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David Heaton Peden

April 13, 2016
Formerly of Muskegon, MI


Life Story / Obituary


David Heaton Peden was a strong, smart, and funny husband and father and a blessing to those who knew him. A man who emphasized communication and understanding above all else, his voice was one of the warmest anyone ever heard, whether speaking in everyday conversation, singing in choirs, or performing in theatre. He was successful in his profession, his artistic vocations, and his family life. His eyes always possessed the youthful glimmer of a man as grateful as he was gracious.

David was born on November 2, 1935 in Canby, Minnesota to Maurice and Pearl Peden (married in 1923). The seventh of eight children, David’s genealogy was English, Scottish and German. His father worked primarily as a farmer, three miles northwest of Gary, South Dakota. His mother was a housewife, passing away in Rapid City in 1996.

David graduated from Gary South Dakota High School in 1953. He proceeded to attend and graduate from South Dakota State University, in Brookings. While there, David was hit especially hard by the death of his father in May of 1955. But as one door closes, another one opens. Around this time, a certain blind date would alter David’s life even more than his father’s passing…and far more happily.

Through mutual friends, David met Carol Willaford. Their blind date led to two years of courtship, and over half a century of love. They were married in Brookings on June 1, 1957. Graduating in 1958, David and Carol soon welcomed their first child, David B., later that year. With Carol choosing to be a housewife, David embarked on his engineering career for FMC Corporation, which soon led his family to a succession of residences across the country. This journey took them from Brookings to Rockville, Indiana, where they were blessed with their second child, Mark, in 1960. Then they moved to Fremont, California, eventually moving to another town in the same state. The family’s years residing in Modesto saw the arrival of David and Carol’s third and last child, Drew, in 1969. Shortly after this, the family moved to Pocatello, Idaho; then, South Charleston, West Virginia.

David’s aptitude for parenting was superb. He encouraged all of his sons as they played in Little League, first as an enthusiastic supporter on the bleachers, then participating as a coach himself. He was a regular choir member of First Presbyterian Church in Charleston, WV. He also participated in community theater with the Charleston Light Opera Guild. His performances included “Fiddler On The Roof”, “Shenandoah”, and “Oliver!” (as Mr. Bumble) (all 1978). This was followed by a move to Sacramento, California. Eventually, David accepted a job offer from Cordova Chemicals which eventually led to him becoming a certified waste site manager. This also required yet another move, this time to Muskegon, Michigan in December 1980.

David began sharing his talents with Muskegon’s Civic Opera Association, performing in “The Music Man” (1981), “Can Can” (1982), and “Annie” (1984). When Muskegon Civic Theatre was formed in 1985, he continued to be a frequent onstage presence as well as a frequent producer (he produced 14 MCT shows, including the children’s show “L’il Red” in 1987). He realized a long-held ambition when he was cast in his favorite role: Charlie Anderson, the lead in “Shenandoah” in 1988. He also appeared in 15 other MCT shows, including “The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas” (1989), “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum” (1990), “Inherit The Wind” (acting alongside Carol) (1991), “Oklahoma” (1993), and “Oliver!” (1994, 16 years after he had appeared in the Charleston Light Opera Guild production…this time, David was Fagin, the humorous antagonist).

David and Carol invested a lot of time and effort in their service to Muskegon Civic Theatre. David served on almost all the move-in and strike crews, while Carol went on to become General Manager in 2000 and then Managing Director in 2001. While David spent a great deal of time sharing the stage and personal stories with his friends and colleagues at MCT, he also continued to have warm relationships with each of his children as they moved on to their own lives and pursuits. He was delighted to become a grandfather, and saw his grandchildren as frequently as he and Carol could. All of his children and grandchildren gave him joy and pride with their various accomplishments.

David retired from Cordova Chemicals in 2002, enjoying his post-career life with Carol…at least until Carol began a 3-year-long battle with cancer. Carol’s condition as a terminal patient fluctuated throughout most of this time; various insurance requirements forced Carol to be moved from hospital to hospice to nursing home to hospice again…a macabre carousel of sorts. Carol could not have had a better provider than David, who not only managed his wife’s condition as best he could but also worked to maintain his own health and strength during this difficult time. Their combined and valiant willpower delayed the inevitable long enough for David and Carol to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary on June 1, 2007, surrounded by all of their children and grandchildren and many of their friends within and without Muskegon’s theatre scene. Carol Peden finally passed away on Monday, April 28, 2008.

After a year of mourning, David took the first steps toward moving on to a new chapter in his life. He renewed his acquaintance with an old high school peer, Joan Coal Wilcox, herself a widow. After a year and a half of dating, David moved in with Joan in her hometown of Rochester, Minnesota. Continuing his gregarious socializing (plus his passion for choral singing), he was warmly accepted by Joan’s children and grandchildren, as well as his newfound social circle in Rochester. Having found love again, David married Joan on November 5, 2011. In 2015, David and Joan moved into a retirement community known as The Waters on Mayowood in Rochester, where David served as a member of the council.

However, in the summer of 2014, David was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, a bone marrow disorder. He was put on regular chemo treatment but over the next two years, the chemo ceased to be effective, even after 2 changes in his regimen.

David Heaton Peden died Wednesday, April 13, 2016, at Mayo Clinic Hospital St. Mary’s Campus in Rochester. He was 80 years old. While in deep mourning, his friends and family will always remember his humor and warmth.

David is survived by his wife, Joan Coal Wilcox; sons, David B. (Sandra) Peden of Chapel Hill, NC, Mark (Susan) Peden of Syracuse, UT, and Drew of Chicago, IL; stepson David Lee Nelson and stepdaughter Kristine (Patrick) Stokes, both of Rochester, MN; grandchildren, Ariana, Jessica, and Kevin; stepgrandson Jake; brother Wendell (Carol) Peden; sisters, Edythe (Bill) Cascini, Arlyce (Wayne) Sebastian, Millie Bullock, and Ruth Whipp. In addition to his parents and his first wife Carol Peden, he was preceded in death by his sister Vivian Phillips, and his younger brother Dwight (who died in infancy). A family service will be held Saturday, May 21, 2:00 PM at United Methodist Church with Reverend Franklin J. McKeehan presiding. (Visitation with the family is at 1:00 PM.) To share a special memory or condolence, please visit or In lieu of flowers, please consider giving to the Carol A. Peden Performing Arts Memorial Fund at the Community Foundation for Muskegon County, or to the charity of your choice, in memory of Dave.

United Methodist Church, Main Street, Gary, South Dakota 57237. 605-874-2520

Community Foundation for Muskegon County, 425 W. Western Avenue, Muskegon, Michigan 49440. 231-722-4538