This month, the Grace Cathedral Congregation Council began preliminary plans for Congregation Sunday, the annual September lunch and festival that marks the beginning of the cathedral’s “program year.” It’s kind of like back-to-school day.
As we talked about menus, carnival games, bouncy house reservations and decorations for the Plaza where the event is always held, I kept thinking about ducks.
I joined the council four years ago. Because I like to give parties, and am reasonably good at it, I ended up on the council committee charged with organizing that year’s Congregation Sunday. That’s when I met Peg Van Loo. Though in a motorized wheelchair due to illness, Peg was an enthusiastic member of the committee and foursquare behind the notion of doing carnival games.
“Let’s do a duck pond in the Plaza Fountain!” she enthused. “We could get a bunch of rubber ducks, put little magnets on them. Then we could rig up little fishing rods for the kids. They could try to catch the ducks with the rods. If they snag a duck, they win a prize.”
Peg spent the next several months that year acquiring a varied and hilarious collection of rubber ducks: Rubber ducks with top hats, sailor hats, suits, tiaras—you name it.
That September, Peg parked her wheelchair next to the fountain and sported a ridiculous inflated rubber duck hat on her head. She handed out the rods and kids had a blast trying to snare the bobbing ducks for a prize. It was such a hit that we did it the next year, and the year after that. We all looked forward to the irrepressible Peg in her crazy duck hat.
Peg’s duck game was truly a thing of grace: It brought together a woman in her 70s with the youngest members of our cathedral community. I like to think that kids were less scared of people in motorized wheelchairs after encountering Peg and her duck game. Peg reminded the rest of us that we can all have fun and make a difference no matter what challenges life throws at us. She reminded us all to laugh.
Peg died unexpectedly earlier this year from complications due to her illness. I only knew Peg for a few years and, though I admired her and liked her immensely, I cannot say that I was one of her best friends. But she made a profound impact on me. It may sound over the top, but I feel comforted each time I come to the cathedral now knowing that Peg’s remains are in the Columbarium in the north tower. Her laughing, determined spirit abides with us.
Peg made kids a priority in her life: writing children’s books, making sure that each child baptized at the cathedral got a personal note from someone in the congregation, throwing baby showers for expectant parents, working with foster youth at Braid Mission, and of course, organizing the duck pond each year.
So I’m thinking about ducks. The Council is thinking about ducks. I think we’ll do the duck pond again at Congregation Sunday this year. I know we’ll never match Peg’s inflatable duck hat, but we’ll do the best we can. I think Peg would approve.