Catherine Ada Petterson died Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021, at Lake Michigan Senior Living, Ludington, where she had been a resident since March. As part of end-of-life planning, in 1992, she had filled out an obituary form, declaring her “length of terminal illness: short.” And as it turned out, she was a patient of Elara Caring Hospice only 2½ months, in need of their exceptionally compassionate care because she had been privileged to live 97 years, 5 months and 13 days.
Catherine Ada, the youngest child in a family of eight born to Patrick Joseph and Catherine (Kate McDonald) Murphy, was born April 14, 1924, at the family home in Riverton Township, Mason County. She was also the youngest grandchild on both sides and was doted on weekly by family and friends who came to Sunday dinner, so much so, she said, that come Monday morning, the baby, to her mother’s dismay, still wanted to be held, yet there were chores to be done.
She thrived on this kind of attention throughout her life. She was widely known and loved, and depending on the social or familial circle, she was called Catherine Ada, her preference, having been named after her mother’s closest friend; Katie, mainly by her grade-school chums; Catherine, by the many who came to meet her in adulthood; or Cathy, the latter most often by her late husband, Ivan R. Petterson, whom she met by chance in downtown Ludington. They arranged their first date for the following Saturday, on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1945; and that date culminated in marriage Dec. 1, 1945. They had been married 60 years when Ivan passed away Dec. 19, 2005.
Catherine Ada is survived by her and Ivan’s four children Joe Petterson (Reneé Ortlieb) of Lansing, Dan Petterson (Susan Bogart) of Ludington, Cheryl Petterson of Lansing and Karla (Mark) McLouth of Fountain; numerous nieces and nephews, their children and their children’s children survive their Aunt Catherine Ada and mourn her loss. She was the last of the previous generation and was affectionately called “Queen of the Clan.” Catherine Ada was predeceased by her parents and all seven siblings Loretta (Ray) Koets, Mildred (Tom) O’Brien, Donald (Grace Timinski) Murphy, James Leo (Mary Doarn) Murphy, Eunice (Ellis “Jeff”) Sibley, Eleanor (Harold “Jeff”) Gustafson and Angus (Frances Dorsch and Mary Jane Brunke Arnouts) Murphy — by her in-laws Franz and Ena Grace (McClain) Petterson and their children Glenn (Esther Metz) Petterson and Jacqueline (Wilbur) Birdsall; as well as by numerous pets, one particularly, her beloved lapdog Meesha, whose loss left her heartbroken at age 79.
Catherine attended grade school at Center Riverton and then graduated with the class of 1942 from Scottville High School, having progressed through the grades with two close girlfriends Margarette Talsma and Loretta Pankow with whom she maintained lifelong friendships.
Catherine actively participated in her children’s school functions. She was president of the PTA and of the Summit Child Study Club. She had the most fun working on a float commemorating NASA’s Project Echo that Cheryl rode on during the Scottville Harvest Festival parade in 1960. It was the first mechanical float ever entered and it won first prize. Catherine drove a 66passenger school bus for one school year. She took Karla’s class on a field trip to the Manistee Armory and, as a result, became the first woman ever to drive a tank on the local Army National Guard base. Catherine got her driver license at age 14 and kept on driving all types of vehicles, including the farm tractors and lastly a fire-red Sebring with a sunroof, right up until June of her 96th year.
Catherine was community oriented and civic minded. She participated throughout her adult life in charitable causes, including numerous charitable fundraising and as a respite hospice volunteer. She was a census taker, as was her mother before her and her daughter after. And as a proud Democrat, she was the clerk of Summit Township for 10 years, having such rapport with the other board members that one staunch Republican well known in county politics once proclaimed, “You’re the only Democrat I’ve ever voted for.” Catherine took the clerk’s responsibility for the cemetery to heart and the year the hired landscaper reneged, she and two other women friends manicured the grounds in time for Memorial Day.
As a fruit-farmer’s wife who toiled alongside pickers and transported hand-carriers of berries, lugs of cherries and crates of apples to stands, stores and processors, there was little time for outside employment. But when seasonal opportunities arose, Catherine worked at Stokely, the Ludington Fruit Exchange and Harold Thompson’s fruit weigh station. The most fun at a job she ever had, however, was working, at age 70, for her niece Phyllis, waiting tables and plating orders at Murphy’s Tavern. Catherine enjoyed recounting the time she had assembled a hamburger with the works for a customer; and after biting into it, he said, with literal meaning, “Where’s the beef?” because she’d heaped on the condiments but had forgotten the patty.
Catherine Ada started sewing at her mother’s side by pumping the treadle while Kate stitched. She went on to perfectly match the plaids of jackets she tailor-made for Joey and Danny from a discarded wool coat. This aptitude ultimately led her, early in 1978, to become co-proprietor of the World of Fabrics, a retail store she continued to co-own and operate on South James Street, in Ludington, until 1986, when she retired. She then took up piecing together quilts of all sorts and sizes, including several lap robes her nephew Tom took to the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, but she particularly enjoyed making the Teddy Bear quilts she gave to numerous family offspring, the last one sewn at age 95.
Catherine was an active member of St. Simon Catholic Church, attending regularly right up to the pandemic shutdown. She was a longtime member of the Altar Society and the Madonna Circle. For years, she helped by chairing booths and furnishing handcrafted items for the parish’s annual Applefest. She had also helped host, and then regularly attended, Church Women United luncheons; served cake for monthly birthday parties at Oakview; volunteered weekly for many years at St. Simon Bargain Center; made numerous pillowcase dresses for little girls in Haiti; and more recently enjoyed the social support of the Ladies Widows Group.
In hindsight, Catherine wished she had tallied the scores of baptismal bibs she had sewn over the course of several consecutive years, 50 in one year alone. But her most reverent and trepidatious sewing project was when she was recruited by Father Ken Schichtel to sew the funeral pall for covering caskets during services. The fabric was costly and specially ordered; and though she had followed the pattern to a T, measured and remeasured, she nonetheless hesitated to make that first cut. Later, she also sewed the cremains pall. Not only did Catherine help welcome new babies into the faith family; for years, she also helped families grieve their departed by organizing and working funeral luncheons, and when she became physically unable, instead contributed countless cakes and casseroles.
What was Catherine’s secret to a long and joyful life? Not diet and exercise, but her devotion to family and friends and theirs to her. Even when her mobility was severely compromised and being old-old was taking its toll, when asked recently about her mental wellbeing, she said, “Why would I be depressed? They’re all waiting on me!” And at long last, under the caring and watchful eye of LMSL staff, too many too special to name, she was able rest and gaze out her window at the ever-changing Lake Michigan, having come full circle back to reside—and die—on the same property she and Ivan had once owned.
Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11 a.m., Monday, Oct. 18, 2021, at St. Simon Catholic Church, in Ludington, with Father Wayne B. Wheeler presiding. Interment will be in the Summit Township Cemetery. Visitation will be held Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m., at Beacon Cremation & Funeral Service, Pere Marquette Chapel, Ludington, and Monday from 10 a.m. until time of Mass at the church.
Memorial contributions to the Lakeshore Food Resource Club, the Lakeshore Animal Friends, or to a charity of your choice, are suggested.
Beacon Cremation & Funeral Service is in charge of arrangements. www.beaconfh.com