remarkable life. A gifted athlete, he was signed by the New York Yankees and pitched in their minor league system for a time. He served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War, and the same year I was born - 1956 - he became a history teacher in my hometown of Princeton.

As I wrote a year ago, our mutual love of history and sports helped us bond and he became more than simply a teacher; He was a genuine friend and mentor who helped my get my career as a sportswriter off the ground. He did play-by-play for the local radio station, and took me under his wing, first as a stat guy, and later as his color man, and we did broadcasts together across Minnesota, from Braham to Bloomington to New Ulm. I remember traveling many of those miles in his classic Ford Country Squire station wagon, listening to story after story after story and receiving a graduate-level education in sports history.

Later in life, he and Lucille took teaching jobs in Hawaii, and he served as a volunteer tour guide at Pearl Harbor, a site he loved and knew more about than almost anyone. I can only imagine what a treat it must have been for a tourist to get him as a guide.

They retired to Rochester, where he passed away Monday. He had been ravaged by Alzheimer's in recent years, and it was just a month or so ago that I asked his daughter, Pam, about coming down to visit him. She gracefully encouraged me NOT to do so, because the disease had taken such a toll on him, and she said I'd be better off remembering him in earlier times. I heeded her advice, but still feel badly about not getting a chance for a final good-bye.

Pam posted the news of his passing on Facebook, and it's a tribute to Pete's popularity that more than 80 people have left comments. What struck me reading the comments was this: While I feel fortunate and special to have had him as a friend, there are countless fellow Princeton grads who feel the same way. He taught history with a genuine passion, and thousands of us passed through his classroom and were touched by that passion.

Pete's family donated his body to Mayo's Alzheimer's research center, so even in death, he will continue to teach.

Farewell, my friend, and rest knowing that you leave behind many, many people who feel that their lives were made better by knowing you.


  1. Thank you for this wonderful tribute Tim. He will always be Mr. Finelli to me. I too was one of his PHS history pupils, class of '71.
    Anna Jean (Kornmann) Moxom

  2. Wonderful Tim~ wonderful man.

  3. What a great picture of him. Thank you for sharing. I didn't have him for a teacher, I did know Pammy through my sister when they were younger. Also I knew Peter through my brother Bryan and listened to him on PBR when I lived in MN. Donating to research is such a wonderful thing to do. We all can have a memorial spot, with out the remains of a empty body. Again Thank you.

    Rhonda Hodgson Fliss

  4. I still remember SO MUCH about Pearl Harbor and the JFK assassination, etc..t was S fun t learn in h9is class....He used t sneak aroud and peek through a little "peephole"{ to see if we were minding....Truly one of the Great, giving, Sincere teachers that had a PASSION for what they did....
    --Kris Fairchild/Cedar Rapids Iowa

  5. Wonder tribute to a wonderful history teacher and all around person. I love history because of my mother and this man. He and my brother Kevin were also quite good friends through spoorts and history.

    Valerie Olene Zdenek