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Olive Peters inspired many friends with her acts of kindness

April 01, 2007|By MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail publishes "A Life Remembered." This continuing series takes a look back - through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others - at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Olive W. Peters, who died March 22 at the age of 80. Her obituary appeared in the March 23 editions of The Morning Herald and The Daily Mail and the March 24 edition of The Herald-Mail.

A native of Nigeria, nutritionist Shola Idowu was a stranger to Hagerstown in 2004 when she began looking for a church to fulfill her needs.

"I came to the (Hagerstown Church of the Brethren) and Olive Peters welcomed me ... she even came to my house," Shola said.

Olive's contact with her new friend didn't stop there - the two women went to dinner together and visited residents at the Fahrney-Keedy Retirement Village.

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"She even wrote letters to me," Shola said. "Olive was like a mom to me."

Olive had that effect on many people in her adopted home of Hagerstown, as well as in her native Pennsylvania, which she left more than a decade ago.

Many of those people came from near and far to celebrate Olive's rich life and to bid farewell to an old friend. Olive died March 22 at the age of 80.

"Olive was a great person, and we are going to miss her," said her pastor, the Rev. Ed Poling, who spoke at her memorial service.

The sign at the Hagerstown Church of the Brethren that day read, "We give thanks for the life of Olive Peters."

Organist Randall Williams said he played several of Olive's favorite hymns as his way of paying tribute to her contributions toward making life better for so many.

"Every time she liked something the choir did, she'd send me a note," Randall said.

Olive's only surviving son, Robert Peters, came to Hagerstown for the funeral from Kalamazoo, Mich., where he is a professor at Western Michigan University.

"She taught me that you have to give back to the community," Bob said.

That meant not only her original community in Pennsylvania, but also her new home in Washington County, which she adopted in 1994.

As Bob talked about his mother and her huge influence on his life, he was approached by Shola, who overheard his praises for Olive.

"She was so proud of you," Shola said to Bob. "You were her world."

Though they were separated by many miles in recent years, Bob said he and his mother would stay in touch by telephone. Every Sunday, she would call and tell Bob what she had been up to each day of the previous week.

Olive's influence on her son to always give his best effort was a tactic she also used on friends and members of her congregation.

"When I was chair of the Service Outreach Commission, we wanted to do a Habitat for Humanity house," said Glenn Young, a fellow Church of the Brethren member.

When it first was introduced about 10 years ago, the idea wasn't very well-received by the congregation, Young recalled.

"But Olive was all for it, and she encouraged others to step out in faith," he said.

The house got built.

Bob grew up in Pennsylvania as did his older brother, Wayne, and older sister, Judith, both of whom died as a result of muscular dystrophy.

A stay-at-home mother until Bob was in junior high school, Olive also did part-time work in Pennsylvania with Brethren Volunteer Services.

"Religion was very important to her," Bob said. "She would read scriptures every morning before the school bus came."

Bob's father, Earl Peters, who worked in a factory most of his life, died in 1987. A few years later, she began looking around at Brethren retirement villages, Bob said.

Olive chose Fahrney-Keedy near Boonsboro, where she not only lived, but also volunteered in a variety of ways.

Her sphere of influence greatly expanded once she got involved with her church and the greater community it serves.

"Olive would make sure homeless people were fed and cared for and that their emotional needs were also met," Shola said.

While attending Olive's funeral on March 27, Shola said she was feeling joy rather than sadness.

"When I first knew her, she made me feel like a million dollars," she said. "And she is still guiding me today."

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