A Mother’s Faith

The Carlson Family prior to a Sunday church service. From left: Phil, Stanley, Harold, Carl, Ruth, Gladys, Edith and Henry. Submitted photo

Every gift creates a story. This story was inspired by gifts to the Hillcrest Baptist Church Fund.

For Gladys (Carlson) Peterson, Hillcrest Baptist Church was not only her place of worship, but her second home. A second home she raised her family in, the same way her parents raised her and her siblings.

“I was brought up all 87 years of the church’s 130 years, from Cradle Roll until now,” Peterson wrote in 2014. “I’ve played the piano there for nearly 70 years!”

The daughter of Swedish immigrants, Peterson’s parents were instrumental in the formation of the former Chandler Street Baptist Church, known today as Hillcrest Baptist Church, which often served as a haven for other Swedish immigrant families.

“My mother grew up in a Christian household which taught her the importance of faith and family,” said Peterson’s son, Greg.

Two years after her brother’s death at the age of 16, Peterson was diagnosed with spinal meningitis. A life threatening illness without the antibiotics that exist today, her parents feared the worst for their 8-year old daughter.

An experimental drug was available in Buffalo, but no one, not even Peterson’s doctors, knew what to expect. With the support of her doctors and prayers from her family, congregation, friends and community members, Peterson recovered weeks later with no side effects.

“(It was in that moment) Mom realized the impact of faith and prayer as it related to her personal health,” Greg said. “She saw the results of the power of prayer firsthand.”

According to Peterson, it was this moment that made her faith in God, a turning point in her life.

“If people don’t believe in prayer, I am a living example,” Peterson wrote. “That is why my church and my God are so important to me.”

As she grew, surrounded by a community of parishioners who shared her faith, the sacred church walls also housed a lifetime of memories created by Peterson’s family and passed down through the generations.

On Sept. 4, 1949, Peterson married her high school sweetheart, Lyle, at Hillcrest. Together, they raised their three children, Greg, Randy and Becky, in the church, practicing the lessons of love, compassion and kindness on a daily basis. The same values Peterson’s parents instilled in her.

“While family was important to our mom she would readily admit that her faith in God was the most important aspect of her life,” her daughter, Becky Yanak, said. “We not only heard her words but witnessed her actions to know that her faith was real. It was the best gift she gave each of us, one that would live for eternity.”

Another way Peterson’s legacy would live for eternity was through a series of gifts made to the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation.

“My reasons for creating these (gifts) are because this church has meant so much to me and my family,” Peterson wrote. “The legacy my parents, Carl and Edith (Erickson) Carlson created has been carried out by (my family) and will continue long after I am gone.”

When Peterson passed away in October 2015, her gifts were placed in several endowment funds to benefit various programs and operations at Hillcrest.

“(Gladys) served for over 50 years as a pianist and accompanist, so it was no surprise that one of the funds she established was for our Sanctuary Choir,” said Pastor Mark Hinman of Hillcrest Baptist Church. “This year, resources she provided through the Community Foundation enabled us to purchase new music for a special Palm Sunday evening Candlelight Communion Service, led by our choir.”

Peterson also had a special spot in her heart for the children, and future children, of the church. Two of Peterson’s funds support Hillcrest’s Christian Preschool, as well as, its Youth Ministry program.

“It would make Mom happy that other little children will sit in chairs in our church, like she did, and give their hearts to the Lord, as she did,” Greg said.

For 40 years, the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation has worked together with its inspiring donors, selfless volunteers and grateful community organizations to share their stories for enriching the quality of life for all who live here.

A gift to the Foundation adds another chapter in our community’s unending story. Learn more at crcfonline.org.