Marie Peters

Obituary of Marie Louise Peters

“For always roaming with a hungry heart much have I seen and known”   Tennyson 

Marie Louise Peters was the daughter of the late Stephen and Scholastica (Kozak) Baloga of Wilkes-B “arre, PA. She said that the happiest years of her childhood were spent in the cemetery, specifically City Cemetery, where her father was superintendent from 1927-35. Lawn and garden surrounded their spacious home within the cemetery gates, and the grounds provided plenty of room for sledding and games. In these surroundings, she gained a calm understanding and respect for the cycle of life. 

She kiddingly blamed the gift of luggage, received upon her graduation from Coughlin High School in 1943, as the reason for her wanderlust. Her first moves were to Philadelphia, where she enrolled in the Cadet Nurse Program at the Diploma School of Nursing at Jefferson Medical School, then to Pittsburgh to complete her Bachelor’s degree. Next she achieved her dream of working with American Indians when she moved to the Shoshone Indian Wind River Reservation at Fort Washakie, Wyoming. Loading her car with supplies to treat the full range of medical situations, she learned to navigate miles of the beautiful and sparsely populated area, often on unpaved or snowy roads, undoing and reattaching barbed wire gates, in her words a lone “traveling medicine man.” 

Her thirst for knowledge led to a position at the Durfee Clinic in Burlington Vermont where, following a back injury, she became interested in orthopedics. She first completed a two month program at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York, where, in characteristic style, she quickly learned her way around the city and took advantage of all it had to offer. From there, she moved to Oswestry, England, for work and certification in orthopedics. She reveled in learning differences in culture and medical protocols, such as emphasis on the health benefits of open air, and remarked that some mornings snowflakes were on the patients’ beds. In November of 1955, she and a friend toured the European continent, where a highlight was a private audience with Pope Pius XII in Rome. 

Following receipt of Masters in Nursing at Boston University in 1957, Marie Louise became an employee of the Alaska territory (later the state of Alaska upon statehood in 1959). She was first assigned to the government hospital at Mt. Edgecumbe in southeast Alaska, and later to Anchorage as Regional Nurse Administrator. Both roles required visits to Alaskan villages, often by bush plane and once by dog sled. During one adventure, she escorted a child who had been hospitalized for over 2 years after contracting polio to his family on the island of Eek. The trip of several hundred miles took almost 2 weeks, the last leg by single engine plane equipped with skis to land on the frozen, snow covered river. Here she received the treasured gift of a beautiful handmade doll, with a wooden face carved by the child’s father,  and the sealskin and fur clothing sewn by the child’s mother. 

Moving to warmer climates, she became Nurse Advisor to the governments of Trinidad & Tobago, British Guiana and Surinam as an employee of the World Health Organization in 1962. After receiving her Master’s in Public Health from the University of Pittsburgh in 1964, she became Nurse Advisor to the governments of Nicaragua and Costa Rica. While visiting Managua, Nicaragua for a nursing conference in 1967, she was held hostage when her hotel became the center of a rebellion against the ruling dictator. Despite a harrowing night, which included crouching on the floor using mattresses for protection from gunfire and explosions coming through the windows, her sympathies remained firmly with the unsuccessful rebels. 

Her next position, Director of Field Nursing on the Papago Indian Reservation in southern Arizona from 1968-73, involved two interests: a return to work with Native Americans and new developments in nursing, in this case computers. While learning about the new technology, she provided input on development of a pilot computerized health information system. As she had in Wyoming, Marie enjoyed her long drives across beautiful, sparsely populated country. Her next position took her farther afield as Principal of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands School of Nursing on the island of Saipan in Micronesia from 1973-75.   

Beginning in 1976, she resided in Dallas, TX and served as Nurse Consultant to five southern states. Here she met and married Dr. Leo J. Peters, a widower and fellow federal employee, with whom she revisited Alaska, Europe, and central America. He passed away in 1994. Retiring from nursing in 1987, she drew upon her extensive records to write family history and several chapters of her autobiography entitled “Memoirs of a Peripatetic Nurse” subtitled “I Had Sand in My Shoes.” Many of her pieces were published in the Jefferson Nursing School Alumni Bulletin.                  

Marie moved to San Diego, California, in 2000 and made her home with nephew Dr. Ben Fabian and his partner Kevin Westjohn (deceased) until her move to assisted living in 2014. A model of resilience, adaptability, and grace, she maintained until her death a lively interest in knowing the census - including number, names, and often hometowns – of all of her fellow residents. 

Known as “WeeWees” to her family (based on her older brother’s inability to pronounce Marie Louise when she was born), she was unpretentious, easy going, curious, and generous. She enjoyed Perry Como, Nat King Cole, and Bing Crosby; she loved animals (particularly dogs and squirrels), history, geography, and her Catholic faith. Her travels fostered her interest in languages and she studied Russian, Italian, and Spanish. She never stopped learning. 

In addition to her husband, she was predeceased by a sister, Regina Baloga Fabian, a brother, Stephen M. Baloga, a nephew, Andrew Fabian, and stepson, George “Buck” Peters. In addition to Ben, she is survived by nieces and nephews Sister M. Philothea, Stephen (Janet) Fabian, Joseph (Tracy) Fabian, Anna (Sam) Elmir, Marie (Jim) Vogelei, Monica (Chuck) Marvin, Stephen Baloga, Anne (David) Winter, Andrew Fabian’s widow JoAnn, stepchildren Leo J. Peters (Faye), Carla Byrom, and Buck’s widow Darlene and their children, as well as numerous grandnieces and nephews, and many very special cousins. 

Plans for a service are incomplete. Interment will be in Schulenburg, Texas at a later date. In lieu of flowers, she would have appreciated donations to organizations that assist indigenous people of the US or that care for animals. 

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