History Major Inspired by Family Roots in Lowell
By Katharine Webster
For Harry Rider, the past is as close as the family dinner table – which resembles a River Hawk alumni reunion.
When Rider graduates in May, he will represent the fourth generation on his mother’s side of the family to earn their degrees from what is now UMass Lowell, after graduating from Lowell High School.
His family’s sense of history, continuity and community involvement are a big part of what inspired Rider to major in history and minor in Italian and digital media.
“I’ve always loved history and hearing about the past,” he says. “My grandmother would always sit me down and talk about our family history in Lowell, and my grandfather would talk about his parents coming to Boston from Naples, Italy.”
His family’s history parallels each stage of the university’s evolution.
Rider’s great-grandmother, Margaret Tracy Davis, paved the way, earning her teaching certificate from Lowell Normal School in 1929. When she needed a bachelor’s degree to continue teaching, she returned to night school at what had become Lowell State Teachers College, finishing in 1956.
At the same time, the oldest of her three daughters, Kay Davis Petruzziello ’57, who is Rider’s grandmother, was also attending Lowell State. They were soon followed by Petruzziello’s two sisters: Margaret Anne Davis Stevens ’59, who became a music teacher, and Patricia Davis Berry ’61, who taught elementary school.
Petruzziello taught elementary school herself in Tewksbury for several years and married Bernie Petruzziello, a graphic artist for Raytheon who also taught night classes in drawing on campus.
They had four children – two girls and then twin boys. Kay Petruzziello quit teaching when they were young, but after 10 years at home with the kids, “I had to get out of the house,” she says.
She worked for U.S. Sen. Paul Tsongas for a decade before leaving to head up the new alumni association on campus. By that time, it had become the University of Lowell, with the merger of Lowell State and Lowell Technological Institute.
All four of the Petruzziellos’ children went to college here, including Rider’s mom, Caroline ’87, an English major who minored in history and psychology.
The alumni association brought Rider’s parents together, too. Michael Rider ’87 had a work-study job with Kay Petruzziello, and when some interns failed to show up one day to help with a project, she told him to call her kids instead.
The oldest, sociology graduate Marilyn Petruzziello Graham ’81, was unavailable. The twins, Andrew ’89 and Joseph ’89, weren’t interested. But Caroline agreed to help out – and then came back.
“The rest, as they say, is history,” Rider says. “My grandmother says she knew it was going to work out when she and my mom were walking down the hall toward him one day and he went straight for Caroline instead of her, his boss.”
Michael Rider graduated with a degree in industrial technology and went on to great jobs with Polaroid and iRobot. He now works for Coravin, which makes a wine preservation system that lets you pour wine without removing the cork.
“Our kids have seen that you can get a great education and you don’t have to mortgage your life,” he says.
Caroline agrees that everyone in their family got a quality education. Marilyn is now the community coordinator for Lowell WIC. Andrew, a one-time history major, is an insurance executive in Virginia. And Joseph, who majored in business, is an executive at Workers Credit Union.
Right out of college, Caroline worked for Jacquie Moloney, now the university chancellor, who was then running the campus freshman center. Caroline went on to work for six years at Addison-Wesley Publishing Co. before her husband’s job took them to China and they had three children. A tireless volunteer for Lowell nonprofits, she currently serves on the advisory board for the university’s College of Fine Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences.
“ULowell was here, it was affordable, and we all lived at home,” she says.
“And it had what we wanted,” her sister Marilyn adds.
Clearly, the Rider boys have learned that lesson. Harry considered UMass Amherst and Wentworth Institute of Technology before deciding on UMass Lowell for its location – near Boston – and affordability. He started in civil engineering, but it wasn’t for him. He switched to history and hit his stride.
His brother Max ’21 is majoring in computer science. The youngest brother, Charlie, is still a sophomore at Lowell High School. Although he’s not yet sure what he wants to study, his family expects he will stay close to home, too.
Harry Rider feels fortunate to have grown up and gone to college in a city so steeped in tradition and history.
“We all went to UMass Lowell hockey games growing up,” Harry says. “My parents lived in the caretaker’s apartment at the Whistler House for a while, and my grandfather was a member and past president of the Lowell Art Association. I interned with Sara Bogosian [president and executive director] at the Whistler House during high school.”
Rider is planning on sticking around for at least another year to earn his Master of Public Administration degree in public humanities and arts. Then he hopes to go to work for a museum or history nonprofit.
“I really like history, but I don’t just want to study it,” he says. “I like talking to other people about it, learning from them and teaching them.”