U classrooms provide active retirement for 75-year-old graduate

Courtney Lewis

Peter Treuenfels has more to celebrate this year than his 75th birthday. Graduating summa cum laude with a degree in philosophy from the University in May probably takes a front seat.

“I started out very ambitiously in three classes, but to do a good job I decided to take only one or two (per semester,” Treuenfels said.

Treuenfels started his philosophy major eight years ago.

He said he calmed his vigorous schedule because he “didn’t want to take up too much time” in class. Instead, he took full advantage of office hours.

“I’d participate in class, too,” Treuenfels said, adding he found much enjoyment in discussion sections with fellow students. “It was very interesting for me to disagree with them,” he said.

His supervisor, philosophy professor William Hanson, said Treuenfels is “a very hardworking, diligent student. It’s refreshing to have a student like that.”

The new philosophy graduate was so dedicated to his studies he missed his youngest daughter’s wedding because he didn’t want to skip class.

Treuenfels received a master’s degree and a doctorate in mathematics from New York University, completing that stint of his education in 1957.

He also got a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from New York’s Pratt Institute.

“The first thing that came to my mind when I found out that my father, with the Ph.D., was going back for an undergrad degree, was that he was going to throw off the grading curve for his poor freshmen classmates directly out of high school,” said Tom Treuenfels, one of Peter Treuenfel’s seven children. “This was only made worse by the fact that he spent Friday and Saturday nights writing papers and doing homework while others were undoubtedly pursuing less scholarly pastimes.”

Treuenfels was born in Breslau, Germany – now a Polish city named Wroclaw – in 1926. His family emigrated to the United States in 1939 to escape Hitler’s persecution.

He said he then realized he was interested in electrical engineering … and math … and history … and German literature. With so much on his mind, Treuenfels knew he wanted to further his education.

In New York, Treuenfels met “a young lady” from Columbia Heights, Minnesota, who decided they should move back to her home state to start a family.

Treuenfels and his wife, Helen, were married in 1956. They relocated to Fridley in 1961, where they raised their children.

In Minnesota, Treuenfels worked as a scientist for Honeywell, Compen 10 and Star Technologies. After a job transfer to Virginia, he retired in 1983.

Treuenfels said he never had a typical, quiet retirement in mind.

“I never get bored,” Treuenfels said. “There is always something to read at the library.”

Treuenfels started taking classes at the University in history, German literature and philosophy, which interested him the most.

Treuenfels joked he paid more for parking than tuition, commuting from his Fridley home of 40 years.

“It was only about $9 a credit for senior citizens,” he said.

Of being in school with people young enough to be his grandchildren, Treuenfels said, “I admire young people – to be ambitious, to take so many classes and to work, too.”

When asked what he might do with his new degree, Treuenfels said, “It could come in handy in graduate work.”

Another son, Anton, echoed his sentiment: “He’s been looking at that course catalog again.”