WALNUT — Cora Peters is being remembered for her spunk, her charm, and her courage as she faced cancer for the past four years.
A senior at Bureau Valley High School, Peters died Monday at the age of 18 at OSF Medical Center in Peoria.
On Tuesday, Bureau Valley High School opened its doors for students and staff who wanted to talk with each other, with counselors, about Cora, who was this year's homecoming queen.
Bureau Valley Superintendent Dennis Thompson was quick to speak about the influence Peters had not just on her classmates, but also other students, parents and teachers from inside and outside the Bureau Valley School District.
"She had reached out to a lot of people, not just to people in the district," Thompson said. "She seemed to be the comforter to many ... She reached out to others who were terminal and tried to find out what was going on in their lives. She spoke to parents of other terminal children; some even sought her out to some extent. It was an interesting perspective; she became a comforter to those who were suffering from cancer."
Thompson said Peters remained involved in her friends' lives, and through her illness, she became acquainted with a whole new circle of friends from other areas and school districts. Many of those schools held benefits for Peters.
"She was wanting to be involved in her friends' lives, not just them in her life. She always wanted to know what was going on with them, what was going on at school ... That was her real strength, her real calling," Thompson said. "Sometimes her friends would be upset to see her. But her reaction was always, 'Don't cry about me. I want to know what's going on in your life.' She wanted people to think about what was happy.
"There has been so many outreaches from other kids, kids from other towns, other schools. They got to know her and realized she was a unique person," Thompson said. "We will miss her ... She added a dimension to this school. Kids cared about Cora, and Cora cared about kids."
A group of Peters' friends in her senior class at Bureau Valley included Shannon Reuter, Janelle Norden, Samantha Haney, Lacey DeVenney and Kalie Rumbold. The group was together the day following the death of Peters.
They all shared stories about how positive and upbeat she was when around her friends.
"She never led you on that she was sick. She always wanted to act normal. She just had so much spirit," Reuter said. "She really taught all of us to cherish every moment and made us realize if we were having a bad day, it wasn't really that bad. She opened all of our eyes."
The group often got together with Peters at her home in Walnut, where they'd watch her favorite movies, "The Heat" and "Bridesmaids." They could also often be seen at Cones in Walnut during the summer.
While they say every memory the group shared with Peters was a special one, sharing a day getting ready for junior prom is one they will never forget.
Another one of Peters' close friends was Kaylene Becker of Ohio. The two became acquainted a few years ago through Peters' sister, and Becker said when they met, a friendship clicked right away.
"Her personality is what drew me to her the most," Becker said. "Every time I saw her, she lifted my spirits by just smiling, and she was always a big supporter in whatever I did."
Peters taught Becker to be strong and to hold her head high when things got tough.
"She taught me valuable life lessons — to be courageous and live life to the fullest because life can be very short," she said.
Looking back on the memories the two shared, Becker said her favorite thing was rushing home from school, going over to pick up Peters at her home. The two would cruise around in the car and listen to new music Peters had collected. They danced, ate junk food and went home to snuggle and watch movies.
"It just made me happy to be around her. She was the greatest person I've ever met," Becker said. "I'll never forget her sending me texts saying, 'I love you to heaven and back.'"
From the time Peters was born, Diane Nelson of Walnut called her Cora Lou, even though her given name was Cora Grace. It was Nelson's own personal nickname for Peters. They had a special bond, a special closeness. When she saw Peters' big beautiful brown eyes, Nelson said she could see fire and determination in those eyes, that spirit of fight and life that was Cora.
During these past four years of fighting cancer, Peters never thought of herself, but sought out others to encourage them. She spoke of her faith to everyone who came in the room. She told her parents she didn't want people wearing black to her funeral; she wanted bright colors.
Peters fought the cancer like no one she has ever seen, Nelson said. Peters always had a heavenly perspective, but in the last few months, that heavenly perspective became more enormous and more precious to her, Nelson said.
"Cora knew the reality of what she was facing, but she still loved life. She didn't dwell on death; she dwelt on life," Nelson said. "Cora lived with dignity, and she died with dignity."
On Dec. 11, Cora posted the following message, in part, on "Cora's Crew Fighting Cancer Like a Boss" Facebook page.
"The news I got while I was here is something so hard to hear ... My doctor told me that we are no longer fighting the 'Cancer' battle, but now we are fighting the 'Living with Cancer' battle. The cancer is not going away and there is nothing that the medical staff here can do. I have faith that my God will heal me, sometimes his way of healing isn't the way we want to be healed. We serve an amazing God. This will never be easy, this will always be hard but it will be OK because I have won the battle any way you look at it."
Arrangements are being handled by the Garland Funeral Home in Walnut.
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See Cora's obituary