Longtime Sierra Madrean Marjorie “Mama Pete” Peterson passed away on Sunday evening. She was 96 years old.
Mama Pete was a long time contributor to this town, and the town knew it and appreciated it. In 1982, she was named Citizen of the Year, and in 2011, she was named one of Sierra Madre’s Treasures by the Sierra Madre Chamber of Commerce. The Sierra Madre Woman’s Club made her an Honorary Lifetime Member, an honor bestowed in recognition of a lifetime of service to the Club.
And a lifetime of service she gave. Among other things she did for the Woman’s Club, she sat at the SMWC staffed information booth on the west end of town for many years, including through a torrential downpour in 2011 and 2012, and she cut oranges for the runners in the Mount Wilson Trail Race for many years, also a Woman’s Club activity. But that doesn’t begin to list her contributions to the Club, or to the community.
In 2011, the local club nominated her for the Jenny June Award, given annually by the General Federation of Woman’s Clubs, a national award. She didn’t win, however I mention it because as Executive Director of the Chamber at the time, I was asked to write a letter of recommendation for submittal to the GFWC judges. I was given some biographical information, and was quite overwhelmed at her resume. The list was far too long to include everything in my letter, but here’s an excerpt: “In preparing to write this letter, I reviewed an article that discussed Mama Pete’s contributions to the community that earned her the Citizen of the Year award in 1982. I was aware that, in addition to her membership in the Woman’s Club, she had been one of the charter members of the Civic Club when it was formed back in the 1940s (1944). But the article included a list of numerous other contributions she has made to the community. PTA president in 1945 – 46. Girl Scout leader from 1947 – 1974. Member of the Volunteer Firemen’s Wives’ group from 1961 to 1977. President of the Historical Preservation Society
from 1976 – 1978, continuing as a Board member until 1983. Chairwoman of the Sierra Madre Centennial Committee. And as long as the above list is, the amazing thing is that this is just an abbreviated list of her contributions.”
I mentioned that she was a charter member of the Sierra Madre Civic Club in 1944. That was a big year for her. It was also the year she started Mama Pete’s Nursery School, which is still in operation at her residence on Suffolk Ave. to this day. According to Michelle Zack’s history of Sierra Madre “Seeking the Better Life in Sierra Madre,” Mama Pete had served as nanny to the Ward (E. Waldo Ward) children, and used that experience to begin her own school. Here’s another excerpt from my letter to the GFWC’s judges: “…students of Mama Pete’s have, for generations, looked up to her as THEIR Mama, and have brought their children to the school, and their children have brought their children. This has been going on for generations, and the crowds cheering for Mama Pete’s annual float in the 4th of July parade is evidence of the respect and esteem with which the members of this community hold her.”
One of the groups people can join on Facebook is called “You know you’re a Sierra Madre kid when…”. On this page, people comment with things that are quintessential Sierra Madre, appropriate to the page name. I noticed once looking at the page that someone had posted the comment “You know you’re a Sierra Madre kid when: you went to Mama Pete’s Nursery School.” Several comments were posted in response, but the one that struck me was one by a gentleman who said “I went to Mama Pete’s for about a year in 1960.” Here’s a man recalling his experience as a preschooler, more than fifty years ago!! And she had already been at it for more than fifteen years when he attended. I don’t think many people in this world, if anyone else, can claim to have been caring for an extended family as large as hers is, for as long as Mama Pete.
When the announcement of Mama Pete’s passing was posted on Facebook, folks started to comment. One person, Anthony Soldano, made the comment that “Sierra Madre should name a street after her.” I think it’s an excellent idea. Suffolk Ave. should be renamed “Mama Pete Street.” I’m told by a staffer at Public Works that it’s a fairly simple process. If City Council is behind it, maybe we can get it done. Anybody else think it’s a good idea?
Mountain Views News is now reporting that services will be held at 10am Friday, June 21st at the Sierra Madre Community Center, 611 E. Sierra Madre Blvd.