In the Spotlight – Pete Petrofsky

Pete Petrofsky was born on October 16, 1928 in Middletown, Connecticut. He lived with his parents, a brother and two sisters. He attended all of his schooling in Middletown and showed interest and aptitude for math and science. His father ran a rock quarry but met with bankruptcy. Fortunately, the family garden provided Pete and his family with a good stock of home-grown vegetables. When Pete came of age for college, Pete told his father he would go to an inexpensive college since Pete’s father considered it a loan for Pete to attend. Nevertheless, Pete’s father insisted that he attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Pete is happy he agreed to that. Pete received a degree in Civil Engineering from MIT. As Pete showed talent and skills in this area, his professor recommended him for employment with Morrison-Knudson, a well-known engineering firm that specialized in dam building. Boise, Idaho was the headquarters and Pete was hired by Morrison-Knudson (M.K.).

Along with Pete earning his Bachelor of Science degree in 1950, he had also put in four years in college with the ROTC program. This earned Pete an ROTC commission and he was made a second lieutenant upon graduation. This was a feature then practiced by land grant colleges. Of course, earning a commission in the U. S. Army also involved some mandatory time spent in active service. He was first assigned to a control group. He was mistakenly assigned the MOS
(military occupational specialty) of 7110, construction engineer usually reserved for majors and colonels; he should have been assigned MOS 1331, combat engineer platoon leader. He was deployed to Korea and was assigned to a KMAG, Korean Military Advisory Group which needed a 7110, construction engineer. The overall assignment of KMAG was to “totally rebuild” the Korean Army. Korean draftees had to attend twelve weeks of Basic Training and then go on to advanced training. Pete’s assignment was construction of the engineer base depot in Pusan, South Korea. He was assigned to a Korean colonel and had to prove his worth which he did. Pete was later assigned to headquarters and given the position of Assistant S-5 with responsibility of overseeing all rear area construction by the Republic of Korea Army. Under General Van Fleet, orders were given to rebuild the Korean Military Academy. Pete wrote up the plan for this assignment. Pete ordered up a platoon assigned to build storage areas. Some five to six years ago, Pete received papers and awards from a Korean historian. For donating the original orders relating to this, Pete received gold cups with Korean engraving and original symbols as an award for his actions, as nearly all old documents had been lost in the Korean war. Pete showed the cups to this writer.

Pete came home from Korea in 1953 after the truce was declared and was assigned to New York City by M. K. They then sent him to a new tunnel construction job in Boston. From this point, tunnel design and construction became his lifelong career. He met his wife Peg in Boston and they were married in 1957 and were together 57 years at the time of her passing. They had four children and one grandchild.

Morrison-Knudsen was the number one tunnel construction firm in the civil engineering business. Pete was assigned by this firm as the project engineer for the California-based San Luis Dam. His later employment was with Jacobs Associates, a twenty person operation. This firm had then the largest construction project responsibility in Australia. Pete completed the estimates for the joint venture with three other firms and Jacobs carried out the work. This involved three underground railroad stations and four tunnels in
Melbourne. Pete’s family was with him in Australia during his time there including 1972 – 1975. Pete also worked on the Boston Harbor Cleanup with the owner being Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. Pete was designer for one sewer tunnel project under Boston Harbor. Later he designed the Metropolitan Water Supply Tunnel. By then, Pete was chairman of Jacobs Associates and it had grown to 150 engineers. Pete enjoyed employment in Boston and retired after the Boston projects were completed.

On his retirement, Pete received a National award, the Golden Beaver Award, bestowed on the best engineers in heavy construction. After retirement, Pete became a consultant and served on several dispute review boards with the task of deciding legal disputes in the field of construction. He also worked for Nute Engineering based in Marin County. He was with this firm until 2005 and took one job a year until then.

One of his most interesting jobs was in Nepal where he had responsibility to set up a tunnel concrete lining procedure. Pete hired eight Canadians to be foremen and advisors.

Pete joined Branch 47 of SIR in 1999. He was invited to an executive meeting and that the time Chris Lewis was Big Sir and Roger Pease was Little Sir. They talked him into becoming the next Little Sir, a position he held for two years. Pete is also involved with the Investors Group. For many years he was the joke teller at Branch luncheons.

It was an honor to interview Pete, a man who was outstanding in his field and still remains interested and involved in the engineering arena.