Summary: Funeral Message for 99 year old woman. Eulolgy and theological reflection. We are not ignorant, through the resurrection we will live eternally, because of our second birth we will have a spiritual body.
Note: The first section is a eulogy for Leah Peterson which then transitions into a theological reflection based upon Psalm 116; 1 Thes 4:13-18; 1 cor 15:42-49.
First let us remember that we are gathered here today not because Leah Peterson has died, rather, we are gathered here today because Leah Peterson has lived; We are not here to honor the death of a lady we all loved so dearly, we are here to celebrate the life of this wonderful woman who has changed so many lives, in so many ways.
Leah was a true Alaskan Pioneer. We all know Leah from many different places, and I think that each of us has our own image of who Leah was: Impeccably dressed, always a wise word on her tongue, sweetness embodied, strong, independent, determined – I can take care on myself, thank you very much! Until very recently, she was balancing her own checkbook and keeping tabs on all of her bills and finances…quite impressive for a 99 year old.
Though each of us knew Leah, we need to understand that she did have a lapse of responsibility every now and then. Years ago, during her 42 years in the school system, Leah didn’t show up for work for three days straight. Three days! Her supervisor at work was very concerned and was quite frantic in his attempts to find her. It turns out that Leah, this petite lady, had been out in a remote area of Alaska, by herself, and had shot herself a black bear. It took her three days to get that bear back to Anchorage!
We all imagine that we know all about Leah, but she was much more than any of us ever knew. I think we could all gather together and tell stories for hours about how Leah impacted our lives, and we would not scratch the surface of who Leah was. Now we will have a time in just a few minutes for folks to share thoughts, stories and memories about Leah – Leah certainly would want you to speak your mind.
Leah’ s great love was education. Leah was forever not only teaching, but she was also mentoring, in fact many I know that of you here today where mentored by Leah. She was a pioneer in education in Alaska, helping to build our educational system from frontier instruction to a true, solid educational organization.
She began her educational career in 1928 in a one room school house in Salmon River County Idaho, 25 miles away from nothing. There where she rode to school on horseback, stoked the fire in the morning – so the ink wells would thaw, carried water from the nearby stream and doubled as the custodian…and you know she loved every minute of it. Her first days of teaching here in Alaska started in 1939 on Kodiak Island in the small village of Karluk, which remember, is on the far side of Kodiak. Leah and her husband Chet decided that they would take this position for only one, maybe two years. After purchasing a year’s worth of groceries, they arrived on the same ship that Admiral Byrd would then command on an expedition to the South Pole, the North Star. They were young, adventurous and determined….some things never changed for Leah, did they? She was still young, adventurous and determined at 99.
Two years later when they arrived in Anchorage, the town was in flux with the concerns of Japanese military activity on everyone’s mind. With only one partly paved muddy street in Anchorage and no available housing, Chet and Leah had no place to go. So what do Alaskan’s do? Set up camp, move on with life…why let a little thing like no housing concern you? In only two years Chet and Leah had become Alaskan through and through. They purchased the land on what is now the corner of 11th and L, and the city grew up around her. Leah used to say, she never had to change her address. She was living in the woods, passed the edge of town, I mean, the town ended on 9th avenue. Funny, I bet she never thought her home on the edge of the woods would one day become modern downtown Anchorage.
The first time I stopped by to see Leah, I didn’t have a complete address for her place and I was having a little trouble finding the place. Then, at one point I looked up, and there it was: Peterson Tower. How could I have missed that huge building? Leah told me, “Yes, it is rather convenient have one’s name on the building you live in, isn’t it?”
During that Fall of 1941, Leah went to work for the Anchorage Territorial School on what is now the Performing Arts Center, little did she know what impact she would have on children and school administration for the next 42 years with various educational positions culminating as the principal at Chugach Elementary School. Even after she retired Leah was heavily involved in education including serving on the Alaska Pacific University Board of Trusties and an active member of the College Fellows, University of Alaska.