Kenyon Remembers Peggy Turgeon

A longtime member of the Kenyon community, Margaret “Peggy” Turgeon gained fame as one of Gambier’s best cooks.

Peggy Turgeon and Joyce Klein pose in kitchen

Peggy Turgeon (right) poses with friend and collaborator Joyce Klein.

Margaret Guilmette Turgeon, a longtime member of the Kenyon community and the widow of Professor Emeritus of Drama Thomas S. Turgeon H’08, died on May 17, 2022. Known to one and all as Peggy, she was 79 and a resident of Massachusetts.

A native of Yonkers, New York, Turgeon grew up in Briarcliff Manor, New York, with her mother and stepfather following her father’s death in World War II. She went on to graduate in 1964 from Wilson College, where she majored in religion. Two years later, she married Tom Turgeon, whom she had first met as a child while summering in Friendship, Maine, with her best friend.

The couple moved to Gambier in 1972, when Tom Turgeon accepted a position as an assistant professor of drama at Kenyon. Peggy Turgeon became a case manager at Moundbuilders Guidance Center in Mount Vernon. The Turgeons, active and concerned citizens and convivial hosts, were quickly recognized as mainstays of the College community.

For Turgeon, that grew to be even more true as a result of her long partnership with her friend Joyce Klein as the College’s caterers. Any event for which they provided and served the food, from small receptions to large dinners for visiting speakers or bridal parties, was sure to be a success. In a village in which cooking was a competitive sport, Turgeon and Klein were the universally acknowledged reigning champions.

The two became most famous, both within the confines of Gambier and far beyond, for their “Friday Cafes” during the academic year at the Harcourt Parish House on West Brooklyn Street. There, for a supremely reasonable price, a Kenyon student, a member of the faculty or staff, a lifelong Gambier resident or short-time visitor to the village could be assured of a delicious, carefully prepared and healthy meal, topped off by a decadent dessert, all enjoyed at communal tables where conversations ranged from the trivial to the profound. Turgeon and Klein carried on the tradition for 30 years before retiring.

Turgeon’s passion for cooking was expressed not just in the dishes and meals she planned and prepared. She taught others who loved food at La Belle Pomme Cooking School in Columbus, and she attended classes with fellow chefs at La Varenne Cooking School in Paris.

An active parishioner at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Gambier, Turgeon served on the vestry for a number of terms and as a lay eucharistic minister. She also sang in the choir and helped in any and all events involving food. In addition, she participated in the programs of Interchurch Social Services of Knox County for many years.

Alice Cornwell Straus ’75, who had the good fortune to be a close friend of the Turgeons, remembers, “Although Tom Turgeon was my Kenyon professor, Peggy Turgeon was the one who really taught me a great deal. She was an intuitive instructor, leading by example in the kitchen, through the church, and even on the course of the Damariscotta Oyster Festival 10K road race — where she beat me by more than 10 minutes. Many of the hobbies and interests I pursue today, I began under Peggy’s tutelage.

“After Tom’s lengthy illness and death, Peggy showed me how grace and courage can support an individual through times of distress. Her humility combined with strong convictions taught me how to be constructively angry and how to work to improve my community without alienating people in the process. She was a social worker even to those who weren’t her clients professionally as she illustrated what the proverbial iron fist in a velvet glove could accomplish. CROP [hunger] walks, Food for the Hungry collections, Interchurch boards and Harcourt Parish vestry all benefited from Peggy’s committed involvement to her Christian principle of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  

In 2016, three years after Tom Turgeon’s death from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Peggy Turgeon relocated from Gambier to Shutesbury, Massachusetts, to be closer to her children and grandchildren. There, she volunteered in the kitchen at the Amherst Survival Center before moving to the Rockridge Retirement Community in nearby Northampton in 2018. Despite the effects of dementia, Turgeon continued to embrace life with care and humor in her later years, making her a favorite among fellow patients and caregivers alike.

Turgeon is survived by her daughter, Sarah Turgeon ’89 P’21, and son-in-law, Fred Perry P’21; her son, Charles Turgeon ’93 P’23, and daughter-in-law, Rosemary Torrisi Turgeon ’93 P’23; grandchildren Alex Perry ’21, Thomas Perry, Evan Perry, Charlie Turgeon ’23, Ellie Turgeon and Janie Turgeon; two brothers, Peter Guilmette and William Eadie; two sisters, Mary Brickel and Susan Shafer; and several nephews and nieces. She was predeceased by Tom Turgeon, her husband of 46 years, in 2013.

As her family noted in an obituary, “We all might not want to be eulogized by our high school yearbook quote, but Peggy’s was fitting, ‘With malice toward none; with charity for all.’” Memorial contributions may be made to Grace Episcopal Church in Amherst, Massachusetts, the Amherst Survival Center, Interchurch Social Services of Knox County or Harcourt Episcopal Parish

A memorial service is planned for June 12, 2022, at 2 p.m. at Grace Episcopal Church in Amherst. A celebration of life in Gambier will be scheduled in the fall.