New state rep’s political activism bloomed at Century College

Peter Fischer, a newly elected member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, started his political activism while a student at Century College
Submitted Photo: Peter Fischer, a newly elected member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, started his political activism while a student at Century College

WHITE BEAR LAKE — Peter Fischer’s drive to make the world a better place all started at Lakewood Community College, a forerunner of Century College.

Fischer, a Maplewood resident and the newly elected member of the Minnesota House of Representatives’ district that includes Century College, was the student body president at Lakewood during the late 1970s, a time of dramatic social change. The Vietnam War had ended, veterans were returning to school and students were determined to have their voices heard.

For example, during a 1979 strike by the two-year college faculty association, Fischer remembers going to the State Capitol with a group of students seeking an end to the standoff.

“We wanted to go back to class, and we also wanted to help our teachers achieve salaries that would help them keep up with double-digit inflation,” Fischer said. “It was a tense situation.”

At one point, Fischer and the other students were told to leave the governor’s reception area. Unwilling to give up their cause, the students moved to the Capitol Rotunda, where they stayed for over a week.

“I remember sleeping on top of the North Star in the Rotunda,” Fischer said. “Teachers would bring us food in the morning and evening. It was a real exercise of peaceful nonviolence.”

The three-week strike finally ended with a negotiated settlement, and the students returned to class. Fischer said he learned a big lesson about the power of persistence.

That lesson served him well in the recent election, when Fischer’s opponents in both the primary and the general elections outspent him six-to-one.

“I have great supporters,” said Fischer, “and my win was an example of good old-fashioned hard work. I door-knocked my entire district four times — a total of about 12,000 doors — and other people door-knocked through the district two times. I put over 500 miles on my bike, going door to door, and I was also working full time.”

Fischer works as the director of finance and operations for Avenues for Homeless Youth, a non-profit agency located in North Minneapolis. In the past, Fischer has worked in management at the prestigious Minneapolis Club as well as several private country clubs, making his work history a study in contrasts.

“It’s all about service, from the very privileged to the under-privileged,” Fischer said. “My current job, working with homeless youth, is the most satisfying thing I have ever done in my life. There are heart-breaking stories, but the successes you see are heartwarming. Seeing how people can turn their lives around is truly inspiring. If we make the right investment in those at risk, it will make our communities stronger. Education is key. Teachers, coaches, higher education instructors — they make a difference.”

Born and raised in Maplewood, Fischer graduated from Hill Murray High School in 1976. He attended Lakewood from 1976 to 1979, and then advanced to St. Thomas College, where he graduated in 1981 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

Fischer joined the Maplewood Human Relations Commission in 1979. In 1992, he joined the Maplewood Parks Commission and was chairman for 12 years. He was part of the group that made Maplewood a national leader in the buying of land for open space.

“I learned a lot of patience while working as a volunteer for the City of Maplewood,” Fischer said. “I learned that things can get very frustrating, but it pays to keep calm and hang in there. You have to keep working for fair solutions.”

Fischer and his wife Kristi have three children, Peter, 21, Hannah, 20, and Emily, 18. Fischer will be sworn in Jan. 8, as the representative of the new Minnesota House District 43A, which includes Mahtomedi, Birchwood, Willernie, part of White Bear Lake and north Maplewood.