FAIR LAWN, NJ - Karen Ann Peterson, 58, a long-time volunteer at the NJ Veterans Home at Paramus  and community-minded resident of Fair Lawn, passed away on July 6.  

There was an outpouring of kind sentiment on Facebook for Karen who was well-known as a faithful parishioner of St. Anne R.C. Church in Fair Lawn, a member of the Rosary Society; member of the Accessibility Committee of the Borough of Fair Lawn and the Fair Lawn Sunrise Rotary, as well as volunteering with many organizations including the NJ Veterans Home at Paramus, The Opportunity Center and V.F.W. Post 281 Ladies Auxiliary.

The Fair Lawn Borough Council is considering naming the pergola at Memorial Pool in honor of Karen.

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Several community members offered kind remembrances of Karen, who spent much of her life in a wheelchair but did not let that stop her from helping others and attending local events every chance she got.

John Cosgrove, former Mayor of Fair Lawn: Karen was one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever met. She could have sat back in life and based on her disability, no one could have blamed her. But, instead she chose to go out and make a difference by helping others.

Marianne Pettineo, President of Sunrise Rotary via Facebook: On September 22, 2018, before she joined Rotary, our club presented Karen with the “Service Above Self‬” award for her exemplary service to the community, including through the Fair Lawn Opportunity Center; Fair Lawn ADA Committee; Paramus Veterans Home; St. Anne's Rosary Society; the Secular Franciscans; and St. Anne's choir, to name just a few. It was a well-deserved evening of recognition for Karen, and I am so happy we had this opportunity to publicly honor her and celebrate her many contributions to the life of the community.

Karen was well-known and well-loved throughout Fair Lawn and was a regular fixture at every town event — big or small. She selflessly set aside her personal obstacles in order to help others. She lived her life to the fullest — inspiring us all as a shining example of strength and determination. I hope she realized how many lives she touched and how many people will miss her. I hope, too, that we can all learn from her example and continue her acts of kindness.

Gail Rottenstrich, Deputy Mayor of Community Affairs in Fair Lawn: It is hard to picture any public event in Fair Lawn where Karen was not in attendance.  You could always count on her smile and kind words no matter what type of event we were holding. She was an amazing volunteer and an inspiration to everyone who knew her. On a personal note, despite her own challenges, Karen reached out to me personally many times to check on my health and to offer words of encouragement. Her empathy and prayers filled me with gratitude. I will miss her. I do miss her.  

Kurt Peluso, Mayor of Fair Lawn: Karen was at almost every event we had here in Fair Lawn, she knew how social we are as a community and the many great services we provide, she wanted to make sure she took full advantage of all of them. She didn’t just show up, she worked; Karen could always be seen volunteering wherever she could. To me the biggest contribution to our community was her advocacy, she worked tirelessly to make sure Fair Lawn was accessible to all.

Wayne Robbins, Fair Lawn resident, videographer & photographer: Karen was so concerned about how many photos I was taking of us together--people might start to think we were dating, which she thought would not be a semi cool idea!  She wanted the world to know she was still available!   

Pam Coles: Memorial Pool opened and Karen Peterson wasn’t there to welcome people. Memorial Pool was one of her favorite places in town. I will miss Her! Her heart was remarkable! The difference she made, always making sure the voices of the handicapped were heard!

I first remember meeting Karen in junior high school at Memorial Middle school. She was in a wheelchair and I had no idea what had happened to Karen. It was only recently, that Karen shared with our Class of ‘79 that she was one of the first Easter Seal poster children.

Over the years, since we graduated from the Fair Lawn High School, I saw Karen achieve the remarkable accomplishments in her life!

She loved participating in the Fair Lawn community, because that’s where she felt safe! She was a Eucharistic minister at St. Anne’s, who distributed communion at the VA home in Paramus. She was so proud and happy that she was able to visit the VA home on a regular basis.

Recently, the Fair Lawn class of 1979 came together on Zoom. We called it ‘Happy Hour’, because during these COVID-19 times, we were happy to be together! Karen showed up at these happy hours almost every week! Karen and I spoke at least once a week, and I would check up on her to make sure that she was ok.

The last time I spoke with Karen was on June 19, as I was headed down the shore. We talked about everything. We talked about the town, we talked about how happy she was when she was able to go to the VA home, we talked about church, and we talked about how happy she was to be included on Zoom with the class of ‘79.

Though her life was mostly spent in a wheelchair, she was a woman who was unstoppable, and she made her voice known, her spirit heard, and her love and passion unforgettable.

I will miss her dearly!