Genevieve “Jeanne” Peredna, a loving family matriarch and modern woman ahead of her time, died October 10. She was 106.
Her life spanned the eras from horse-drawn wagons to self-driving cars, and the presidencies of Woodrow Wilson and Joe Biden. She was born when women had not yet won the right to vote in America; at the midpoint of her life she saw men walk on the moon; and at her death she had survived almost everyone of her generation and many in the next.
Her life was extraordinary for its longevity — the most recent Census counted just 77,042 people aged 100 or older, representing 0.02% of the total U.S. population. But among the three surviving generations of her family, she will be remembered as a caring and devoted mother, aunt, grandmother, and great-grandmother who always put family first.
Genevieve Peters was born at home in the Burnside neighborhood of Chicago on December 6, 1915. She was the second child of immigrants Frank and Anna (Adaschkewitz) Pietuch. Both had been born in what is modern day Lithuania and immigrated to the U.S. in the first decade of the 1900s.
Shortly after her father’s arrival in America, he got a job working on the Holland Tunnel in New York City, and it’s about then that someone suggested he’d have an easier time if he Americanized his name. From then on the family surname would be Peters.
When Jeanne was born, her father was working as a “car knocker,” or repairman, for the New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad — commonly referred to as the Nickel Plate Road.
Among Jeanne’s earliest memories was of the Spanish Flu pandemic. In recent years, she recalled her father being sick in bed, and a doctor lining up the rest of the family — older brother John, younger sister Mary, mother Anna — and vaccinating everyone against the flu.
Around 1922, her family moved to what was then the sparsely populated hamlet of Calumet Park. They lived on May Street, though it was hardly a street — there were a few paths, and she recalled horse-drawn wagons being used alongside early automobiles. She had a goose she considered her pet, and a dog and a cat that got along famously. Her family also raised chickens and, for a time, a cow — which once took off at a canter, dragging 12-year-old Jeanne back home from the prairie.
Jeanne attended Calumet School through seventh grade, when she transferred to the school attached to SS. Peter & Paul Catholic Church. That was a challenging experience — much of the instruction was in Lithuanian, a language she did not hear much at home (“We’re in this country, we have to learn English,” her mom would say).
She continued her education at Blue Island High School, but her mother — on the advice of a friend — had her enroll at St. Louis Academy in Roseland, a two-year commercial course where she learned skills such as typing and shorthand. Because this was the time of the Great Depression, Jeanne also worked cleaning the school to help defray tuition costs.
Later in life, she would say “I didn’t finish high school,” but by June 1931 she had a diploma from a two-year commercial course. At age 15, however, she was too young to get a secretarial job, so she did a variety of other work, including as a live-in maid and nanny for a wealthy family on the north side of Chicago, making powder-puffs at one factory, and making Venetian blinds at another. The 1940 Census listed her occupation as “cosmetic consultant,” and she also worked as an elevator operator at Marshall Fields on State Street.
Marriage and War
It was at SS. Peter & Paul school that she met her future husband, John Peredna. They were married in that church on September 17, 1938, and started their life together living upstairs from his parents in a two-bedroom flat on Green Street in Chicago. He worked at what would later become International Harvester’s West Pullman Works, where he remained for his entire career.
Their first daughter, Judi, was born in January 1943. By then America had already been engaged in the Second World War for more than a year, but because John was older, he was not drafted until spring 1944. This marked the beginning of more than two years in which Jeanne raised Judi on her own while he was overseas serving with the Army.
Most of his Army salary went to her, but it wasn’t enough on which to survive. So Jeanne went to work at Gately’s Peoples Store, a department store in the Roseland neighborhood; Judi would spend a lot of this time with her grandparents Anna and Frank in the house on May Street. Jeanne also volunteered for Travelers Aid, helping refugees and immigrants from Europe as they arrived in Chicago.
In late 1944, Jeanne got the terrible news that John had been wounded in combat — he had been hit by Nazi shrapnel somewhere near Aachen, in western Germany. He recovered and served in the Army of Occupation through the middle of 1946, when he returned home to his wife and daughter.
Their second daughter, Barbara, was born in March 1947.
Jeanne returned to work relatively early in her daughters’ lives, giving her family opportunities they wouldn’t have been able to afford without the extra income. In the early 1950s she got a job at JCPenney when it first opened in Roseland. A few years later she became a bookkeeper and the payroll clerk for Advertising Distributors of America.
The family had moved to Calumet Park in 1950, choosing to live between two houses with attached businesses — a small grocery storefront to the north, and a beauty shop to the south. This was because Jeanne had considered opening a ready-to-wear clothing boutique catering to women and children. It never happened because she became devoted to the care of her aging parents and her brother, who never married. Her dad died in 1958 at 73 years old, her mom died in 1980 at 93 years old, and her brother died in 1995 at 83 years old.
During much of this time, Jeanne believed one of her primary roles was as a companion and champion of her husband, John. In addition to being a foreman at the International Harvester factory, he sang on a regular Lithuanian radio program and at a variety of other events, and both were active in social organizations, many through their church.
Jeanne and John both placed a high value on education for their daughters and were always proud of their academic and professional achievements.
And regardless of what was happening in the world around her, Jeanne always prided herself on living up to her own high standards of what it meant to be a lady. She would not go out unless her hair was fixed and she was well-dressed, and she worked to impress those ideals on her daughters (“Don’t walk like a duck,” Barb remembers her saying).
Coming from modest roots and growing up during the Great Depression, Jeanne worked to make sure her family enjoyed finer touches in life. She loved to entertain, and would set a lavish table with fancy glassware, fresh flowers, and an abundance of food. “We lived a lot differently than we should have, given our state in life,” Judi recalled, noting an opulent “golden” birthday party when she turned six.
Jeanne loved crafting — sewing elaborate Halloween costumes for her girls and making intricate Christmas ornaments, often of her own design. At Christmastime, her house was decorated to such an extent that it rivaled the window displays of State Street department stores. And in later years she and John tended a fine garden, including an array of large dahlias.
The Perednas’ simple family vacations gave way to more ambitious travel after the girls left home. There were cruises to Alaska, Hawaii, and the Panama Canal; Oktoberfest in Europe; and a journey by rail from Chicago to Seattle, where Judi and her family had settled.
As Jeanne became the matriarch in the family, she enjoyed spending time with not only her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, but also her nieces and nephews.
In 2012, after a bad fall, Jeanne and John finally agreed to leave their home of more than half a century, moving to a senior apartment at Waterford Estates in Hazel Crest. The couple celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary in 2013. John died the next year, at the age of 97.
Jeanne is survived by her daughters Judi (Julius) Budos and Barb Mackey; grandchildren Lisa (Mike) Smith, Mark (Cathy) Budos, and Brian (Nichole) Mackey; and great-grandchildren Derrick, Dane and Jamie Smith; Brett and Blake Budos; and Thomas and John Mackey.
There will be a Mass of Remembrance at 11 a.m. Friday, October 21, 2022 at St. Boniface Catholic Church in Monee. She will be buried at St. Casimir’s Cemetery in Chicago.
In lieu of flowers, donations in Genevieve’s memory may be made to Harmony Cares Hospice (formerly Grace Hospice), 2 Trans Am Plaza Dr, Suite 260, Oak Brook Terrace, IL 60181. (630) 812-0251.