“If you have just one person that believes in you, it can change the course of your life.” That one person for Northwest School of Agriculture (NWSA) alumnus Lloyd Petri 1967 was a former basketball coach whose support led him to the decision to attend college after high school. Petri was co-captain of the NWSA basketball team, alongside Bruce Nelson 1967, and recalls feeling “rudderless” with no idea what he would do the next year. That’s when coach Joe Mazzitelli told Petri that he would be going to college.
“I told him I wasn’t nearly smart enough to go to college, then he takes his glasses off and tells me I was plenty smart enough,” shared Petri. “So, I went to college and got a degree in elementary education and special education.”
“That had a tremendous impact on me,” he added.
Before the NWSA and before college, Petri grew up on a farm in Nekoma, North Dakota with his seven siblings. Petri thought of Nekoma as a “typical rural farming community” and there were seven students in his class.
Fun fact: Nekoma is home to a big pyramid structure that was part of a missile radar site developed in the 1960s and is located about a mile from Petri’s family farm.
In Nekoma, Petri played basketball and, when it was close to the time he would leave for the NWSA, his teammates, and even one of their parents, tried to discourage him from going because they wanted him to stay and play for their team.
“I came from North Dakota and didn’t necessarily want to go to the NWSA,” Petri admitted. “My father wanted me to. I was directed to go to the NWSA because I would be home for three additional months to help with farmwork.”
“Sons were cheap labor and dependable,” he added. “We didn’t show up drunk or bust up machines like the hired men did.”
Petri often wonders if there was a psychological cost for students that left home for school, but, in the end, Petri says it was a “really good thing” for him. He remembers the newness of the Northwest School and trying to figure out where to fit in.
One of his favorite classes was trigonometry and his “bright spots” were basketball and cross country.
“I have to give a shout out to our instructors as many of them had doctorate degrees,” said Petri. “We got quality instruction and there was no horsing around either. If you didn’t go to class, they followed up.”
“Thinking about going to the NWSA, it was a huge leap and you’re expected to navigate,” he shared. “You’re moving away from home, living in a dorm with someone you’ve never met. I think it all turned out quite good.”
After graduation, Petri set off to the University of North Dakota to earn his bachelor’s degree. Later, because of a program the state offered at the time, Petri got a “free ride” to get his master’s degree and he finished that degree while teaching at Devils Lake High School. Other opportunities led Petri to East Grand Forks, Minn., where he was a special education director and vocational special needs coordinator for the Area Vocational Technical Institute and then to the Minnesota Department of Education where he worked in vocational special needs programs. Then, in 1985, he joined a state board in Minnesota for technical colleges where he helped set policy and provided leadership for technical institutes throughout the state.
Nowadays, Petri treasures time spent with his two wonderful daughters and six grandchildren, all who live close by, and his beloved Billy Bones – a 13-year-old Yorkshire Terrier who also accompanies him to the summer NWSA Reunion and has a privileged resting spot in an office inside the Kiehle Building on the University of Minnesota Crookston campus. Petri is an avid bicyclist who likes to ride various trails around the Twin Cities, and his love of reading has him involved in book clubs. When he isn’t with family or on the open road, he enjoys going out with friends, watching movies, and digging deep into history, especially reading up on the Civil War.
Petri recently returned to Minnesota following a trip to Arizona to the 2023 NWSA and UMN Crookston alumni social events, and is looking forward to a family trip in which his daughters and grandchildren get to pick the destination.
Written for the March 2023 Torchlight e-Newsletter