Wilmette, Community

In Tribute: Local legend Pete Burnside was professional ballplayer, beloved New Trier educator and ‘invested, kind’ family man

Pete Burnside has not taught or coached at New Trier High School in nearly 30 years, but still today, the his influence and impact can be felt.

Two of Burnside’s children, Jim and John, are successful coaches for the Trevians and their first lessons came from what they saw out of their father.

“We are all a little different, but it is all stemming from what he taught us as a coach,” Jim Burnside said. “The bottom line we keep central is the idea of kids first. It’s about them, it’s about who they are. That really rubbed off on us as coaches.”

A former professional baseball player and 25-year NTHS educator, Peter Willits Burnside died on Friday, Aug. 26, at the age of 92.

Services are being held privately, and the family encourages those impacted by Pete to donate to charity, channeling “Pete’s spirit of generosity.” He is survived by his wife, Suzette, and their three children, Beth (Patrick) of Madison, Wis., Jim (Annie) of Evanston, Illinois, and John (Kimbra) of Wilmette, Illinois; and eight grandchildren: Aidenn, Piper, Olivia, Peter, Jack, Emmett, Paden, and James. In addition, Pete’s family includes his dear friends, the Metzgers — Robert, Jennifer, Ben (Rachel), and Alex — “who have provided their companionship and support to Pete and his family for many years,” according to an obituary written and submitted by the Burnside family.

“Just the heartfelt outpouring of condolences … from students and his players has really been phenomenal,” Jim Burnside said. ” … The feelings they had for him were the same feelings we had for him as a father. He was invested, he cared, he was kind, generous, loyal.”

Pete Burnside coached New Trier’s baseball team in the 1970s and ’80s (left) and pitched for the Trevians (right) in the 1950s. | Photos submitted by Burnside family

Peter Burnside was born on July 2, 1930 in Evanston and grew up in Wilmette with his brother, Don, and mother Helen Baxter Willits.

Burnside would tell his children and family of how as a child he enjoyed visiting his grandfather Ward Winfield Willits at his Highland Park home designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. An active child, Pete would also take regular trips with family to the woods of northern Wisconsin, commonly called the northwoods. These trips continued throughout his life.

Pete found a calling as a baseball player, earning plenty of success as a left-handed pitcher for New Trier High School. At 19 years old, he signed a professional baseball contract but, thanks to counsel from family friend Jules Herbuveaux, was allowed to attend Dartmouth College while playing baseball for the New York Giants organization in the summer months.

An Ivy League graduate, Pete then served with the U.S. Army while pitching for his base’s team, the Fort Leonard Wood Hilltoppers, who in 1953 won the National Baseball Congress championship.

Pete pitched professionally for 10 more years, including eight seasons in Major League Baseball with the Giants, Detroit Tigers, Washington Senators and Baltimore Orioles. He concluded his career with two seasons in Japan, where he pitched the Hanshin Tigers to a 6-3 victory in Game 5 of the Japan Championship Series — a set won in seven games by the Nankai Hawks.

Pete Burnside pitched with the Giants (first in New York and then San Francisco) in the 1950s.

Within the next two years, Pete was married and retired from baseball. He and Suzette Herbuveaux — the niece of Jules Herbuveaux — wed in January of 1964. After the following baseball season, Pete moved on from baseball and earned a master’s degree in education from Northwestern University. He taught and coached (baseball, basketball and cross country) at New Trier for 25 years, and the couple raised three children — Beth, Jim and John — in Wilmette.

Jim Burnside said his father always involved his children in his activities while taking an interest in theirs.

“He was always trying to help us out, to have fun,” he said. ” … We would go fishing at the lagoons. We would go out and watch games. He would be the guy who — he hated it but — would sit down and play the new Atari (video) game with you, just to be with you.”

Pete retired from education in 1994 and began spending more time in a familiar place, the northwoods, where he had owned a cabin since the late 1950s. He spent those tranquil years completing projects, enjoying his surroundings and cherishing time with his eight grandchildren.

Pete Burnside with son Jim (left) and grandson Peter.

“That was a piece of property up there that was a true love of his. I’d say it was his fourth kid,” Jim Burnside said. “He was an introvert, just the calmest individual. He liked it that way.”

Pete moved back to the Wilmette area in 2021 to be cared for and closer to family.

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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