Margaret Schowalter (Zeliff)



Penny Schowalter passed away in the arms of her loving family at Emerson Hospital in Bedford, Mass., on Oct. 6, 2013, of complications from cancer. She was a three-time survivor of cancer. She will be remembered for her strength, generosity, humor, and thirst for knowledge by everyone who had the pleasure of knowing her.

She was born in Hartford Conn., on Aug. 14, 1942. An energetic cheerleader at Hauppauge High School (Long Island, N.Y.), she discovered her medical vocation by working part time in doctors’ offices. She entered Pilgrim State Hospital School of Nursing (Brentwood, N.Y.) in 1960, graduating in 1963 and receiving her Registered Nursing (R.N.) license. After working at Pilgrim State Hospital and the Smithtown General Hospital, she enlisted as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force in 1965. During the Vietnam War period, she saw active-duty service as a nurse at Ching Chuan Kang Air Base on Taiwan, as well as Travis Air Force Base (Calif.), Scott Air Force Base (Ill.), and Tinker Air Force Base (Okla.). While in the USAF, she met her husband, Hank, and they married in 1972. She left the service in 1973 with the rank of captain, raising her family in Oklahoma City, Rhein Main (Frankfurt), Germany, and Dayton, Ohio, before finally settling in Bedford, Mass., in 1984.

Penny always had an intense curiosity and ongoing desire to learn, taking courses near-constantly in medicine/nursing and a wide variety of other subjects throughout her life. In addition to her nursing degree, she received formal degrees from the State University of New York, Albany (now Excelsior College) (bachelor of science in liberal studies/sociology, 1983) and St. Joseph’s College of Maine (master’s in health services management, 2001). Her master’s thesis, entitled “Lymphedema and Education,” was formally published in a national magazine and she presented the results of her master’s thesis, at various conferences and in print.

Beginning in 1986, she worked full-time as a nurse at the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital in Bedford, Mass. She focused on geriatric nursing (and was a Certified Gerontological Nurse) at the VA until she had a stroke in 2000. Even after her medical retirement, Penny remained an activist on the issues of Lymphedema education (through the Oncology Nursing Society, the Lymphedema Network of Greater Boston, and other groups), and elder care. She was very involved with Minuteman Senior Services and was appointed to the Bedford Council on Aging for several successive terms between 1999-2011. In addition, Penny kept up her certification as an R.N. through continuing education until her death. Her desire to give, and to help, was central to her professional and personal lives.

Penny was also an avid reader and crafter, filling her house with books, needlework, and quilts. She particularly enjoyed making quilts and needlepoint pillows for friends and family, individually tailored to their hobbies and interests, and developed an online community through her crafting interests. While she shared a passion for the Boston Bruins with the rest of her immediate family, she enjoyed the challenge of being a die-hard Yankees fan in Red Sox country.

She was predeceased by her mother Margaret (Peggy) Mezey (Donovan) of Carle Place, N.Y. Penny is survived and will be deeply missed by her husband of 41 years Henry (Hank) Schowalter, her daughter Kathleen Shawn Schowalter of New York City, and son David Scott Schowalter of Bedford. She will also be truly missed by her sister/husband Patricia/Jay Satenstein, and friend Mary Trotto, brothers Peter Oliva and John Riccio, her husband’s siblings with whom she was very close, Kenney Hecht and Linda Schowalter of Alameda, Calif., and Laurie Valerius (deceased) of West Bend, Laurie’s daughter Jamie and son Jason, and various other nieces, nephews, relatives and many widely-spread friends.

Private services will be held by the family. In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made in her memory to the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center at Emerson Hospital-Bethke, 131 ORNAC, John Cuming Bldg., Suite 200, Concord, MA 01742.