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Park Hill Character: Tribute To Peter

Veteran Children’s Center Teacher Lives On In Memory

By Lynn Kalinauskas

Education Chair, GPHC

Peter McInerney, the badass of Jones Pass. The children loved him on earth,
and then he was called because he was needed in heaven.

  – Cheryl Lange McLaughlin

Peter driving the bus, at a past Park Hill 4th of July Parade. Photo by Dan McKenna

Peter McInerney, a 37-year veteran teacher at the Children’s Center at Park Hill United Methodist Church, was reported missing on Feb. 20 when he did not report for work. His car was found near Jones Pass near Idaho Springs, where he loved to cross-country ski. His body was found on March 1. His obituary noted he had experienced a cardiac event.

Classic shot of Peter on the tricycle with students. Photo by Ashley Berger Niederhauser

From the moment I heard of Peter’s disappearance, I knew he would not be back. The circumstances were ominous. His beloved Colorado mountains had claimed him. Yet a very small part of me hoped. I wanted to drive down Montview Boulevard and see him in the front yard of the church running with little children, one more time. I wanted to jump up, wave and shout his name as he drove the painted bus down 23rd Avenue for the 4th of July parade. I wanted to have one chance to run up to him and tell him he had been the best teacher, the best magician, the best storyteller, the best animal lover, just THE BEST. I wanted the world to be right again.

Memorial of mismatched socks, hung in honor of Peter along the fence outside the United Methodist Church Children’s Center. Photo by Lynn Kalinauskas

Peter was and still is a hero in this neighborhood. He had a magical ability to transform the mundane into excitement and beauty, the supernatural into the real. He was a knight, a princess, a frog, a tiger, a racecar driver and a unicorn. Most of all, he was an inspiration to generations of children and their families throughout Park Hill.

There has been an outpouring of love for Peter since his disappearance: moments remembered and mismatched socks worn in hope and in memory of the man. An estimated 500 people gathered to celebrate his life on March 24 during a memorial at the church.

Peter took Children’s Center families on yearly camping trips. Photo by Emily Little Fritz

The following testimonies are but a fraction of the love that has been shared. An eternal snow angel, Peter, may you rest in peace. You brought joy to your classroom, to children and adults every day. You will not be forgotten and as long as we can tell Peter stories, you are alive in our hearts.

Michelle Scott:  Our family was recently reminiscing around the dinner table and my youngest asked me to tell her, again, about how Peter came to see her when she was sick.

She had the flu and had been out for over a week. I had just tucked her in on the sofa for a nap when a commotion had me glance out the window. There was Peter, and Miss Iris, leading the whole class up 17th! As soon as I got the door open Peter shouted from the street, “Can Princess Katie come out to play, please?” They had brought a card they had all made that morning. Peter said some of the kids were worried since she had been out for so long that he decided they should come see for themselves if she could come out to play. Lots of worried eyes looked up at me. I explained she was still really tired from being so sick, but she would be back as soon as she could. That was all it took and all the little ones were ready for their next adventure. (Which was walking around the corner to see a classmate’s house because she was pretty sure she lived around the corner.)

I was struck that day how a simple walk a couple of blocks up the street calmed the fears of Katie’s friends and made her feel so loved by her teachers and class. I wouldn’t have thought to take that walk.

Kaly Warner: Peter was my teacher at the Children’s Center around 1990. It’s crazy to think that I only knew him for a few years and that I was so young, because he had such a significant influence on my memories. Every time it was naptime, he would place a pea under someone’s mat and we would wake up to see who the princess was. He would ask the princess if her back was sore. We made green eggs and ham. We had a circus and each performed our own act on the playground. He told us we should eat our crust because it would help us whistle and we all wanted to whistle like him, so we did.

He made such a positive impression on me as a child – it breaks my heart that he is gone. I’m also touched to see he had this same effect on countless others…for longer than I have been alive! I’m a special education teacher now. I remember him teaching me about how to respect different abilities. We even had a disability awareness week where we took turns using a wheelchair, blindfold, crutches, etc. so we could experience the different types of mobility.

