Aug. 8, 1928 - Feb. 7, 2018
Richard L. Petri, bakery business owner, Coast Guard veteran, sailor, model-maker and philanthropist, died unexpectedly in his Lake View home on Feb. 7. He was 89.
A former lightship cook who went on to serve on the board of directors of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Foundation and the U.S. Coast Guard Foundation, Mr. Petri was instrumental in saving and preserving the iconic 1833 Buffalo Lighthouse and was a benefactor to the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park.
For years his Petri Bakery Products company in Dunkirk and Silver Creek produced crème horn pastries and cookies that were staples on area market shelves. Another company in Cuba, N.Y,. became the leading producer of soft cookies in the United States.
Born in Pittsburgh in 1928, he attended elementary and high schools in Buffalo and Cleveland and graduated from Brooklyn Village High School in Ohio. His father Armand was in the pastry business, and Mr. Petri worked in the company’s bakery in Cleveland as a young man. At 17, after accidentally ruining a batch of pound cakes, he decided enlistment in the service was a better option than facing his father, and he joined the U.S. Coast Guard.
Mr. Petri served as a cook and baker from 1946 to 1954 on lightships, a LORAN station and on Ocean Station vessels in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. While in the Coast Guard, he began building models of Coast Guard ships, especially ones he had served on. At the end of his nine-year enlistment he was a commissary steward first class, but he chose to return to civilian life. He attended the Culinary Institute of America at its former location in Connecticut for two years, and later would attend the Master Baker’s School in Chicago.
By 1958 Mr. Petri owned a pastry shop in Little Neck, Long Island, and built it into a string of bakeries that produced and sold cookies to New York-area markets, but he sold that business two years later and rejoined his father’s company in Silver Creek. In 1966 he founded his own firm, Petri Bakery Products, in Dunkirk and in 1970 he formed a partnership with a Japanese company to distribute his products in Japan. In 1975 he bought Petri Homelike Cookies from his father.
Mr. Petri went to Europe to study and try out efficient cookie-making machinery, and began selling his products in Switzerland. He ran the merged Petri companies until he sold the business in 1980.
Petri Bakery Products became especially known for its creme horn pastries, and for years it sold bags of “broken cookies” – often fine cookies taken from the production lines – to visitors at the Silver Creek offices.
In 1990, Mr. Petri and business partner James Prise bought Farnsworth Cookies, a bakery in Cuba, N.Y. that made soft cookies under several brand names. The business was sold in 1999, and Mr. Petri retired.
Mr. Petri never stopped making ship models in his spare time, and he set a goal of building – or having built, by museum-quality ship modelers – one of every class of vessel designed by the Coast Guard, as well as models of each of the service’s most historic ships. His own hand-crafted models, built from original construction plans, became every bit as good as those built by professional modelers. He was working on yet another model at the time of his death.
Eventually, Mr. Petri began transferring 54 of his high-quality models to the Foundation for Coast Guard History, a donation appraised at nearly half a million dollars. Forty models are on long-term loan for display in a special room at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park, where Mr. Petri was inducted into the Wall of Honor last year. Plans are to unite the entire collection in a public display eventually, with one possibility being the developing U.S. Coast Guard Museum in New London, Conn.
Mr. Petri continued his association with the Coast Guard, serving several years in the Coast Guard Reserves after his active duty tour and rising to the rank of Warrant Officer. He would eventually serve on the board of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Foundation, and the U.S. Coast Guard Foundation.
In 1985, Mr. Petri became a founder of the Buffalo Lighthouse Association, formed to save and restore the iconic 1833 Buffalo Lighthouse. He was elected the organization’s first vice president, and served in that role for many years. He also was a long-time benefactor of the association, including sponsoring an event at Lighthouse Point to mark the relighting of the long-dark tower to help open the 1987 Friendship Festival. His wife, Sandra, continues on the board, and the couple donated the Petri Welcome Center currently at the lighthouse site.
Mr. Petri was a pilot with a multi-engine instrument rating, and for years flew his plane from the Dunkirk airport. He held a Coast Guard license to captain vessels of up to 100 tons. In 1989, he sailed his yacht Puff Pastry from the Erie Basin Marina to the Costa del Sol of Spain, returning the next year by way of Antigua.
He was a member of the United States Coast Guard Lightship Sailors Association, and American Legion Post 928 in Derby.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Petri is survived by two sons, Armand John, a member of the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame, and Mark Richard; a brother, Armand; three grandchildren, and a great-grandchild. Mr. Petri donated his body to the State University at Buffalo Medical School, and a memorial service will be held at a later date.