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Mary J. Arcidiacono

July 20, 2013|By JANET HEIM | janeth@herald-mail.com
  • Tom and Peggy Arcidiacono were married Oct. 16, 1948, and honeymooned on a dude ranch and went deep-sea fishing in New York.
Submitted photo

Peggy Fitzgerald was the oldest of eight children, born July 29, 1923, in Emmitsburg, Md., at her mother’s home place. Her parents were living in Philadelphia at the time, but her mother returned home to give birth to Peggy.

She was named Mary Julia (her mother was Julia Mary), but the family always called her Peggy. After Peggy’s birth, the family lived in Philadelphia until 1932, then moved back to Emmitsburg.

Two years later, her father took over his family’s farm and Peggy helped with the farm work from age 11 to 18.

After high school graduation, she was given the choice of helping with the harvest or getting a job, so she found work in a grocery store. Peggy then graduated from St. Joseph’s College in Emmitsburg, a four-year women’s college, focusing on business courses.

Her first job was at Seton High School in Baltimore, where she taught typing for one year. It was while working in Baltimore, where Peggy worked for three years at an advertising agency, that she met Thomas “Tom” Arcidiacono, who was working for Martin-Marietta in Baltimore. They were married Oct. 16, 1948.

He was from New York City. His father was a photographer and his mother was a fashion designer.

Tom and Peggy’s honeymoon in New York was an adventure, which included a visit to a dude ranch and deep-sea fishing.

Tom was an aeronautical engineer, and the couple moved to Hagerstown in 1949, when he was hired by Fairchild Aircraft.

After Fairchild closed in the early 1970s, Tom got a job as a structural engineer for Nitterhouse in Chambersburg, Pa.

In 1950, the year their first child, Barbara, was born, they settled into a home in the Hagerstown neighborhood of Hamilton Park, said daughter Barbara Bacon of Hagerstown.

Peggy lived in that home for the rest of her life. After a fall, Tom went to the Western Maryland Hospital Center, where he has been for three years.

Peggy visited him daily, still driving on her own until April, and would have dinner with him. They were married for 64 years.

The couple had four children, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Together, they endured the death of their second child, 15-year-old Gary, to a baseball accident in 1967.

In 1969, youngest child Ted was in a car accident when he was 9 and survived serious injuries.

“They held together through the trials and tribulations of what they had to deal with with their sons,” Barbara said.

“She had a quiet wisdom and spirit. Tragedies didn’t define her,” said longtime friend Connie Pauley of Hagerstown.

After Gary’s death, Peggy taught at St. Maria Goretti High School for five years, and both Barbara and younger daughter Diana had their mother as a typing teacher.

Peggy also taught at Hagerstown Business College for four years, then managed a clerical education shop at the Maryland Correctional Training Center from 1975 to 1989.

Not only did she teach accounting and business to the inmates, but she taught some of them to crochet, a passion of hers.

“She was a beautiful crocheter,” Barbara said.

Not one to sit idle, Peggy always was working on a project, whether crocheting Christmas ornaments for all of the patients at the Western Maryland Hospital Center or family and friends. She also made countless afghans.

Peggy channeled the difficulties she endured in the late 1960s to help found the Washington County Alliance for the Mentally Ill, now the Washington County affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). She joined several mental health boards in the community as well.

“That’s how we met, through our sons,” Connie said.

Connie said Peggy had been the group’s treasurer since the beginning and still was signing checks until the end. She organized the financial end of the annual fundraising walk at Antietam National Battlefield, among other things.

“She was treasurer through the whole thing,” Connie said. “We never could replace her, nor did we want to.”

When Peggy got involved with an organization, whether NAMI or the Antietam Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution, where she served as state parliamentarian and historian, she was committed.

“She always went above and beyond,” Barbara said.

“You only had to say, ‘Peggy, could you?’ and it was done,” Connie said. “You knew when you asked her something, it would be completed, and you didn’t have to follow up or ask again.”

Another thing that helped Peggy through some rough years was doing Outward Bound out west in the mid-1970s.

“It was to see if you could overcome stuff,” Barbara said. “She needed that. She was successful.”

Another source of pride for Peggy was that she earned a master’s degree in business in the 1990s from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

The family would visit both sides of the family in New York and Emmitsburg, with weekends spent at their place on the Potomac River, Barbara said.

Tom and Peggy enjoyed traveling together, with Peggy doing some solo traveling as well. Daughter Diana Arcidiacono of Hagerstown joined the military right after high school at the end of the Vietnam War, and Peggy rode the bus to Montana to see Diana, with a stop on the way home to see Peggy’s brother in Colorado.

Diana recalls that when her parents visited her in England, Peggy got off the plane wearing a cape and hat. None of her friends could believe she was American.

“She had a hat for every day,” Diana said. “She was always game for things.”

“She was quite the contrast in personality and actions. There was a lot to her,” said granddaughter Brenna Bacon Ranieli of Hagerstown.

Her Irish roots no longer were as apparent once she married Tom, whose last name is Italian for archdeacon, Barbara said.

Barbara said her friends expected Italian specialties when they came to the Arcidiacono home, but that wasn’t Peggy’s background. She ventured out of her cooking comfort zone with time, and was known for clipping recipes to try.

“She became more adventurous, especially during my high school years,” Barbara said. “We had a bunch of people to our house for a prom dinner. It was very nice.”

“My experience with her growing up is that she was very reserved, quiet and a hard worker,” Brenna said.

Brenna said in one of the last conversations she had with her grandmother, Peggy shared a story about a boyfriend before meeting Tom who thought she was too extravagant because she bought a pair of $50 alligator shoes.

Peggy broke up with him after that.

“I would never think of her as extravagant,” Brenna said. “My love of shoes is genetic.”

Peggy suffered from arthritis and osteoporosis, and her vision was failing, but she still was plugging along. Because of a minor fall, she ended up in the hospital, and several medical issues were diagnosed.

“Everything just sort of wore out,” Barbara said.

“She was just loving, caring, someone you could talk to, nonjudgmental,” Barbara said. “She’d be able to get to the nitty-gritty of problems without making you feel stupid.”

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 Mary J. Arcidiacono, who died July 9 at the age of 89. Her obituary was published in the July 11 edition of The Herald-Mail.

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