Hazel Petit - A Life Well Lived

by Claudia Loucks correspondent
Hazel Petit organizes toys for resale at the Abilities Plus Resale Shop in Kewanee.
Hazel Petit

Pettit felt strongly about helping others and she devoted her life to doing just that.

The 101-year-old kind and caring lady passed away on Jan. 2.

In an interview I did with Pettit more than 15 years ago, when asked to share something she felt strongly about, she answered, “helping others.”

In that 2005 interview, Pettit was driving to Kewanee one day each week to run the Abilities Plus Resale Shop, an outreach she was instrumental in organizing over 45 years ago.

Profits from the shop benefit Abilities Plus, an agency in Kewanee that serves people with intellectual and physical disabilities. She began volunteering at Abilities Plus in the 1970’s after the birth of a granddaughter with disabilities. She and several other grandmothers would meet in each other’s homes to organize fundraisers and work on crafts for the local Association of Retarded Citizens, which later became Abilities Plus.

From this small group came the idea of starting a resale shop that now offers a wide variety of clothing, shoes, purses, jewelry, small household appliances, furniture and collectibles.

Since its beginning, the Abilities Plus Resale Shop, under Pettit's leadership, has raised nearly one million dollars for Abilities Plus. The money is used to finance a variety of programs and services for people with disabilities in Henry, Stark and western Bureau counties.

Well into her 90’s Pettit was still making the trip to operate the resale shop in Kewanee. In 2012 when she retired, the Resale Shop was officially named after Pettit, for her “outstanding commitment to the success of the shop and individuals with disabilities.”

Pettit taught herself to use the computer at the age of 70. It was her enthusiasm and computer knowledge, as well as her eye for contributions that might sell for a good price on eBay, the petite lady, known as “gram80” on eBay, did it all to benefit Abilities Plus.

She was named Mabley Volunteer of the Year by The Arc of Illinois in 1995. The award honors outstanding volunteer effort on behalf of people with mental retardation.

In order to be considered for the award, a person must have devoted time and energy to helping persons with mental retardation for 10 or more years.

In an interview with Pettit when she was named Volunteer of the Year, she said, “Charity and helping others is what it’s all about. God runs this shop. (Referring to Abilities Plus Resale Shop in Kewanee). After all, we couldn’t make that much money being open such short hours by ourselves.”

The shop is open limited hours on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Pettit was instrumental in so many areas of “helping,” including her church, St. Malachy’s Catholic Church, where she served in many roles, on many committees, and where she played a part in development of the Social Justice Committee.

She was instrumental in developing many community outreach programs, including the Geneseo-Atkinson Food Pantry and the Summer Lunch Program for children. She also volunteered with the Girl Scouts and Catholic Social Services.

People who live in the Hazelwood Subdivisions along Wolf Rd. may not be aware that Pettit is the matriarch of that Hazelwood Development.

Bob Pettit Jr., who owns and operates Hazelwood Homes, is Pettit’s son and shared that his mother and his dad, the late Bob Pettit Sr., purchased a 100-acre farm along Wolf Rd. in 1964…”They decided to develop the first subdivision and my Dad named it after his wife,” Bob Pettit Jr. said.

Bob Pettit Jr. began Hazelwood Homes in 1971 and said, “When someone calls me ‘Mr. Hazelwood’, I just say, ‘I am Hazel’s little boy’.”

That first subdivision development has grown into a current total of seven subdivisions.

Pettit is survived by Lynda (Bob) Carroll, Bob Jr. (Ginny) Pettit, Mary (Larry) Gillespie, and Lori (Bob) Ward, all of Geneseo; and a son-in-law, Jim Thornton, Rock Island; and a total of 136 grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.

She was preceded in death by her husband Bob, and daughters, Joyce Maher and Carolyn Thornton; son-in-law, Mick Maher; granddaughter, Suzie; one great-grandson; two great-great-grandsons.