Adorned with a birthday tiara and cradling flowers, Dorothy "Pete" Peterson basked in the love of family members and friends even more than she did the late-spring sun on the afternoon of June 3 outside her condominium.

"I'm just so overwhelmed," she said.

This day, Peterson's 95th birthday, was a milestone. It was filled with what she said were the keys to her maintaining health and happiness through the years.

"Just having good friends and good family and having been lucky," she said.

In the midst of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Peterson's Spring Creek Condominiums Pickerington neighbors cheered from their yards, family members huddled around her and a procession of roughly 50 vehicles honked horns and drove by, stopping long enough to offer birthday salutations and drop off cards and gifts.

"She's a wonderful person," said Linda Scott, one of Peterson's neighbors. "She's the greatest.

"I've been here two years and she's been like a mother. She always says, 'If anything comes up. I'll help you out.' She's just a great person."

Sarah Jackson, who holds the title Sunshine Lady for the Violet Township Women's League, organized the "Pete Parade."

Jackson wanted to celebrate Peterson, the league's elder stateswoman, and the parade was plan B after the pandemic forced the cancellation of a May meeting where league members expected to present Peterson with a birthday cake.

"She's just a super person and I wanted to do something special," Jackson said. "We wanted to show her how much she means to us and how much we love her."

Peterson, who joined the women's league in 2005, came to Pickerington in October 1998. Her husband of 25 years, Maurice "Pete" Peterson, died two decades earlier at the age of 52, and she decided to follow her grandchildren to Ohio.

Mostly through volunteerism she's since entrenched herself in the community.

Peterson is a Pickerington Senior Center Hall of Fame member, was the 2012 Pickerington Food Pantry Volunteer of the Year and is active in the Ohio State Chapter of the PEO Sisterhood, an organization that seeks to provide educational opportunities for female students.

She is the mother of three children -- Tom, Jon and Geri.

Peterson's devotion to service stretches back to her teens.

After growing up in Ottawa, Illinois, she enrolled in the Loyola University Chicago School of Nursing, and served in the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps from 1943 to 1946.

"I was a Cadet nurse in World War II," Peterson said. "The purpose of Cadet nurses was to man the hospitals here in the states while the more experienced nurses went into service."

At the time she chose her field, women often pursued careers as teachers or secretaries, but those jobs didn't appeal to her, Peterson said.

She also wanted to show her mother she could handle the rigors of nursing.

"My mother said, 'Oh, you'll never make it. You can't event stand to squish a bug'," she said.

The seemingly squeamish young woman proved her mettle, retiring from nursing after four decades at age 67.

When her nursing career ended, Peterson picked up her volunteer hat.

"I had time, and I like to be involved with people," she said. "I like to know that I'm doing something that can benefit the community.

"I guess I was brought up that way, and I love people. I enjoy being with people."

In addition to her involvement in organizations, Peterson still drives, regularly makes the rounds to the Pickerington Public Library and works out twice a week.

Her daughter-in-law, Karen Peterson, said the birthday parade was special because Dorothy Peterson thrives on socialization.

"She just loves to see people," Karen Peterson said. "The whole quarantine has been hard on her because she's very active. She's very active in everything.

"It's hard for her not to be social. This is good for her."

As family, friends and neighbors filtered out from the Pete Parade, the guest of honor's smile hadn't diminished.

"I'm so completely overwhelmed that people have been so marvelous and so caring and so loving," Peterson said. "I just couldn't believe there were so many people.

"It was so wonderful," she said.

nellis@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNate