BRATTLEBORO—The Clark/Canal neighborhood has lost one of its great champions.
Peggy Longueil, president of the Clark/Canal Neighborhood Association and a tireless volunteer on behalf of its residents, died of brain cancer on April 30 in her Clark Street home. She was 69.
Longueil was best known for running the summer lunch program at the Agape Christian Fellowship on Canal Street for nearly 14 years.
The program provides free weekday meals for low-income children while school is out, but Longueil went beyond just serving lunches, frequently taking kids on field trips and providing music and activities at the lunch site.
She was also a foster grandparent and was involved the AIDS Project of Southern Vermont.
“She was big on helping people,” said Megan Smith, the girlfriend of Zane Bullins, Longueil’s grandson.
Longueil’s grandchildren organized a fundraising dinner for Longueil on Sunday at Millennium Pizza on Canal Street to help pay for her funeral expenses.
Smith, of Brattleboro, said Longueil found out she had brain cancer about four months ago and underwent chemotherapy and surgery to treat a pair of tumors. But even during her illness, she was still taking care of the people in her neighborhood.
“Two days before she died, she was ordering stuff for this summer’s lunch program,” Smith said. “She took care of everybody, even if she had to spend what little she had to get what they needed.”
“She was everybody’s grandmom,” said Bullins. “She was the Den Mother for all the kids on Clark Street.”
Pastor Michael Gantt of Agape Christian Fellowship said Longueil was known by everyone as “Miss Peggy,” and that she was “a modern-day Pied Piper for the Clark/Canal neighborhood, as she drew children to herself like bees to honey.”
Gantt said she and her late husband, Sheldon ”Lefty” Longueil, “were champions for the children of the neighborhood, and when Lefty died several years ago, Miss Peggy just worked harder.”
Her neighborhood and her church
Agape was the birthplace of the Clark/Canal Neighborhood Association, an organization that came about in the wake of a neighborhood tragedy.
“A young man was murdered in the neighborhood, and the community needed a place to meet where it would be safe to vent their fears and frustrations,” Gantt said.
“We offered the use of the church for a community meeting. It was out of this meeting that the Clark/Canal Neighborhood Association was formed.
“Peggy and her husband, along with many other community leaders, formed the association as a means of working together to make the neighborhood a better, safer place to raise their families.”
Many things were quickly set into motion by the association, Gantt said.
“Out of that initial meeting, a neighborhood watch was formed, and the Clark/Canal Summer Program was formed. During the ensuing years, a partnership was formed with the Agape Church and the Clark/Canal Association, with the summer program which operated under Peggy’s direction and many of the association meetings being held at the church.”
Longueil also played a big role in the church, Gantt said.
“She worked with the church girls’ program, Keepers of the Home, which helped in teaching many of the neighborhood girls not only spiritual lessons, but practical skills as well,” he said.
Gantt describing Longueil as “a surrogate mom and granny to many, many members of the community” whose front door was “always open to those who needed some time out, or a safe place to go.”
A bond forged of loss
Shirley Squires of Guilford said that she and Longueil had a bond forged out of loss, as both women saw their children die of AIDS.
Longueil lost her daughter Michelle in 1995 to the disease. She was 28. Squires’ son, state Rep. Ron Squires, died in 1993 at the age of 42.
“We’re connected as only mothers who’ve lost their children can be connected,” said Squires, who said she worked on many projects — including the annual Walk For Life — with Longueil, who served on the AIDS Project’s board of directors.
This year, the walk coincides with Longueil’s memorial service.
“I’m going to miss Peggy’s service, and we’re going to miss Peggy on this year’s walk,” said Squires.