Peter "Pete" Moller Daniels

February 26, 2011|By JANET HEIM |
  • This photograph of Peter and Judy Daniels was taken in 2000.
Submitted photo

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — Peter "Pete" Moller Daniels' middle name is a clue to his longtime connection to Hagerstown.

 As the grandson of Mathias Peter M.P.Moller, founder of M.P. Moller Inc. pipe organ company, Peter grew up with the workings of the renowned pipe organ company not only in name, but in his blood.

Pete's mother, Martha Moller, was M.P.'s daughter. She married Wilson Riley Daniels II.

Their son's natural inclinations as a tinkerer and his love for electronics and gadgetry were a good fit as he rose through the ranks of the company.

"There was a lot of pride in the company," said son, Peter "Pete" Moller Daniels Jr.

"He was very proud of the family legacy," said Judy Daniels, the elder Pete's wife of 25 years.

Pete Jr. lived in Hagerstown until he was about 10, when his parents divorced and his mother moved with her son and daughter, Georgia, to Colorado. Pete Jr. is a police officer in Colorado, and Georgia is a firefighter in Washington state. Another daughter is deceased.

Pete Jr. remembers going to the organ factory on North Prospect Street on school field trips or occasionally wandering the building if his father went to work on a Saturday.

Judy said her husband carried with him the keys to churches with organs that the company had installed or serviced and would go in and occasionally play the organs.

"It was amazing to me. He could remember details of organs, the organist, the troubles they had with the organ," Judy said.

"He was usually right. It was obscure stuff, but he didn't remember everyday stuff," said Pete Jr., who said each pipe organ was custom-made and unique to the space occupied.

Pete said he enjoyed listening to his father play, but that his father said he had to work at it, that playing organ did not come naturally to him.  

The elder Pete started working at the pipe organ factory at age 16 and learned to do just about every job, Judy said. He moved into sales before becoming vice president, then president.  

"He was always a fixer," said Judy's son, Scott Redmond of Paisley, Fla.

Pete met his second wife, Judy McCurdy, not long after her first husband died of pancreatic cancer. She had gone to Washington County Hospital to return a book she borrowed from a staff member, when she met Pete in the elevator.

He gave her his business card and eventually invited her to dinner. They married in 1985 and lived in California for five years before returning to Judy's home in Chambersburg, Pa.

They moved after Pete left the company as president in 1986. The factory was still operational, but in transition, Pete Jr. said.

Judy said her husband was adept at woodworking. She could describe a cabinet she wanted made and he could sketch it and build it for her, she said.

Pete Jr. remembers his father as being a creative thinker and mastermind. He rigged the light switch so it could be turned off and on with a string when his son was home sick with the measles.

The Daniels' home has a small pump organ with foot pedals that Pete wired with a blower so it pumps on its own, instead of the musician having to pump as they play.

In their Chambersburg home, originally built by Judy and her first husband, the couple spent a lot of time improving the property, planting trees and thousands of bulbs, and adding lights to many of the trees. A 2007 addition brings much-needed light to the mostly underground home, Judy said.

She said Pete referred to their property as "Gruesome Gulch" when they moved back in December 1991 and they worked to convert it to the breathtaking property it now is.

"He really loved the outside," said Judy, who added her husband was always thinking of the birds and animals around the property.

"He always had a project or two or three. There was nothing he came across that would defeat him," Scott said.

Although Joe Champion, who lives next door to the Daniels, is in the millwork business, he said he couldn't say no when Pete asked him to build a house addition.

"Our whole family was fairly close to Pete, socializing across neighbors' fences. He was a very unique person and a very caring person," Joe said.

Joe said Pete loved keeping up with what was going on with Joe's two children, ages 10 and 12, as well as with Joe's brother's two children. He said Pete loved watching the kids run through the woods and play in the stream near their houses.

Pete was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on Nov. 1, 2010. The disease spread quickly and Pete chose not to have chemotherapy treatments, knowing that it could not save his life.

Instead, Judy said, he accepted the diagnosis and moved forward, tying up loose ends and meticulously planning his funeral.

"We tapped into home nursing, hospice early on. It gave him quality of life for a number of months," Judy said.

She said they enjoyed Christmas together and stayed up to welcome in the New Year.

The younger Pete came for a visit in mid-December and returned to Colorado thinking he had seen his father for the last time. Instead, he returned to Chambersburg to be with his father, unsure how his father would react.

"I worked it out with work and it was an amazing blessing being here. He was excited for what was next, the next step in life, whatever shape it comes in," Pete Jr. said.

He said they enjoyed long conversations, sprinkled with his father's sense of humor.

"It was such a help to me," said Judy, who added that her husband didn't want to be a burden to anyone.

Pete was involved in civic organizations in both Hagerstown and Chambersburg.

"He was a very giving person throughout his life. ... He was a striking character and of character. He was my moral compass in a lot of ways," said Pete Jr., who added that his father had a knack for cutting through peripheral issues and getting to the real issues.

"He had a great passion for helping people. He was a structure everyone could lean on," Scott said.

Pete possessed his own sense of style, something that Judy attributed to the standards he lived by as a student at Mercersburg Academy and Washington and Lee University. He couldn't be persuaded that plaid pants were no longer in style, his son said.

That style included a freshly pressed white handkerchief when he wore a suit. The family was concerned that they wouldn't know how to press and fold a handkerchief for the pocket of the seersucker suit from Hoffman's in which he was buried.

No need to worry, though, because Pete Jr. said every jacket hanging in his father's closet already had a handkerchief ready to go.

"Every suit was pre-loaded with a handkerchief," he said.

Judy said that her husband didn't use the handkerchiefs for blowing his nose, but "for the crying ladies." Shined and polished shoes were the other must.

"There was nothing run-of-the-mill about Dad," Pete Jr. said.


Editor's note:  Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs "A Life Remembered." Each story in 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 Peter Moller Daniels, who died Jan. 30, 2011, at the age of 72. His obituary was published in the Feb. 1, 2011 edition of The Herald-Mail.

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