Monadnock Profiles: A lifetime of volunteering

  • Hope Pettegrew Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Hope Pettegrew volunteers her time at a variety of service providers in the region, including at the Serendipity Shop in Peterborough. Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 11/20/2019 11:13:12 AM

The plight of perfect strangers has always pulled on the heartstrings of Hope Pettegrew.

As a 20-year volunteer for the Monadnock Area Transitional Shelter, Pettegrew has seen her fair share of stories about people down on their luck. But there’s one that stands out from the rest.

There was this family who had been camping because they didn’t have permanent housing. But it was September and the weather was starting to get colder, and they were in need of a place to go.

Pettegrew offered to go pick them up and bring them to one of MATS’s two-bedroom apartments. The family was too big to all stay in the temporary housing, so the woman and her two young children stayed there, the husband lived with his parents and the older siblings stayed with friends. But every night they would gather for family dinners.

Pettegrew watched as the family got back on its feet, started a cleaning business and to this day has kept in touch.

“Something clicked with us, and over the years, this woman has been absolutely amazing. She’s been like a third daughter to me,” Pettegrew said.

It’s one of the many success stories that Pettegrew has witnessed first hand during her two decades with MATS, spending 12 years on the board of directors, including six as president.

Volunteering was something that was instilled in Pettegrew at a young age. Her parents were both heavily involved in volunteering and she remembers helping with the American Red Cross as a teenager.

“In my family, you gave back to your community,” Pettegrew said.

These days, despite being 80 years old and long retired, Pettegrew still has a busy schedule. In addition to writing the monthly MATS column that appears in this newspaper, she helps out at the Peterborough Players once during each summer production, something her and her husband Bob have done since moving to Hancock. She has four shifts at the Monadnock Community Hospital Window Shop each month and can be found at the Serendipity Shop once a month, the consignment store at All Saints’ Church in Peterborough. And she helps with the distribution of Hancock’s newsletter.

The issue of homelessness has been one that’s close to Pettegrew’s heart for a long time.

“It’s sad to think about, especially in this weather. Could you imagine having to live in a tent in the woods?” she said. “It’s just so sad, especially for families with children.”

With this being Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, it has special meaning for Pettegrew. She’s always got her eyes and ears open to issues about homelessness and anything that can bring more attention to it she is all for.

“It’s a good cause and a worthwhile cause,” Pettegrew said. “And there are still people who don’t know that we have a shelter for people who are homeless.”

Many people think that Pettegrew started MATS, but she actually joined the nonprofit eight years after it was created. She first learned about the organization from a friend who was writing its newsletter and decided to get involved, doing the same for many years. Her husband Bob has also served on the MATS board of directors.

“Obviously it’s a commitment I’ve enjoyed, but enjoyed is a funny word,” she said.

Pettegrew grew up in the Finger Lakes Region of New York and moved to Jamestown, New York as a young child. She went to Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts – back when it was an all female school – and met Bob her freshman year of college. Having grown up about 20 miles apart, Bob doing so in Warren, Pennsylvania, they were set up on a blind date and in September celebrated 59 years of marriage.

They have two daughters, Caroline and Annie, and five grandsons, ranging from 12 to 20 years old. Caroline lives in West Hartford, Connecticut with her husband and has two sons (20 and 18), while Annie is in Hoke, Maryland with her husband and three sons. While volunteering has brought so much joy to her life, nothing means more than family.

“Family time is important and that’s probably my biggest priority,” Pettegrew said.

As a young couple, the Pettegrews moved around a bit. They lived in New Jersey and California, where their two girls were born, and Cleveland. But they wanted to get back to New England. Both had been to Dublin in their youth and “thought that would be a nice place to live.”

“We decided our two little girls would be happier in New England,” Pettegrew said.

At the time, they were Yankee Magazine subscribers and with Bob looking for a career change to get away from a hectic travel schedule, he reached out to Yankee chairman Rob Trowbridge and soon had a job.  The move to New Hampshire came in 1971 with the family settling in Hancock six years later. Pettegrew was a music major at Wheaton, but minored in education and taught in Massachusetts, New Jersey and California. After taking some time off to raise their girls, Pettegrew got back into the classroom, teaching first grade at Jaffrey Grade School.

But needing a change, Pettegrew decided to pursue an idea she had in the back of her head for some time. She wanted to put together a magazine that made American history a fun learning experience for young people.

“It’s a shame kids don’t know more about the history of (America),” she said.

She got together with a couple others, researched and developed the possibility for a year and a half before the first issue of Cobblestone Magazine came out in January 1980.

“At that time, there were a lot of magazines being published in Peterborough, so there were a lot of writers, artists and graphic artists,” Pettegrew said.

It didn’t hurt that her husband was familiar with the publishing industry. She was only involved until the mid 1980s when she was forced out of the company she started. It was then that she spent six months as a long term substitute reading specialist for Temple and Dublin Elementary, to see if she wanted to get back into the classroom, but realized it just wasn’t for her anymore.

She has been the president of the alumni board at Wheaton and spent a decade on the board of trustees and is now considered a trustee emeritus. Both of her daughters also went to Wheaton.

Pettegrew is a reader and it doesn’t matter what it is along as its a good book. She enjoys gardening and knitting and won an honorable mention award for a flower show at the Sharon Arts Center, where designers were asked to create an arrangement using art as an inspiration.

One of her favorite experiences goes back to her time at summer camp in Vermont, where she was chosen to go on a canoe trip to Rangeley Lake in Maine.

“It was the first time I heard loons,” Pettegrew said. “It was just a fabulous trip. One of my best memories.”

Pettegrew has done and experienced a lot in her 80 years, but it’s safe to say that her time helping others has created more memories than she could have ever expected.

“I just like helping,” she said. “It gets me up in the morning.”

The quote at the bottom of her emails tells the complete story. It’s from from “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint Exupery – “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye”.

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

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