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Mark Petty

Featured Article

A Conversation with Mark Petty, Director of Kirkwood Electric

Musings about His Family, Career and What's Next

Describe your dad.

My father was a former football player and the all-time leading rusher for Morehouse University. And he was a classmate of Martin Luther King, Jr. My father was a high school principal, a math teacher, and an accountant. Since both of my parents were teachers, they knew the importance of education. My dad also knew that being involved in sports was critical to keep me out of getting in trouble as I was growing up in urban Detroit. He signed me up for baseball when I was seven years old. I played baseball, football, and basketball until I was 18. Being good at sports enabled me to be recruited by a private high school that focused heavily on academics. The school had a track record of sending its graduates to Ivy League colleges. Surprisingly, I didn't play sports at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). I thought it would be better to focus on my academics and work-study program. I worked in food service five days a week because I was hungry.

What inspired you to attend MIT? 

Growing up, we lived two blocks away from the University of Detroit. By the way, my father was the first to obtain a master's degree from that location. A professor from the university lived across the street. He had graduated from MIT. One day, he was throwing some things away, and he asked me if I wanted one of his old MIT sweaters. I asked him, "What is MIT?" He told me that it was one of the best colleges for research and technology. He said people associated with the college were Nobel Prize winners, and they created sophisticated inventions and patents. 

When did you decide to become an engineer? 

As we moved into our new house in 1967, my godfather dropped a small portable TV, and it stopped working, so we stored it in the basement. Later that year, I wanted to watch the hockey games on television, so I went to find the broken TV. I opened up the inside and saw that the picture tube was loose. I plugged the tube back in, and the TV came on. That was the moment I knew I would be an engineer. I wanted to keep figuring out ways to do fun things like watching hockey games. 

What are some of the fun projects you have worked on? 

After graduating from MIT, I went back to Detroit to work for the city's public lighting department. That enabled me to do some cool things that contributed to Detroit city's rebirth. We put two stadiums on the ground and held the Super Bowl. Every time I turn on the Thanksgiving football game, I see the stadium I helped build. We took down the J.L. Hudson building, a department store that occupied an entire city block and stood as the tallest retail building in the world. We rebuilt that space into an area park with shopping, commercial, and residential spaces. My daughter recently visited Detroit and experienced the new downtown that I had a part in creating. 

What projects are you looking forward to? 

We are all about collaboration at "Team Kirkwood" and as part of the Kirkwood - Des Peres Chamber of Commerce. We learn a little bit from everyone's experience, and we use that to deal with issues. Who knows what future challenges are ahead of us, but I know that collaboration will help us perform during difficult times and continue to move us forward. 

  • Mark Petty
  • Mark Petty