Life Story / Obituary
Lina Mae Peterson, fondly known as “Mernie,” lived a life rich in love for Jesus, her family, and her church. A woman who embraced every person as a friend and every moment as a gift. She embodied the principles of her faith, gifting all who knew her with a living example of how to live a whole-hearted life. A devoted wife, mother, grandmother, and friend, Mernie will long be remembered and ever so missed.
1926 found the nation continuing to ride the roaring wave of peace, prosperity, and hope. It proved a decade of many firsts, including the birth of motels, Sears Roebuck stores, broadcasts from the Grand Ole Opry, Chrysler Corporations, the 40-hour workweek, and the nation’s first female governor. As the wave of sweeping social and economic growth rapidly increased, nowhere was there more hope for the future than in East Lansing, Michigan as Lina (Willett) and Ralph Tenny welcomed their daughter Lina into their hearts and home on November 2, 1926.
Mernie’s first home was in East Lansing. When she was two, the family moved to Okemos. Her father was a Director at the Michigan State College of Agriculture, and her mother was a former teacher and full-time homemaker. Mernie’s childhood was rich in family values and many fond memories were made with her first and forever friends, her siblings, Sibyl, Ruth, and Temple. Mernie looked up to her older brother, Temple, and was particularly close with Ruthie. As a child, she and her siblings enjoyed riding their Percheron horse to town for a soda at the local drug store and gathering for holidays with extended family. Ralph and Lina’s home was well known as “Party Central.” The family traveled to Mecosta to visit with relatives and frequently vacationed in the Upper Peninsula.
At the age of 14, Mernie developed a pure soprano voice and sang many solos at church and at weddings. She was even taped during a live radio performance, mid-verse, as she stood in for the woman in a husband-wife duet. She also played the sousaphone in the high school band. Mernie loved music and especially enjoyed listening to her favorite performers, the Melody Four Quartet, The White Sisters, George Beverly Shea, and the Tijuana Brass.
After graduating from Okemos High School, Mernie first pursued her education at Wheaton College in Illinois. After one week, she grew incredibly homesick and returned to Michigan. She transferred to Michigan State, where she studied for two years.
While attending a church function, Mernie was blessed to meet the love of her life, Stuart Peterson, who had grown up in Grand Rapids and was studying at MSU. As the event organizer, Stuart had asked Temple to play trumpet at the service, and Temple volunteered Mernie to sing. Instantly smitten, the pair began dating and were soon setting their hearts on sharing their lives. Seven months later, the happy couple married on September 17, 1949, at South Baptist Church in Lansing, Michigan.
The newlyweds honeymooned at Niagara Falls and first settled in the married housing barracks at MSU while Stuart finished school. Once Stuart graduated, they moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan. Stuart started his own insurance agency, now called AEA Group Benefits and Executive Systems Inc. of Grand Rapids, and Mernie worked at Grand Rapids Chair Company before starting a family.
In 1951, the couple was blessed to welcome their first child, Deborah. In time, they were gifted three more children, Philip, Mary Jane, and Thomas Mark. Sadly, the family suffered tremendous loss when Thomas Mark died at 14 months old. However, through this loss, Mernie and Stuart were steadfast examples, drawing the family closer to each other and to the Lord. Over the years, the family lived in several locations in Grand Rapids. The very heart of the Peterson home, Mernie dedicated herself to creating a loving and supportive sanctuary. Cheerful and witty, she liked baking Swedish coffee bread and Swedish rye bread. She loved how her son Phil’s friends seemed to sense when Mrs. Peterson was baking and happened to stop over just as the bread was coming out of the oven. The family treasured spending time at their cottage at Portage Lake in Onekama, Michigan, as well as traveling together to Florida and Colorado.
For a time, the Petersons lived in a home on West Leonard until the tornado of 1956 took that home, and they moved to Blythe Drive. They later made their home on Carpenter, and after the children were on their own, they moved to a condo in Bona Vista Dr. During their retirement years, the couple enjoyed traveling to Europe, South America, and the Bahamas. They wintered in Orange Beach, Alabama, where they became close friends with Minnesotans Vern and Betty Johnson and enjoyed going to church at Silver Hill Covenant Church. They eventually moved to Blue Bell Way in Grand Rapids, and in 2011, settled into an apartment in Covenant Village of the Great Lakes. The move proved positive as it afforded many friendships, a sense of community, and much support as Stuart’s health began to decline.
Mernie possessed an unwavering faith and was an active member of First Evangelical Covenant Church. She never hesitated to share her talents in service of her community and celebration of her faith. Whether playing pump organ for all school Christmas carol sings at Covell Elementary School, singing in the church choir for 76 years, playing tuba in the church orchestra, or lending her voice to the Ladies Trio, with friends Kay Tournell and Helen Tigchon, Mernie radiated in her love for Jesus. She was also involved in the “Mary and Martha” Ladies Circle and joyfully helped organize the 39ers Smorgasbord. In her quiet time, Mernie enjoyed reading her Bible and Jan Karon’s Mitford series.
Without a doubt, Mernie’s greatest joy was her family. As her family grew to welcome 11 grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren, so too did her joy. Mernie relished in every moment she shared with her loved ones, witnessing their growth and encouraging their every endeavor. It is in their hearts and lives that Mernie’s legacy of faith, love, and happiness will continue to shine and inspire others as she inspired all who were blessed to know her.