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East Bay Beach | Jane Boursaw Photo
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My grandmother always said that loss comes in threes. I thought it was an odd statement – she was a very intelligent and educated woman who grew up in an enlightened Germany before the atrocities to come. Yet, when I think about the last few months, I cannot help but believe that there is something to it.

First there was Rich VanderMey, Fire Chief Extraordinaire, who allowed the Peninsula Fire Department crew to attend any and all Peninsula Community Library (PCL) programs, as long as they brought along all the emergency vehicles and equipment in case there was a call.

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Rich once got my mother down our very steep driveway in a snowstorm when she needed transport to Munson Hospital. He and his crew were so kind and gentle that today, back in her home downstate, she claims that the best emergency teams are right here on the Old Mission Peninsula. Rich passed away on Dec. 26, 2019; read more about his legacy and memorial service here.

Retired Fire Chief Rich VanderMey of the Peninsula Fire Department | VanderMey Photo
Retired Fire Chief Rich VanderMey of the Peninsula Fire Department | VanderMey Photo

Then there is Christy Kuhnke, who passed away on Jan. 20, 2020. Christy was recent to my circle of friends. I first met her during the building project of the new Peninsula Community Library. She came out of nowhere to offer discounts on PCL food events via Tom’s Food Markets, her family’s business where she served as president.

Her family and Tom’s also dedicated $160,000 toward our children’s and teens area. She quickly made me feel like I was her friend. I am guessing that Christy, who lived on the Old Mission Peninsula with her husband Larry, made friends easily with anyone who came her way. She was a loving, kind and giving person.

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Donor Christy Kuhnke, Tom’s Food Markets; Peninsula Community Library Groundbreaking, Oct. 14, 2018 | Jane Boursaw Photo

When Christy came to tell me that Tom’s would be gifting toward the children’s and teen areas, she suddenly zoned in on a little play market that kids absolutely loved. Evidently, she did, as well. She immediately offered to have an awning made for the market. A few months later, she showed up with not only an awning in Tom’s Food Markets’ signature green (we added the name Tom’s later on our own), but also with a beautiful child-sized shopping cart filled to the brim with play food. It is probably the most beloved play item at PCL today.

Peninsula Community Library hosts reception for major donors on the Old Mission Peninsula
Tom’s Food Markets play structure in the Children’s Area of the new Peninsula Community Library | Jane Boursaw Photo

Last but not least, there is Mary Johnson. Mary was one of the first people I met when we moved here in 1989. Mary loved the library. She was on the library board that purchased the land where our beautiful new building sits. I grew up in libraries with my mom, who worked for the Detroit Public Library with the rare skill – especially for a woman of her era – of knowing how to expertly repair books of antiquity. Mary and I hit it off from the start. Mary told me more than once that she wanted to live to see a free-standing PCL on the land she helped purchase.

Just a week after I met her, she was looking for white gloves to highlight an outfit for an Opera House fundraiser – The Lilac Ball. I had a well-used, stained pair in our dress-up bin. Mary took them. Two days later, she showed up at my door with a HUGE pot of flowers. She, the southern belle, had won best dressed. It was the gloves, she said. No, I told her. It was not the gloves. She repeated, it was the gloves. No arguing with Mary. I accepted the flowers.

Later, she brought me a small pot of chives to plant in my garden. They now turn up everywhere in our yard – garden, lawn, ditches, berm. My children call them Mary’s chives, and they have graced many a Shurly meal. Mary passed away on Jan. 23, 2020; read more about her life and legacy here.

If death comes in threes, as my grandmother believed, I am content to know that all three of these people have made a difference in my life and in the community I love. Rich, Christy, Mary – if you are smiling down on what you have wrought, please know that I am eternally grateful. You have made a difference. Love you all. Safe journey to happy shores!

Mary Johnson at the organ at Ogdensburg United Methodist Church, circa 1970s | Marge Long Family Archives
Mary Johnson at the organ at Ogdensburg United Methodist Church, circa 1970s | Marge Long Family Archives

A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers and magazines like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So I started my own newspaper.

Because Old Mission Gazette is a "Reader Supported Newspaper" -- meaning it exists because of your financial support -- I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks our way if I mention your event, your business, your organization or your news item, or if you simply love reading about what's happening on the OMP. In a time when local news is becoming a thing of the past, supporting an independent community newspaper is more important now than ever.

To keep the Gazette going, click here to make a donation. Thank you so much for your support. -jb

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