Finelli loved history, ball and Princeton

Pete Finelli, a well-known teacher and coach at Princeton High School from 1956 to 1983, died Dec. 10 in Rochester, at age 84.

Finelli, who was born April 6, 1928, in East Cleveland, Ohio,

Former Princeton teacher and coach Pete Finelli died December 10 in Rochester.
Former Princeton teacher and coach Pete Finelli died December 10 in Rochester.

came to Princeton to teach American history in 1956, after graduating from St. Cloud Teachers College.

A circuitous route to his years in Princeton began when he signed a contract, in 1948, with the New York Yankees and pitched three years in their minor league system.

His final year as a minor leaguer was in 1950, at Fargo, N.D. He stayed around the area, began college at Moorhead State, and met his future wife, Lucille Lundby of Fertile.

They were married Oct. 12, 1951, in Fertile, before he left for the Marine Corps. He spent a year in Korea before returning to Minnesota and completing his education in 1956.

He took the job at Princeton and that began what he later described as “a love affair” with the city of Princeton.

Many former students talked fondly of him after leaving Princeton High School, saying they enjoyed the passion he had for teaching.

He was well-known among those students for his interest in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, even showing in class the movies he had taken of the places in Dallas where history was made in November 1962.

Former student Kris Fairchild of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, called him “truly one of the great, giving, sincere teachers, who had a passion for what he did.”

He took the job of head football coach at Princeton High School a few years after coming to Princeton and was known for his innovative offense that was years ahead of its time.

Finelli was also a pitching coach for many of the outstanding high school and Legion baseball teams coached by Howard Solheim, Solheim acknowledging that Finelli knew a lot more about pitching than he did.

Besides being an advisor for the school newspaper, Finelli was a sportswriter for a number of years for the Princeton Union. In 1974, when the fledgling Princeton Eagle began, Finelli was hired as its first sports editor.

Finelli was also a play-by-play man for the new radio station in town in the late 1960s, WKPM. He served as sports director and made trips all over the state to broadcast Tiger games. He also did play-by-play of many Legion baseball games in the summer, broadcasting every inning of every game in 1970, when the first-ever Princeton Invitational was held.

The man of Italian heritage from Cleveland was also known for his cooking, including the making of his own sausage and spaghetti.

“Oh, did we eat when he was cooking for our couples club,” said Mike Skavnak, a neighbor, a fellow teacher and assistant coach for Finelli.

“He was a great, great guy to know,” Skavnak said. “He took me under his wing and mentored me in those early years.”

In 1983, Pete and Lucille took teaching positions in Hawaii, and it was there that Pete became a tour guide at the Pearl Harbor Memorial, a calling he described as a “dream job” because of his love of history.

After a few years in Hawaii, the Finellis returned to Princeton where they lived for awhile before moving to Rochester.

In 2006, Finelli was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Lucille, his wife of 61 years, was his caregiver at home until shortly before his death.

His body was donated to the Mayo Clinic Advancement of Medical Education and Research.

He is survived by wife Lucille, Rochester; daughter Pam Borgen, Rochester; sons Perry, Maple Grove and Peter, Phoenix, Ariz.; sister Theresa, brother Joe and three grandchildren. The family is planning a memorial service for the spring.

Luther Dorr will share his memories of Finelli in his column next week.