Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By A. R. Vander Vegt
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Rosie the Riveter receives her diploma

93-year-old Rosie Jirovec joins Willow River's class of 2018


Photo courtesy of Joe Mulford

Seventy-four years after she would have originally received her high school diploma, Rose Jirovec Peterson will be recognized and honored at Willow River's graduation ceremony on Friday, May 25 at 7 p.m.

Rose Marie Jirovec was born in 1925, the daughter of Czechoslovakian parents, the youngest of seven. She grew up on a farm west of Willow River, walking two miles through the woods to attend class at District 26. When she graduated from eighth grade, Rose boarded in Willow River and started attending the high school. She shared she joined the cheerleading squad while attending.

In 1941, Rose moved down to St. Paul to help a family member. On the cusp of beginning her tenth grade year, Rose left her formal education. Not long after moving to St. Paul, the U.S. entered World War II. Rosie heard the call to aid her family - her time had come to aid her country.

A real-life Rosie the Riveter, she joined the ranks of the bomber retrofit run by Northwest Airlines at St. Paul's Hollman Air Field. She never returned to school to complete her degree, but she was involved in manufacturing as a woman in the 1940s.

On Friday, May 25, 93-year-old Rose Marie Jirovec Peterson will receive her high school diploma at Willow River's graduation. "I've always been sorry I didn't finish school," Rose said in an interview over the phone. "This is the greatest things that's happened to me in my 93 years!"

Rose said she never believed such a thing would be possible.

Nephew Tom Felger is thrilled to see his aunt finally receive her diploma. Had she been able to stay in school, she would have graduated in 1944, he said. "Now she's going to be part of the class of 2018" - 74 years later.

Joe Mulford said the act of Willow River granting Rose her diploma is a testament to the community and culture of Willow River. Mulford, who is the president of Pine Technical Community College, has known Rose between 20 and 25 years. His wife is Rose's great-niece and Felger's daughter.

"Somewhere along the way" of hearing Rose's story, Mulford said, he recognized "she didn't finish her high school diploma." Because of his position in the community, Mulford is familiar with area schools. While he didn't know specifics on degree-granting on a high school level, he knew that on a college level credit can be given for prior learning. Could the same be applied for a high school diploma?

He approached Willow River's administration a little over a month ago about the idea. "They could not have been more supportive," he said.

Secondary Principal Gregg Campbell said in an email that the senior class discussed including Rose in their ceremony and then invited her to "receive her diploma and be an honorary member of the class of 2018."

Photo courtesy of Joe Mulford

This year's seniors are "very excited to have Rose join them in commencement ceremonies." They've ordered a cap, gown, tassel and (of course) a diploma for Rose. Her photos are included in their traditional senior video montage, and the Salutatorian includes Rose in her speech.

"Rose has done a lot - more than we know - for the people in her life," Mulford shared over the phone. It can sometimes be difficult to find a way to give back to people like that, but finally receiving her diploma is a way to both close a loop and recognize her achievements in life. "She deserves it."

Rosie lived through the Depression in rural Minnesota, contributed to the war effort, married, widowed at a young age, raised three sons and is sharp as a whip to recount it all. Through it all, she maintains, "Willow River is still home for me." She lives in St. Paul and will be at Willow River's graduation ceremony on Friday, May 25 at 7 p.m. at Willow River's gymnasium.


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