A Life: Margaret ‘Peggy’ Poffenberger, 1922-2014; ‘Sought Peace, Worked For Peace’
Peggy Poffenberger is described by friends and loved ones as a woman who loved the outdoors -- particularly gardening, hiking and cross-country skiing. (Family photograph)
Peggy Poffenberger with her husband, John Poffenberger. John, a physician, served in Korea from 1946 to 1948. They were married in 1945 and settled in Norwich, Conn., in 1951. (Family photograph)
Brookfield, Vt. — “Some things — soul-searching things — cannot be planned,” Margaret “Peggy” Poffenberger once wrote in a poem.
“Living and dying, the daily and the extraordinary; To fly, purposefully, God-like, honking with wild geese, across the moon, or; to sink wearily, worm-like in Mother Earth, to be eaten by a robin?”
Those who knew and loved Poffenberger would likely agree that she lived her life like the wild geese flying across the moon.
“She sought peace, worked for peace, and felt peace,” said Brookfield resident Carol Rogers, who describes herself as Poffenberger’s best friend. “And she was able to do all this because of her inner strength.”
Poffenberger, who had long been active in the Randolph area, died on May 23 in her home at Harvest Hill in Lebanon from complications associated with dementia. She was 92.
She was born in Hartford, Conn., the second of five children. She grew up on her grandparents’ farm in New Canaan, and graduated from Smith College. Poffenberger went on to study social work at Columbia, where she met her husband, John.
“I think it was a good marriage,” Nancy Mogielnicki, one of their two daughters, said. “They were different in personality but had a lot of similar interests. They complemented each other.”
Rogers remembers them as a wonderful couple. John Poffenberger died in 2011.
“She was a very devoted wife,” she said. “He adored her too. It was a beautiful thing to see them.”
After John Poffenberger returned from serving in the Army Medical Corps in Korea, the couple settled in Norwich, Conn. Poffenberger was a social worker for the state of Connecticut, working in foster care and adoptions. The Poffenbergers had three children — Nancy, Sue and John.
According to Mogielnicki, a Plainfield resident, her mother was a good parent.
“I’d describe my mom as giving the kids roots to grow and wings to fly,” Mogielnicki said. “She was very encouraging about having us go out and do things in the world.”
The Poffenbergers bought a vacation home in Brookfield, Vt., and retired there in 1975, when they were in their early fifties. That was when Poffenberger really blossomed, becoming active in social justice organizations and joining the Randolph Garden Club and the Randolph Singers.
Poffenberger was a member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and was a Witness for Peace. She was also a strong advocate for women’s rights, serving on the board of Planned Parenthood.
“She was a board member of one of our earliest Planned Parenthood boards, really a trailblazer,” said Jill Krowinski, vice president of education at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.
“I think Peggy believed she could do anything,” Rogers said. “She saw she could express herself and her values through her actions. It was unusual to see a woman from Peggy’s era doing so much activism. She didn’t have to sit home and knit. I don’t think Peggy even knew how to knit.”
Poffenberger was also an active environmentalist. She volunteered for the Environmental Learning for the Future program at Brookfield Elementary School. In the spring, the children at the school would often come to her garden for a field trip.
“She would plan a treasure hunt around the pond that they had on their property,” Rogers said. “And she would encourage the kids to roll down the hill next to the pond, much to the chagrin of the first grade teacher.”
The Rev. Kathy Eddy, retired pastor at Bethany United Church of Christ in Randolph and longtime friend of Poffenberger, also remembers Poffenberger’s love of the outdoors.
“Her slogan was ‘No child left inside,’ ” Eddy said.
Poffenberger loved hiking, swimming and cross-country skiing. She was also an avid gardener and flower arranger. Eddy says that Poffenberger taught her a lot about gardening when Eddy was just starting her own garden.
“She got me started in perennial flower gardening,” Eddy said. “One thing I remember is that she gave me a plant in the mallow family, and said that every garden needs something in it that you can’t control, that reminds you that life is chaotic.”
Rogers and Poffenberger worked together every year to put on the flower show for the Randolph Garden Club.
“I’m a mathematician, and I like to have structure in my flower arrangements,” Rogers said. “Peggy was much more creative than I was. She included grasses and lots of other unusual things in her arrangements. She taught me that anything goes when it comes to gardening.”
Poffenberger was also a consummate hostess. She loved hosting friends for tea and throwing dinner parties. Janet Watton, a friend of Poffenberger’s from the Chandler Center for the Arts, recounted a tradition created by Poffenberger that endures to this day.
“For the Vermont Chamber Music festival, we decided to have a gala round robin dinner that would start with cocktails at one person’s house, dinner at another person’s house, and dessert and the concert at my house,” Watton said. “There were always 13 desserts served, and one of them was always Peggy’s chocolate mint brownies.”
Rogers remembers Poffenberger’s tea parties fondly.
“Peggy would have six to 10 ladies over for afternoon tea,” Rogers said. “She made cucumber sandwiches and peppermint brownies, and she would always have a bowl of fruit, hot tea and lemon.”
To spice things up a bit, Poffenberger would also pass around a creamer full of rum for the tea.
Poffenberger was a deeply spiritual woman, but did not subscribe to a single church or tradition.
“Her spiritual life is fascinating,” Mogielnicki said. “She took a little bit here, a little bit there. She was involved in lots of different churches, but didn’t adhere to any one philosophy. She went to Bethany Church in Randolph and she went to Quaker Meetings. She liked to go on retreats with Catholic nuns — there’s a retreat down in Mexico somewhere that she went on. And she did a lot of meditation.”
In her later years, Poffenberger moved from Brookfield to Lebanon, where her daughter could take care of her as she aged. She moved into Harvest Hill a few months after her sister, Ellen Weiss, moved in as well. Weiss was the family genealogist and the glue that kept the family together, according to Mogielnicki.
“I have several books of family lore that she produced,” Mogielnicki said. “She was always the one telling us to write things down. And she kept in touch with everyone.”
Fran Nye, Poffenberger’s younger sister, was a longtime resident of Norwich and was also active in peace and social justice.
“They were closer than most sisters, even though they all led such independent lives,” Rogers said. “They all died within six months of each other, which is truly amazing.”
Mogielnicki remembers her mother as a positive force for good.
“The recurring thought that I’ve had for many years is that if we all had a little bit of her approach to life, the world would be such a better place,” Mogielnicki said. “She really was a peacemaker, and loved to connect people to each other.”
Lauren Bender can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3211.