I can’t believe how long he was at Children’s Center. What a spirit and passion he had! He will be missed.

Leanne Kilman Weinshenker: I sat in his class one morning when my daughter, Lydia, was in pre-K, and he held 20 kids completely engaged and captivated telling them with eyebrows raised and eyes glistening about the amazing new friend he had made while hiking over the weekend. He went into excruciating detail about how they met, the jokes they told, the picnic they had (for probably 15 -20 minutes), and then, with a huge smile, he said “and, I brought her back here with me and she’s here today. Who wants to meet her?” They went wild with excitement, screaming, bouncing. “Shh,” he said. “She’s very sensitive.” He tiptoed out and returned with a glass jar. In it were some leaves and grass. And one little ladybug. “Class, this is my new friend, Isabella. Isabella, this is my class.” You have never seen humans so completely overtaken with seeing a ladybug. “Today, in honor of my new friend, everything will be about ladybugs. We will draw ladybugs, we will read about them, we will make them… but first, we need to set my friend free. Who wants to come with me?”

I will forever be in awe, Peter. May you fly free with all the ladybugs and dragonflies and tell jokes and laugh and have exquisite picnics always.

Christy Bouchard: So many stories… One of my favorite moments as a parent was when I approached Peter about some boys who were teasing my gender non-conforming son about his taste in clothes, his choice of toys, games and friends, etc. By that time in my son’s life I had a spiel for caregivers, but I didn’t need it with Peter. As soon as he realized what the problem was, he broke into his trademark mischievous smile and said, “sounds like it’s time for me to wear my dress to school again!” The next day, sure enough, he was in a dress, which he of course accessorized with amazing socks. I don’t know what kinds of conversations happened that day, but my kid didn’t get teased again. I love that his approach wasn’t to tell them what not to do, but to show them that the possibilities for how to be yourself are endless and wonderful.

Mark Chorney: I had the privilege to work at the Children’s Center for a couple of years in the mid-90s while I was completing a teaching degree at Metro. Peter was the heart and soul of PHUMCC. He made me and everyone laugh and showed me how to let children be children. He was always the adult in the room, and at the same time, the biggest child in the room, unabashed in his genuine affection for those in his charge. I have been teaching elementary music for 22 years and still hold Peter as a model of valuing play and imagination as vital assets of a child. My son, Ian, went through the Children’s Center from Beginners to School-Age and would continue to go back with friends, even in high school, to visit Peter. We once had a ski trip to Loveland with families, staff, and kids, in which Peter drove our bus “Chubby.” I skied with Peter all day and I’ll always remember pausing a moment while we were traversing some flats, and Peter quietly stating, “Wow, this beautiful.” Exhausted, we boarded the bus to go home and someone asked Peter how he was doing. He boomed, “I have a powerful thirst!” That pretty much sums up Peters approach to life; recognize beauty and have a powerful thirst.

Dan McKenna: Both of my children went to PHUMCC.  Peter was my younger daughter’s teacher. I’ve often thought that he was the best teacher she ever had. He had an exceptional talent for experiential learning that was perfect for the kids he worked with. He understood and practiced arts integration, rec therapy, and just being silly.  I remember that he hand-wrote several pages of comments about her for parent-teacher conferences. I expect he’s done that for decades for all of his students. He was exceptional in so many ways. When our family moved to DC for my wife’s work, I would seek out Peter when we came back to visit. Just to tell him about our experiences and for the girls to see him. I still drive by PHUMC and until recently would see Peter out in the courtyard with the kids. And I knew the world was bright. Not easy to lose that beacon. We’d follow him to the ends of the earth if we could.

Editor’s note: In honor of Peter McInerney, the Children’s Center has set up a Go Fund Me page, with funds to be used to build “Peter’s Playground” at the center, to donate to local Search and Rescue organizations, and to help pay for grief counseling for those in need. The link to the site is gofundme.com/PeterRox

Hiking with a student. Photo by Christy Bouchard


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