Obituary of Sally Ann Peter
Heaven gained a wild one on Friday, July 7, 2023, when Sally Ann Peter, age 84, departed this Earth to embark on her next adventure. Most recently living at The Pines of Catskill nursing home, Sally enjoyed “chilling out,” watching the Yankees on TV, and listening to her nephew Eric play guitar and sing for the residents, who seemed to like the music too (well, except one heckler, but there’s one in every crowd). She was quick witted, good humored, and frequently shared upbeat words of wisdom, such as, “don’t worry, things always look darkest right before they turn totally black.”
Sally’s story began on August 5, 1938, when she was born the first child of Walter and Agnes (Bischoff) Peter. She was raised on the family farm, Peter’s Dairy, in Castleton, NY, together with her younger brother Ken and alongside her Uncle Albert’s family. Sally was a frequent sidekick as her hard working, hard drinking, hard fighting father, Walt, made milk deliveries throughout the town. She was a trendsetter with a penchant for stylish cars. In addition to cruising in the milk truck and on her Vespa, and even before having a license, she would joyride through the farm fields in her first car, a black 1938 Plymouth coupe equipped with a rumble seat, purchased for $50. Later, when she was old enough, Sally would pick up her friends Fran, Marlene, and Shirley, among others, who would eagerly hop into her convertible MG, and off they went. Shenanigans ensued that may or may not have included temporarily “borrowing” a town police car or fire truck a time or two. It is also possible that the ladies knew something about how, one night, the oversized, silver-colored nut and bolt prominently displayed on the Anti Corrosive company’s billboard on Rt. 9J was painted a corroded rust color. In addition to raising hell with her friends, Sally enjoyed the company of her pet monkey, Bossa Nova.
Sally was a graduate of the Maple Hill High School class of 1956. Following graduation, she became a secretary for the Huyck Felt Company in Rensselaer and later was a “Gal Friday” for L.B. Smith in Albany (no kidding on the job title). She also enjoyed a stint as the first female mail carrier in Castleton. A local newspaper article at the time dubbed her a “Femailwoman,” noting that being a woman did not prevent her from the doing the job! (Imagine that!)
At the same time, Sally Ann had a burgeoning career as a jazz drummer, playing with her friend Dottie Dee in a duo known as the “Stardusters” and in “Sally Peter’s Trio” which featured either “Sally, Marge, and Bill” or “Sally, Marge, and Dottie,” sometimes accompanied by a couple of nuns on accordian and guitar. Sally was known to kick off her shoes and play the drums in bare feet, to the delight of the crowd. Adorned in homemade evening gowns sewn by Dottie, the ladies performed in clubs throughout the Catskills, Albany, and the Lake George area, near where Sally’s parents owned a group of cottages. It was a fun and crazy time, and many memories were made. Also, a lot of alcohol was consumed. Over time, that became a big problem, which Sally realized in the early ‘70s while sitting on a bar stool, drinking a breakfast of Schaefer beer chased by shots of rot gut whiskey. Her life was a mess, and she knew something had to change.
Admitting that she was an alcoholic, and with the benefit of treatment and a lot of hard work, Sally spent the last 52 years of her life sober, one day at a time. Helping other women battle addiction and find sobriety became her life’s purpose. There were few programs directed to women alcoholics in those days, and none for gay women like herself (another self-realization that she came to at the time). Sally wanted to do something about that. On December 10, 1975, the day they opened their doors, Sally became a staff member at The Next Step (TNS) in Albany, a halfway house for women (now a residential treatment facility). She also offered alcohol counseling at the Gay Community Center in Albany and the local YMCA. No doubt, she was ahead of her time, a true trailblazer. Sally became a Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor and a National Certified Addiction Counselor, Level II. During her 32 years working at TNS, she was a counselor and program coordinator. Later she became the director of TNS’ Alumnae Association where women in recovery could keep in touch and support each other. In the final years of her career, she brought her experience to Twin County Recovery Services in Hudson, NY.
Sally spent considerable time living in Greene County. She enjoyed many summers at the Whip-O-Will campground in Purling, NY where she was known for her pranks, such as the time she surreptitiously tied a can of tuna fish to a friend’s fishing pole so the friend, a city girl from downstate, would have the experience of catching something while fishing lakeside. She loved her almost daily visits to Mike’s Diner in the Catskills and valued her friendships with the staff and other regular customers. Sally’s last home before entering The Pines, was in a rented trailer in South Cairo, NY and it was her dream to return there, but it was not possible due to her declining health.
Although Sally was good-natured and mostly easy to get along with, she would be the first to admit that she had a stubborn streak a mile long and knew how to dig in her heels, (she is a Peter, after all). These traits were part of who she was, and they gave her the resolve to help and mentor so many people over the years; far too many to count.
Sally was predeceased by her parents Walter and Agnes Peter and her brother and sister-in-law, Ken and Fran Peter. She is survived by many friends who loved her dearly, as well as her half-brother Jeff (Melissa), half-sister Carry (Carlos), nephew Ron (Joanne), niece Kim, nephew Eric (Annette), and all of their families, and numerous cousins, some of whom also grew up on Peter’s Dairy. Sally had a particularly close bond with her great-niece and doppelgänger, Marléna, with whom she shared many stories that may someday appear in a fabulous memoir.
A heartfelt thank you to everyone who cared for Sally at the end. We apologize to the hospice nurse at Columbia Memorial for the time when Sally mischievously played dead while you were trying to have a conversation with her. She couldn’t resist. A special thanks to her dear friend Susan. Your cards, packages, and daily phone calls meant the world to her. Much love and prayers always.
“The thing of it is,” as Sally would say, “from the time you are born, till you ride in a hearse, things aren’t so bad that they can’t get worse!” Nevertheless, the “bottom line” is, if you are struggling, take it one day at a time. There is hope. We love and miss you, Sally. May you be chilling out and watching a Yankees game in your trailer in the sky. If any of you out there have a special memory of Sally, we would love to hear it.
Friends and family are welcome to visit on August 11, 2023 from 9:00 to 11:00 AM at the Castleton Funeral Home, 59 Seaman Ave., Castleton. A celebration of life service will be held at 11:00 AM at the funeral home with interment of ashes immediately following at Horizon View Cemetery in Castleton. Donations in Sally’s honor are welcome to The Next Step, Twin County Recovery Services, or the Pride Center of the Capital Region.To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Sally Peter, please visit Tribute Store