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Passengers: Donald A. Peterson and Jean Hoadley Peterson

Sunday, October 28, 2001

She taught nursing, rode with the local ambulance service and raised three daughters. He was the president of New Jersey's Continental Electric Co. and the father of three boys.

Donald A. Peterson and Jean Hoadley Peterson
dot.gifHe was the retired president, Continental Electric Co. Church and community volunteer, 66, of Spring Lake, N.J.

dot.gifShe was a retired nurse and nursing teacher. Church and community volunteer, 55, of Spring Lake, N.J.
His sons, David, Hamilton, Royster Peterson. Her daughters, Jennifer, Grace, Catherine Price
They were on their way to a family reunion at Yosemite National Park

After meeting through a church group in the early 1980s, they married in 1984. For the next 17 years, Donald A. Peterson and Jean Hoadley Peterson lived a life of quiet service to alcoholics and addicts, women with crisis pregnancies and residents of impoverished nations.

"They lived their lives and taught by example," said Jean Peterson's oldest daughter, Jennifer Price, 29, of Wellesley, Mass. "They didn't force their beliefs on people. They just quietly reached out to everybody who needed help."

Both were divorced parents when they became acquainted through a Christian fellowship group in Madison, N.J. A mutual friend, who had been Jennifer Price's kindergarten teacher, set them up.

"I was in the eighth grade when Don arrived on our doorstep to meet her," Price said, laughing at the memory. "Basically, he never left."

Jean Peterson was the daughter of Virginia and Walter Hoadley, a San Francisco economist who was vice president of Bank of America. She spent two years at Duke University before transferring to the University of Rochester, where she earned a nursing degree.

She later earned a master's of education degree from Columbia University and taught nursing in New Jersey for several years before moving with her first husband to England for several years.

After returning to New Jersey and later divorcing, she raised her three daughters -- Jennifer, Grace and Catherine Price -- and became an emergency-medical technician with the Madison ambulance squad. Although she was also active at church and with community organizations, her daughter Jennifer said her mother's answer was always, "I'm a mom," when people asked about her career.

"Once we all grew up and moved out, she dedicated herself to helping others," Price said. "The number of people my mother talked to in one day was amazing."

Don Peterson, too, was a tireless volunteer, particularly after he retired from the electric company and moved with Jean in 1991 to Spring Lake, N.J.

Don, who grew up in South Orange, N.J., graduated with degrees in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Rutgers University and later studied at Harvard University. But he seldom mentioned his prestigious degrees or work history.

"They never talked about their lives. They talked about you because they cared to meet you, learn something about you and how to help you," said the Rev. Jim Loveland of Community Baptist Church in Neptune, N.J., where the couple had worshipped for about three years.

"So many people read the obituaries and said they'd had no idea that they had those degrees or that Don been a president of a big company."

In Spring Lake, Don was on the board and counseled troubled men at America's Keswick, a residential recovery center for drug addicts and alcoholics in Whiting, N.J. Jean volunteered at the Helping Hands Pregnancy Center in Shrewsbury, N.J., collecting and washing clothes for babies whose mothers were clients.

Outgoing and charming, the Petersons led Bible studies and traveled with church friends to help a mission in Saint Lucia. They quietly made interest-free loans to families that needed a financial boost.

"Don and Jean had a comfortable life," Loveland said. "But they didn't flaunt it. They used their wealth to help people, to build the kingdom of God."

While the Petersons didn't live lavishly, they loved dining out, with Don seizing every opportunity to go out for breakfast. Jean seldom missed her regular stroll with a group along Spring Lake's boardwalk. They traveled. Two weeks before her death, Jean Peterson went to Wellesley, Mass., to hold her first grandchild, Jennifer Price's now-9-week-old daughter, Charlotte.

On Sept. 11, they'd planned to take a later flight to a family reunion at Yosemite National Park, but at the airport seized a chance to switch to less-crowded Flight 93. Their memorial service drew nearly 1,000 people they'd worked with, helped or counseled and had to be moved to a larger sanctuary nearby.

"I wasn't on that plane, but I believe I know what happened. At the end, I'm sure they were praying and ministering with the others, encouraging them to be right with the Lord," Loveland said. "That's what their lives were about."

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