John Marzitelli and his son, Patrick, had talked of starting an aviation class at White Bear Lake Area High School, where 17-year-old Patrick was a junior.
But on May 21, 2010, Patrick Marzitelli died while working at the Anoka County-Blaine Airport - apparently overcome by fumes while refueling a truck.
At his son's visitation, John Marzitelli started talking with Peter Pitman, Patrick Marzitelli's science teacher at White Bear, about their dream of an aviation class. He had no idea Pitman had worked in aviation for nearly two decades before coming to the school.
"So when I was talking to Peter, he said, 'Here's the guy you go talk to. I'll teach it and let's get it going,' " Marzitelli recalled.
Funded through the Patrick Marzitelli Science and Aviation Foundation, the elective class kicked off this fall at the junior-senior South Campus and attracted 18 students. The curriculum covers "a full pilot ground school, everything that a student would get if they paid for" the course privately, Pitman said, including airplane physics and the principles of flight, as well as flight controls and aviation meteorology.
Soon, thanks to another donation by Marzitelli, the class will have its own flight simulator - a full-scale mock-up of the cockpit of Marzitelli's Piper Warrior.
So far, one of the inaugural students is going on to study aviation at the University of North Dakota, and at least a few more are looking into aviation careers with the military.
"I'm happy with that," Marzitelli said.
His own son was working for Cirrus at the Anoka County airport when he died two years ago.
According to text messages sent by Patrick the night of his death, as well as a witness account, he was blasted by jet fuel on his face and chest about 8 p.m. He texted his girlfriend and said he was coughing but would be OK.
A co-worker last saw him alive at 9:40 p.m. as Patrick refueled a tanker truck. He was next seen at 10:32 p.m., motionless on top of the truck. His head was hanging down into an inspection hatch, submerged in fuel.
His family believes he might have accidentally overfilled the truck and was overcome by fumes as he inspected the level inside.
In addition to the class, the Patrick Marzitelli foundation funds three aeronautics scholarships totaling $10,000. Its main fundraiser is a springtime golf tournament, scheduled this year for May 19 at Manitou Ridge Golf Course.
For Pitman, the class has been an effective entry point for kids to get excited about science. And it appears to be catching on: 30 students have signed up for next fall.
"It's all about the kids, really," Pitman said. "Just give me the kids, and they get so excited about aviation. The class is going to be very popular."
For information on the Patrick Marzitelli foundation, go to s-i-ltd.com/pmsaf/.