Wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and friend to all, Irene Lydie Nadia (de Lanskoy) Petersen left this life on February 20, 2021, at her Anchorage, Alaska home after succumbing to a failed liver. She was born August 9, 1933, in Nice, France, to Nicholas Filonov and Catherine Werblowsky. Her mother was a Russian refugee of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution from Saint Petersburg. Her birth father died when she was young. Her grandparents ran a hotel in Nice and the family was well-known in the city's Russian enclave.
Irene witnessed the horrific events of World War II from the perspective of sharing a courtyard with the Nazi Gestapo and living across from the often-bombed railroad station. Even though ancestrally Jewish, Irene was spared the tragic deaths suffered by many of her Jewish schoolmates due to her mother's prescient recording of her birth name and religion as Catholic. Mother and daughter ate from soup kitchens and suffered poor health during the war. Her freckles and smile garnered trinkets and treats from a sequence of Italian, German, and American soldiers. One of her happiest memories was when the war ended and her mother became a translator for the U.S.O., where they participated in activities and events with the American soldiers.
Irene first attended school at the Russian Orthodox Church in Nice and only had three years of formal education; however, she was blessed by her mother's education and was taught to fluently speak French and Russian. After the war at age eleven, she attended a technical school for seamstresses and was working in a shirt factory by age twelve. This led to a lifetime of crocheting and knitting. Many tiny newborns were kept warm by wearing her signature crocheted booties. She once said she wanted to be called “Grandma Booty,” but was told it might not be a good idea! She left her mother and moved into a youth hostel at the age of fourteen. She continued to work in shirt factories and also did intricate hand embroidery on blouses for export.
She and her mother met missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), leading to an opportunity for Irene to work as a nanny in Ogden, Utah, assisting a mother recovering from polio. At the age of fifteen and knowing little English, Irene sailed across the Atlantic on Cunard’s RMS Queen Elizabeth and then traveled by Greyhound bus to Utah. Eventually, she earned enough to pay back her passage. It was there she first tasted sliced white bread and root beer and marveled at all of the kitchen gadgets. She enrolled in Ogden High School and attended in the mornings, yet never graduated. After a year, she moved into the YWCA in Ogden and earned her keep by cutting the linings for women's suits.
She met Jack Merlin Petersen while he was working part-time at a grocery store; their first date was to the Lagoon Amusement Park. On September 26, 1952, Jack and Irene were married at the LDS Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah. This began an adventurous life—first in Ogden, then Boise, Idaho in 1961, and then to Anchorage, Alaska, in 1965 to help rebuild the state after the Great Alaskan Earthquake. They raised five children and founded two well-known Alaskan companies—Commercial Contractors, Inc. and Allen and Petersen Home Decorating Center.
Irene was proud of her naturalization in 1955 as a United States citizen and helped countless others to do the same. She eventually earned her GED after all her children were born, but her education and wisdom were mostly gleaned from a life of challenges, hard work, and travel. She nurtured an unwavering testimony of her Savior and His restored gospel. Irene was a valiant member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and served others her entire life through church and community service.
She was a cofounder of the Alaska “Mothers of Twins” club. Irene was also a member of TOPS and the Anchorage Woman’s Club. She loved to travel, and trips to her ancestral homelands of Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, and Israel were especially meaningful. Irene was grateful for her twenty-six grandchildren and sixty great-grandchildren.
She was preceded in death by her loving husband Jack in 2014 after sixty-two years of marriage, her mother, her half-brothers André Olimpieff and Arik Butzkoy, grandsons Frank Jasper and William Snegirev, and great-grandson Cade Snegirev. Irene is survived by her five children: Kerry (Jane) Petersen of Virginia, Karen (Cary) Jasper of Washington, Chris (Julie) Petersen of Anchorage, Kathie (Kelly) Hudson of Montana, and Kenneth (Kerstina) Petersen of Anchorage.
Her final days were peacefully spent at home surrounded by her family and friends as she prepared to be reunited with her sweetheart. We can only imagine their joyful reunion and marvel at our mother and her legacy.
A funeral service will be held at Aaron's Mortuary, 496 24th Street, Ogden, Utah, and broadcast via Zoom on March 6, 2021 at 2 p.m. Utah time and 12 p.m. Alaska time (viewing from 1 to 1:30 pm prior to the service). Burial the same day at the Lindquist's Washington Heights Memorial Park. The link for the broadcast is https://byui.zoom.us/j/97069679092
In lieu of flowers, donations are suggested to be made to the Anchorage Woman's Club Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 100273, Anchorage, AK, 99510 in honor of Irene.