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 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 75-year-old daughter-in-law Barbara Carlson of New Cumberland.
Barbara Carlson, married to Elizabeth Carlson's son Paul, said her mother-in-law, was an unconventional woman who successfully raised four children despite being widowed at age 40 and later pursued her dreams of becoming a missionary.
Carlson, known as "Mo" to her many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, was born Oct. 10, 1903, in Nebraska, Pa. She graduated from Youngsville (Pa.) High School in 1922 and two years later married Elmer Frank Carlson, who died after being struck by a coal truck in 1943.
"Mo" always welcomed 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.
She taught in a one-room school and as a widow she earned a living cooking, baking, washing and ironing.
"She was a baker. I can almost smell the cinnamon rolls she used to make," Barbara Carlson recalled.
In a 1969 essay titled "No Longer a Dream," recently found by Paul and Barbara Carlson, Elizabeth Carlson recalled her search for something to fill the emptiness created by her husband's death.
In May 1969, with her children grown, Elizabeth Carlson felt a call to go to the mission field.
Elizabeth Carlson served in Haiti from 1969-71, during a time of widespread violence and instability. Working at a Free Methodist mission in a suburb of Port-au-Prince, she cooked, baked and taught.
"I find life here very interesting and am studying ways to help these people," she wrote. "With a can of lye and coconut oil, I am teaching them to make soap."
She also taught English and learned to speak Haitian Creole. While there she met a 14-year-old boy named Daniel Fequiere, who had lost his mother to illness two years prior. Elizabeth 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 Fequiere was upset to learn of her mother-in-law's death.
Carlson's survivors include two sons, eight grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren, five great-great-grandchildren and one great-great-great-grandchild.
Visitation is from 11 a.m. Thursday at McKinney Funeral Home in Youngsville, Pa., until time of the funeral at 1 p.m.