Anna Marie (Yost) LePere, “Anne,” of Tucson, AZ died September 20, 2020 less than 3 weeks after her 99th birthday. She had been under hospice care for cancer and kidney disease for 4 months; but, was able to stay in her home with her beloved dog, Ladybird, until the end. Although her final weeks were not without suffering, she passed peacefully with her daughters and her pastor at her side.
Anne was born in York, PA in her paternal grandparents’ home. She loved to recount the story of how, when newly married, she and her husband slept in the same bed she was born in—in spite of the fact that it collapsed the moment they sat on it. Anne was struck by a car when she was 2 years old and seriously injured but learned to walk again using a rolling kiddie seat.
The eldest of three children, she grew up moving many times between Baltimore, MD and the Washington DC area due to the Depression. But she had stability in her grandparents, aunts, and uncles with whom she spent weeks with every summer. She loved swimming, going to the movies and to high school dances, and playing golf with her father.
Although she started her senior year in Baltimore, there was yet another move and Anne graduated high school in 1939 from McKinley Tech in Washington DC. From the time she was a little girl and lined up her dolls to “play school,” she wanted to be a teacher. To that end, she attended Wilson Teachers’ College in Washington DC and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Education in 1943.
With WWII in its depths and the reality of not being able to support herself on a teacher’s salary, she decided to join the Navy in August of ‘43. As member of the 13th class of WAVES officer’s training at Smith College in North Hampton, MA, she was one of the first women to serve as an officer in the US military (and, she liked to point out, to be paid the same as men of the same rank).
She served first in the Washington DC Navy Procurement Office, Bureau of Ordinance. A memorable assignment had her deliver orders to the newly commissioned battleship USS Missouri telling the captain where to pick up the ship’s supply of ammunition. She was piped aboard and given a VIP tour of the ship including a meal in the officer’s mess. She always considered it HER ship after the Japanese surrender was signed there on her birthday in 1945.
A second assignment during her tour of duty made full use of her teaching abilities. She had taught herself to read and write braille because she hoped to teach the blind. Few sighted people could do this and people with vision impairments could not pass the Navy physical. Because of her unique situation, she was tasked to teach blinded servicemen braille at the Naval Hospital in Philadelphia.
She worked directly with wounded men and developed a program in cooperation with the Perkins Institute for the Blind in New York City to train other WAVES as braille teachers. She had to create all the materials herself because nothing was available for teaching braille to adults.
Whenever anyone would thank Anne for her service, she would say that she got more out of it than she gave. She loved her work with the blind AND she met the love of her life, Don LePere, on the dance floor at a USO party. They were married October 1, 1944 and spent the next 45 years dancing together at every opportunity.
After the war, Anne and Don moved to Pittsburgh, PA where Don worked for Westinghouse. Anne taught in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city until they started a family. If she had had her way, they would have had a large family. But fate did not cooperate, and she had to be content with two daughters—Peggy and Laura—separated by 9 years. She raised them with love and a teacher’s spirit, always encouraging their talents and interests. She gave them the gift of confidence in their abilities. Books were an important part of family life. Both daughters will tell you part of the secret to their success: “Our mother always said, ‘If you can read, you can do anything.’ And we believed her!”
Anne continued teaching by tutoring students with reading difficulties at her home. She was also very active in her community during those years, taking leadership roles in the Women’s Club and Girl Scouts, teaching Sunday School, and participating in local politics.
She was an excellent seamstress and passed that on to her daughters. Hats were a particular love and she studied millinery. Many family outings included visits to duck ponds to collect cast off feathers for one special hat. Other creative pursuits included ceramics, painting, and writing—both fiction and poetry. She was always ready to help her daughters with whatever creative hobby took their fancy.
Anne loved to travel, starting with a childhood trip across the US through Yellowstone and on to Salt Lake City in 1929, just before the crash. When raising her own children, trips were most often to see family in the Washington DC area and the Illinois suburbs of St. Louis. The beach was also a favorite destination where she spent hours collecting seashells.
