Peter Jan Yuslum, 77, passed away on December 25th, peacefully and at home next to his loving wife. Peter spent Christmas Eve with his wife, son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren. They watched “It’s a Wonderful Life,” one of Peter’s favorite Christmas movies, if not all-time favorite. He joked around with his grandchildren, and placed their Christmas card to him on the refrigerator door.
Mr. Yuslum was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1943, and spent his early childhood in South Dakota. When he was four, his parents, Peter Yuslum of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, and Blanche Hopkins of Lake Andes, South Dakota, both contracted tuberculosis. His father, a first-generation American of Polish descent, survived. His mother, an innumerable-generation American of Lakota descent, did not. Afterward, Peter and his father moved to Pennsylvania to be with his father’s side of the family.
As his father (lifelong miner, construction worker, and typewriter repairman) moved where job opportunities took him, Peter variously lived in Williamstown, Pennsylvania, Poughkeepsie, New York, and Mechanicsburg, attending Mechanicsburg High School. For a time he lived with his Aunt Susie and beloved cousin Helen Shuey. Despite, or perhaps because of, the early loss of his mother and her family, and the resultant semi-nomadism, Peter became a harbor of stability, a steady provider for his children, and a devoted husband to his one and only wife of 52 years.
In the low mercy rough-and-tumble environs of 1940s and 1950s alpine Pennsylvania and Poughkeepsie, Peter grew from a small boy who required leg braces and glasses into a high school state champion wrestler who was defeated a scant three times in his career.
In addition to being an exceptional athlete, Peter was also a talented saxophone player. In later days Peter would play “La Cucaracha” on his alto sax while his young sons danced on the bed in their pajamas, riling them up just in time for bedtime.
These two interests, sports and music, conspired to determine his choice of university, Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. In the early 1960s, the LSU Tiger football team was dominant on the national football scene, and Peter wanted to play in the Marching Tiger Band during these heady times. Also at that time, LSU was an affordable college for the son of a coal miner.
It was at LSU that Peter met his future wife, Judith Hamilton of Shreveport, Louisiana, pouncing on the opportunity to go out with her before his friends could get a move in, in the way that champion wrestlers are wont to do. Also around this time, Peter met Judy’s five brothers. He promptly earned their respect by “stacking them up like cardboard” when, apparently unaware of his athletic pedigree, they jumped him for dating their sister, and for being a Yankee. It is up to you, dear reader, to decide which was the greater offense.
Being dedicated to his wife, he was also dedicated to her family, and learned to make gumbo as good as any Louisianian, to complement the pierogis and halupkis he served on Christmas dinner, with straw under the table, and plates left out for the ancestors, according to Polish tradition.
From LSU, Peter acquired a Master’s degree in Social Work, the first Yuslum to graduate from college. From 1972 to 1997, he worked diligently as a federal probation officer on the U.S. 5th Circuit. After retiring from the U.S. Federal Probation, Peter worked as a case manager and mental health coordinator for various agencies including Catholic Charities.
Thus did Peter spend his career guiding people to more stable lives, no matter their station or crime.
However, it was his post-retirement career that brought him the most fulfillment, giving of himself to the poor and those downtrodden by life or biology, or both. It was around this time that Peter’s spirit bloomed with the fire of social justice, and he became a member of Pax Christi as a means to bring justice and equality to humanity. This desire to help those less fortunate brought Peter into fellowship with Tau House, a small Catholic congregation in the French Quarter run by Franciscan Friars and later, the Sisters of Notre Dame, a community with whom he spent many hours, days, weeks, and years celebrating and actualizing a spirituality of universal empathy. A caring but hot-tempered young man, Peter evolved into a kind, even-keeled man in his later years, due in no small part to his faith and the compassionate example of his wife, becoming a Secular Franciscan in the 1990s. “Peter” means “rock” in many languages, and he was a rock to many people. As some would say, a rock with a sense of humor. A funny rock.
And yet… the burning passion of his life was his wife, Judy. In later years, when the demands of their careers were less stringent, the pair were inseparable, together spending time with their immediate and extended families, dancing, socializing with their spiritual community, attending peace rallies, taking trips, doting on their grandchildren, and enjoying the daily routines of husband and wife. If one were to research the characteristics of relationships that achieve remarkable longevity, theirs would be a fitting model.
From no running water and pigeon-corn soup on the mountainside of a mining hamlet, to providing a good life for his wife and children, to serving a laugh or solace to those in need, Peter Yuslum was a man anyone would be proud to call husband, father, friend.
Preceded in death by his mother, father, step-mother, and sister Patricia Yuslum, for whom he grieved deeply.
Survived by his wife of 52 years, Judy Yuslum; his sons Gregory and Jeremy Yuslum, grandchildren Jana, Gabriel, Ivan, Kayla, Alyssa; and great-grandson Caden.
The family will receive friends Saturday, January 2, from 1 P.M. until 3 P.M. at Jacob Schoen & Son Funeral Home, 3827 Canal Street, New Orleans, LA 70119. Social distancing and mask-wearing will be observed. A Catholic Funeral Mass will be celebrated at 3 P.M. in the J. Garic Schoen Chapel. For those unable to attend in person, please contact Jeremy Yuslum (email@example.com) before Saturday, January 2, to view the live-streamed Mass.
As Peter’s South Dakotan community was always in his thoughts despite their early separation, for those who wish to honor his memory, donations are requested for the St. Joseph Indian School.
In Peter’s words:
“My dream for the world community is for all of us to see one another’s ethnic, racial, sexual, or religious differences as gifts we offer to each other in celebration of the uniqueness which God created in each of us.”
Due to his humble nature, we know Peter would prefer that his obituary not end with his own words, but with those of St. Francis of Assisi, after whom Peter modeled his life:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offence, let me bring pardon…
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.
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