CHESTER - Elizabeth "Mo" Carlson, a woman who left the safety of domestic life in the 1960s for short-term missionary work in Haiti during the dictatorial regime of Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, died on Monday.
Believed to be the oldest woman in West Virginia, she was 109. She lived at the Orchards at Foxcrest in Chester.
"She was a giving person. She would do anything for anybody," said her daughter-in-law Barbara Carlson, 75, of New Cumberland.
Barbara Carlson, married to Carlson's younger son, Paul, 75, said her mother-in-law was an unconventional woman who, although widowed at age 40, successfully raised four children and later pursued her dreams of becoming a missionary.
"She was very young at heart, and she enjoyed being around young people," Barbara Carlson said. "She always had young people in her home."
Carlson, known as "Mo" to her many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, was born on Oct. 10, 1903, in Nebraska, Pa. She graduated from Youngsville (Pa.) High School in 1922 and married Elmer Frank Carlson two years later.
Elmer Carlson died in 1943 after being hit by a coal truck while delivering loaves of bread in Oil City, Pa., Barbara Carlson said.
Barbara Carlson remembers "Mo" from the time she started dating her future husband. "Paul and I were still in high school when we started dating," she said. "It was nothing for us to be there on a Saturday evening for a taffy pull. On Halloween, we'd be there bobbing for apples."
"Mo" was always welcoming to her children's friends in the neighborhood and worked hard to make a good life for her children as a single mother, Barbara Carlson said.
Although she had graduated from Clarion Normal School (now Clarion University) and taught at the one-room Whitestown School, as a widow she earned a living cooking, baking, washing and ironing, Barbara Carlson said.
A faithful member of the Free Methodist Church, she especially enjoyed cooking and baking for Free Methodist summer camps, Barbara Carlson said.
"She was a baker. I can almost smell the cinnamon rolls she used to make," Barbara Carlson said.
In a 1969 essay titled "No Longer a Dream," recently found by Paul and Barbara Carlson, Elizabeth Carlson reminisced about those times: "Upon the death of my husband in 1943, I threw myself into doing church work to fill the emptiness and gave out clothes to the needy and packed many mission boxes, which were mailed to various mission fields around the world."
It was in May 1969, with her children grown and out of the home, that Carlson felt a call to go to the mission field.
"There were often periods of loneliness (which) swept over me, which seemed difficult to overcome," she wrote in the essay. "As I read various missionary books, I felt I would like to go to a mission field and do manual tasks, (so) that the missionaries might be freed to do the major tasks."
While reading the Bible one day, Carlson thought she heard a voice saying, "Come over into Haiti and help us," according to the essay. She had been reading the passage Acts 16:9, "During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, 'Come over to Macedonia and help us.'"
Carlson consulted with her church's missions board and received approval, at age 67, to work as a self-supporting missionary under longtime missionary Maxine Riddle.
Carlson served in Haiti from 1969 to 1971, during a time of widespread violence and instability under the regimes of Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier.
Working at a Free Methodist mission in a suburb of Port-au-Prince, Carlson cooked, baked and taught. "I find life here very interesting and am studying ways to help these people," she wrote in the essay. "With a can of lye and coconut oil, I am teaching them to make soap."
Carlson also taught English and learned to speak Haitian Creole, she wrote.
"It was rather difficult to leave my home, my family, my grandchildren, yes, and great-grandchildren, but life is so full now, and I believe they often say, 'My gram is a missionary,' with just a sense of pride," she wrote.
It was in Haiti that she met a 14-year-old boy named Daniel Fequiere, who had lost his mother to illness two years prior to her arrival. Carlson became like a second mother to the young man and was reunited with him, after 43 years of separation, at the Chester nursing home in 2011.
Barbara Carlson said she contacted Fequiere on Monday and told him about Carlson's death. "He was pretty upset. He really felt bad," she said.
Carlson also is survived by her son, Frank (Dorothy) Carlson, of Houston, eight grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren, five great-great-grandchildren and one great-great-great-grandchild.
Friends may call at 11 a.m. Thursday at McKinney Funeral Home in Youngsville, Pa., where the funeral service begins at 1 p.m. Burial will be in Riverside Cemetery in Pittsfield, Pa.
Memorials may be made to Free Methodist World Missions, c/o Haiti Missions, 770 N. High School Road, Indianapolis, IN 46214.