She eagerly read books about distant countries and attended travelogue lectures. She and Don invited numerous foreign citizens, many of them graduate students, to have a meal at their home through the Pittsburgh Council for International Visitors in conjunction with the University of Pittsburgh. They wanted their children to know that people everywhere are the same. For a time one summer, they hosted an exchange student, Elizabeth, from Brazil who became a life-long family friend and the first of many informally adopted children and grandchildren.
Anne leapt at her first opportunity to travel to Europe in the early 60’s through Don’s work. When she returned, she typed out a book which she bound herself: “Wide Eyed All the Way,” illustrated with drawings by Peggy. Later trips took her to more of Europe as well as to Mexico, Central and South America, and Asia.
In the late 60’s, she went back to paid work as an elementary and middle school librarian, concurrently attending the University of Pittsburg to get her Certification in Library Science. The work was a perfect fit for her love of teaching and reading and she came up with many innovative ways of engaging students with their library. The many young people she taught over her 10 years in the library became part of the large family she had wished for.
She took up playing golf again. She particularly enjoyed the time spent with Don, the social aspect of the game with others, and playing on different courses when they traveled. Also, in those years, grandsons Bryan and Brent came for annual visits during the summers, just as she had done as a girl.
After Don retired, they moved to Stone Mountain, GA for its mild weather, small-town feeling, and proximity to Atlanta’s many amenities. They were active in their church and in the Masons and Eastern Star. They played golf and danced together. The grandsons continued to come in the summer. Anne took up topical stamp collecting with a particular interest in Native American cultures and, naturally, collected and read numerous books on the subject. They travelled to stamp shows and to visit family around the country and overseas. After Don passed away in 1990, Anne stayed in Georgia for another 10 years. She continued working with the church and with her stamps, playing golf, and travelling.
In 2000, at age 79, Anne moved once more, to Tucson, AZ to be closer to Laura and her husband, Brad. Peggy and her husband, Jim, moved to the area a few years later. Anne was delighted that they could all be together for birthdays and holidays. She was insistent though on maintaining her independence. She was, as always, very active in her church. She joined the Red Hat Ladies, took short trips with other groups of seniors, and made a trip back to Atlanta on her own to visit friends.
A broken hip didn’t slow her down much at all. As a testament to her perseverance, she learned to walk a third time at age 86. She had help at home but continued to make a difference well into her 90’s by helping with her church’s vacation bible school and teaching one of her assistants to read. Always eager to work with young people, she participated in two local programs connecting youth with veterans. She also picked up writing again and compiled a booklet of her poetry.
She attended her great-granddaughter Jessica’s wedding in Virginia 2012. The following year, there was a trip to Hawaii with her grandson, Brent, and his wife and son, Alison and Nathan. That trip included a return visit to the USS Missouri in Pearl Harbor where she was treated to another VIP tour by the museum staff. In 2014, the local American Legion post sent her to Washington DC on an Honor Flight with other WWII veterans and Laura going along as her “guardian.” For her 94th birthday she made a driving trip with her assistant to Sedona, AZ.
Anne lived to see 5 generations of her family together. At Christmas time in 2018, all her children and grandchildren, including great, great granddaughter Willow Rose, were gathered with her. She had known the loss of a new-born daughter, her husband, her grandson Bryan, both her brothers David and Bill, and other family and friends. Yet she continued to make new friends and inspire many people all her life. As one them put it: “She showed us that there can be joy at any age.” Many things delighted her even as failing eyesight took away her joy of reading in the last year: going to the movies and the Nutcracker ballet, playing dominoes with her grandchildren, a trip to the zoo, listening to Big-Band music, chocolate candy and root beer floats.
As anyone who knew her would tell you: she was a remarkable woman.
Memorial arrangements will be announced when they have been finalized. If you wish to make a donation in Anne’s memory please give to any of the following organizations, all of which she supported.
A Zoom memorial will be held Sunday, November 22, 2020 at 2:00 pm MST. If you wish to attend, please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In lieu of flowers, please make a donation in Anne’s memory please give to any of the following organizations, all of which she supported.
• Doctors Without Borders
• Arizona Humane Society
• Gospel Rescue Mission, Tucson, AZ
• Disabled American Veterans
• Salvation Army
• Beautiful Savior Academy, Tucson AZ