Margaret Peterson baked her famous chocolate-chip cookies at least three times a week and always doubled or tripled the recipe.
Peterson made a minimum of 10 batches a week, and each batch had two bags of chocolate chips and extra sugar in it, said her grandson, Josh Pritchett. “That’s why they were so addicting,” he said. “People would eat her cookies, and everyone was constantly itching for more.”
Peterson couldn’t eat the cookies she baked — she was diagnosed with celiac disease 10 years ago — but “she loved making people happy by giving them away,” Pritchett said.
Peterson, 81, of Stillwater, was on her way to deliver cookies to the driver of a Waste Management garbage truck when she was fatally struck by another Waste Management garbage truck about 7:45 a.m. April 25. The accident occurred outside her house in the 900 block of Willard Street West.
“One of the trucks was going north, and the other one was going south,” Pritchett said. “The driver just didn’t see her.”
Peterson always made extra cookies for the garbagemen, postal carriers and newspaper delivery people. “She would be outside at 4 or 5 a.m. with a bag of cookies waiting for the guy who delivered the Pioneer Press,” he said. “She was the sweetest woman.”
Margaret Hintz was born and raised in Stillwater. She spent the first 10 years of her life in Dutchtown, north of downtown, and then moved in with her maternal grandmother at her Willard Street West house, Pritchett said.
“She came from extreme poverty,” Pritchett said. “She was extremely frugal all of her life. She could live on pennies.”
Hintz started working when she was 10 years old and never stopped, he said. She baby-sat and baked cookies and cleaned bathrooms for a Stillwater family who paid her $5 a week; her mother told her she needed to save $4 a week and could spend $1, he said.
“She said, ‘No, I would like to save it all, so I can spend it on clothing for when I go to St. Mary’s (Catholic School),’” he said.
Hintz graduated from Stillwater High School in 1959 and immediately went to work as a secretary for Northern States Power in Stillwater. When a record flood hit downtown Stillwater in April 1965, Hintz volunteered as a sandbagger. She would work in NSP’s accounting department all day and then worked on the dike at night – from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. one night, from 6 p.m. to midnight another.
“The next seven days, from 4 to 8 in the morning, she worked in the Legion Club canteen operated for flood workers,” NSP officials wrote in a letter noting her efforts. “On work days, she went directly from the canteen to the NSP office to put in a full day.”
Hintz was featured in an NSP advertisement that ran in the Pioneer Press on April 24, 1965, described as “Sandbagging NSP Secretary, Margaret Hintz.”
In 1960, Hintz met Gary Peterson, who worked at Connolly Shoe Co., in downtown Stillwater. “She passed by him and his friends each day, and she caught his eye,” Pritchett said.
The couple married in 1966 in St. Peter and Paul’s Catholic Church in Wilmington, Calif., where he was stationed in the Navy. They had a daughter, Jennifer, in 1967; they later divorced.
“She would have stayed at NSP, but they had a rule that once a woman was pregnant, she had to stop working,” Pritchett said. “She was one year away from getting a pension.”
Peterson stayed home with Jennifer for about a year and then took a job working as a foreman at Clark’s Store in St. Paul. In 1969, she returned to NSP to be closer to home, Pritchett said.
After Jennifer began suffering intense migraines, Peterson quit working full time at NSP and took a part-time job working as a waitress at Big Ben, now Joseph’s Family Restaurant.
Peterson worked as a clerk for 20 years at the Washington County Auditor’s Office. After retiring in 1980, she kept working as a baby sitter, house sitter and pet sitter, he said.
“She was supposed to pet sit this week,” he said. “This was a woman who loved to work. It was not just because she needed the money. She wanted to help people – whether they were asking for it or not.”
‘She knew everyone’
The house on Willard Street West burned in a fire in the 1960s, but Peterson saved enough money to build a rambler on the property in 1970, he said. “This house was her life’s achievement,” he said. “She said she wouldn’t have been able to afford to stay in Stillwater unless she had bought her grandmother’s house.”
Peterson loved walking around her neighborhood, just a block from Lakeview Hospital, where she was born, Pritchett said. “She knew everyone,” he said. “She knew and would recite the history behind every house or apartment on our walks together. Those were great walks.”
Peterson helped raise Pritchett, 36, who moved back to Stillwater from Chicago a year ago to help care for her. “I came home to take care of her – that was the goal, but she essentially took care of me,” said Pritchett, who is a classically trained opera singer. “She was still in such good health.”
Peterson, who was raised Catholic, had been a member of Grace Baptist Church in Stillwater since 2006.
“Her faith has been her source of strength since she was 4 or 5 years old,” Pritchett said. “She never knew who her father was. She loved that the nuns were able to give her a sense of peace when they told her that her true father was God, and that he was always with her. That faith never faltered.”
Peterson’s Bible remains on her bedside table open to her favorite verse, Psalms 23. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want,” it reads.
“Her life was a true testament to her faith and shared compassion without hesitation to others,” Pritchett said. “I know that she would tell the driver of the truck, ‘Don’t blame yourself.’ She would always say that she was ready to meet her maker. She would say, ‘I could go in five minutes, and I would be happy.’”
An online fundraiser set up to help defray funeral expenses describes Peterson as a “beacon of joy and generosity to all.” As of Wednesday night, it had raised more than $8,000 toward a $10,000 goal.
“She was the first one to give you a hug upon entry to their home, ask about your life, and send you home with a bag of cookies – whether you asked for them or not,” according to the GoFundMe post. “She will be greatly missed by all. No one, however, will miss her more than Josh.”
Peterson was preceded in death by her daughter, Jennifer, who died in 2015. She is survived by her only grandson, Josh Pritchett, and a sister, Lucille Staberg.
A celebration of Peterson’s life will be at 2 p.m. May 31 at the Bradshaw Funeral Home in Stillwater.