Harkey, Peeler find strong church support in fights against cancer

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 23, 2015

By Mark Wineka

SALISBURY —  Neither Louise Harkey nor Pam Peeler have been longtime members of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, but both women say the congregation treats them like family, maybe even royalty.

“That church has got God in it,” Peeler says. “It’s just a loving church.”

This Saturday’s Fifth Annual Cruise ‘n Barbecue at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church will be raising money for and paying tribute to Harkey and Peeler, both of whom are in their personal dogfights with cancer.

The daylong event includes a 9 a.m.-noon “Poker Cruise,” involving five stops and a scenic drive through Rowan County’s countryside. The afternoon Cruise-in back at the church (205 St. Paul’s Church Road) takes in a classic car, street rod and motorcycle show, awards for the car show participants, music, raffles and door prizes.

The “barbecue” part of the day comes in with the selling of Port-A-Pit Chicken dinners.

The event also will offer an American Red Cross bone marrow screening from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. The screening is in honor of church member Chloe Monroe, a junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who underwent a successful bone marrow transplant after her diagnosis for leukemia.

Chloe’s parents, Brent and Lisa Monroe, sent along this statement about the registry:

“Be the Match and many prayers saved our daughter Chloe Monroe’s life,” they said, “We are so thankful that her donor chose to be part of the bone marrow registry. A simple cheek swab is the beginning of possibly saving another life.”


Harkey, 82, was diagnosed in January 2014 with primary peritoneal cancer, which affected the outer layer of her stomach. She has gone through surgery and chemotherapy and says, “I’m kind of keeping it down that way.”

She has been overwhelmed by all the get-well and thinking-of-you cards she has received, mostly from members of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and the congregation of what she still calls her “home church,” Mount Olive Lutheran in Mount Pleasant.

At last count, Harkey has received some 500 cards.

“It really, really has helped me come through it,” she says.

Harkey started attending St. Paul’s Lutheran in 2010 and quickly established some dear friendships. When her health permits, she enjoys attending the George Barringer Sunday School Class and working with the Women’s Group.

Since her cancer struck, she has received welcomed home visits from Jill Earnhardt, the parish nurse.

“Everyone has been so supportive,” Harkey says.

A church family means a lot to Harkey.  Over the years at Mount Olive Lutheran, she became known as the “flower lady”  for her meticulous caring of the flower beds.

“That was my job for years and years,” she recalls. At Mount Olive, she also taught Sunday School, attended annual Lutheran conventions for the church, belonged to the women’s group and participated in all the quiltings.

Given her considerable artistic talents, Harkey often was called on to design costumes for church plays, create church banners and make Chrismons for the Christmas trees.

Harkey graduated from Mount Pleasant High in 1951, and married John Henry Harkey later that same year. Her husband died in 1992. The couple had four children: Tony Phllip, Donna and Todd; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Harkey’s career in textiles lasted 25 years, from  1973 to 1998. She started out as a designer/artist in upholstery at Cannon Mills Plant No. 6 in Concord. After that plant was sold, Harkey moved to Plant No. 1 in Kannapolis and worked in creative and product development in towels, blankets, sheets and bedspreads.

“My talent was God-given,” says Harkey, who never had any formal design training.

At the school’s request over the years, Harkey also painted many mural scenes and windows at Mount Pleasant Elementary.

“I try to paint some now, but with my condition, I’m kind of shaky,” Harkey says.

Because her health defenses have been a little down, Harkey has been attending church on Wednesday evenings when things are a little less hectic.

“I feel good some days, and some days I have to lie around and rest,” she says. “I wish I could get more of my strength back.”

Harkey appreciates beyond words what the church is doing for the women.

“I can’t express how wonderful it is,” she says. “They’ve done this many times for many people, and to think they’re supporting me and Pam — it’s a wonderful church.”


Pam Peeler’s colon cancer was first diagnosed in 2012. She had an operation that removed a tumor, and doctors thought the cancer was completely gone after she went through chemotherapy.

But the cancer has returned, and this time the tumor could not be removed through surgery because of the way it’s wrapped around lymph nodes and blood vessels. Scans also have shown spots of cancer in her right lung and parts of her liver.

To date,  the 58-year-old Peeler has taken 15 rounds of radiation. Doctors gave her some time to regain strength, and now she has embarked on every-other-week chemotherapy cycles which will last into September.

“It’s making me so sick,” Peeler says. “I’m fighting more cancer this time and the tumor they couldn’t get out.”

Peeler lost her husband to sickness in 2008, then her mother in 2010. She likes to think that God kept her strong through those years for a reason.

“I guess the good Lord kept me healthy enough to take care of them,” Peeler says.

Boyfriend Donald Burton has been keeping care of her  since Jan. 14 when she was released from the hospital. Pam’s daughter, Jenny,  and Burton drive her to doctor appointments and treatments.

“If I didn’t have so many people I love,” Peeler says, “I don’t think I would have gone through it again.”

As with Harkey, Peeler’s mailbox has been filled with get-well cards, mostly from St. Paul’s members.

“These people are so kind,” Peeler says. “I appreciate everything they’re doing for me.”

Church member Lola Floss has stopped by several times to give Peeler communion and conversation. “She is the kindest woman,” Peeler says. “She’s working for God — you can tell it.” Peeler says church member Karen Deal also has been an angel for her.

Peeler grew up on St. Matthew’s Church Road in Rowan County and attended East Rowan High School. She had been a longtime textile worker until becoming disabled and retiring in January 2001.

Both Harkey and Peeler plan to attend Saturday’s Cruise ‘n Barbecue as long as they are able to show appreciation to everyone who attends.

“I love St. Paul’s,” Harkey said.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.