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Pilot of ill-fated Holly flight was 'a great kid'

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Pilot of ill-fated Holly flight was 'a great kid'
Jim Fredrickson once taught Roger Peterson, pilot of the plane that crashed killing Peterson and passengers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson. Peterson is pictured in this 1954 yearbook. JEFF HEINZ/The Globe Gazette

MASON CITY — Jim Fredrickson’s eyes mist up when he thinks of Roger Peterson, his former student.

“What a great kid,” he said.

Peterson is remembered as the 22-year-old pilot who died along with Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and J.P. Richardson (“The Big Bopper”) when their plane crashed near Clear Lake in February 1959.

“He was at my basketball game the night he crashed,” said Fredrickson, 82, who spent 30 years as a teacher, athletic director and coach at what became Rockwell-Swaledale High School before he retired in 1988.

Prior to that, he taught history and coached at Fairview High School in Alta where Peterson was one of his students and athletes.

Fredrickson browsed through an old yearbook and pointed out photographs of Peterson and his future wife, DeAnn Lenz.

“Roger was a good baseball player and fair at basketball,” he said.

Fredrickson also spotted a photo of himself and laughed at the full head of dark hair.

“I used to run a comb through my hair. Now I run my hair through a comb,” he said with a laugh.

He has fond memories of Roger and his future wife in school at Fairview.

“They were in my history class and they used to wink at each other during class,” he said.

“I don’t know whether I’d let them get away with that today, but back then, I did. I wasn’t that much older than they were and, heck, I married my high school sweetheart,” he said.

Fredrickson said Peterson was the son of a pilot and from time to time the boy would fly to the high school from his rural home.

“He didn’t have a license back then but he knew how to fly. He’d land his plane in the pasture next to the school.

“When he went home, if it was getting dark, his father would shine his car lights in the area where he was going to land,” he said.

When the Fredricksons moved to Rockwell, Peterson kept in touch with them and stayed at their home when he came to Mason City and applied for a job as a charter pilot for the Dwyer Air Service.

Fredrickson said he and his wife were also friends with Petersons’s parents.

“His folks would come to visit us after the crash. With all the attention given to those who died, you could tell they didn’t think Roger got a fair shake in the media,” he said.

“When I heard the news about the crash on the radio, I was just crushed,” said Fredrickson.

“But you know, when you’ve been in education for over 4o years, you lose a lot of kids. I’ve had kids killed in Vietnam and in plane crashes and car accidents and suicides.

“And you know what? They’re all crushing.”


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