Loved by community, Toni Peller dies at 80
By Jack Kintner
Thelma “Toni” Peller, 80, a long-time fixture at the Blaine senior center who was known for her love of color, her piercing blue eyes and gregarious affection for people, died last Friday in Bellingham.
Up until last year Peller was a programmer employed by the Whatcom County Council on Aging and assigned to the Blaine center, where she previously had worked as an office assistant and a volunteer.
Peller’s mother died soon after she was born in December of 1927 in Burnaby, B.C. She lived with her grandfather and soon moved to Bremerton, Washington, where she grew up. Her first marriage was to a Canadian homesteader who moved her to the far north into a cabin with no running water or power. They eventually left by motorcycle on an extended trip that ended with her single and living in England.
There she met her second husband, Dick Terry, with whom she became a sailboat live-aboard. They sailed their boat from England through the Panama Canal to Thailand where they lived for a few years while both found work, Peller in a U.S. Naval base exchange.
But when he left her for a woman there, Peller returned via ship to Portland, Oregon. Though neither knew it at the time, she passed her future husband Gene’s Vietnam bound ship the day she landed. Later they met in a Portland bar and according to friends were rarely out of each other’s sight for the next 40 years.
Once in town Peller began volunteering, first at the Blaine Food Bank and then at the center.
“She loved color,” said current senior center coordinator Barbara Fischer, “and every so often would get everyone to wear the same one. That’s why at her celebration next week (March 13) we’ll all be wearing blue.”