GREENVILLE, Mich. — To know 72-year-old Gisela Peek was to know a woman involved and in love with what she did and who she knew.
"Gisela was intent upon leaving this world better than when she came," said Greenville Mayor Pro Tem Frances Schuleit, who became good friends with Peek while living across Baldwin Lake from her and her husband for nearly 25 years .
"We met as neighbors at one of the lake clean-ups. She was always the first person out there."
Schuleit, like so many others, remains in shock following Peek's sudden death on Tuesday. Police said Peek's vehicle was hit from behind while she was waiting to turn left. The impact sent her car went into the path of oncoming traffic on M-66 in Ionia County.
“It still seems surreal," she said. "It’s beginning to dawn on us what has happened and the huge void she’s leaving in all our lives.”
Peek was a force in the Montcalm County community, where she ran triathlons with as much ease as she ran local book sales. The 72 year old—a devoted wife, mother to two sons and grandmother to her granddaughter—volunteered with the Friends for the Flat River Community Library and the Montcalm County Animal Shelter.
Schuleit joked Peek made everyone feel as though they were her best friend.
"I think she had hundreds of best friends," she said smiling.
Peek was also involved in the Per Gradus Club for women and in 2014 was named Woman of the Year by the Women's Action Network.
She regularly attended just about every and any public meeting she could across the county, Schuleit said, doing it all with a smile. Peek, who was born in Germany before moving to the U.S., became an American citizen within the past decade.
She wanted the right to vote, Schuleit said.
"It was very important to her to be able to voice her opinion because that’s what Gisela was about," she said. "I am quite sure she never missed an election."
An involved citizens, always. A politician, never.
"She looked at me and she said, ‘Fran, I’m not that crazy,'" Schuleit recalled when she asked Peek why she never ran for office.
Monday night's county commission meeting was the very last time Schuleit said she saw Peek alive.
"I never dreamt that would be the last hug I get from Gisela," Schuleit said. “She seemed to be at the center of everything she did … she had a very effective way of influencing people for the good."
While the community grapples with the sudden loss, Schuleit says she knows the void will be the widest for those who were closest to Peek.
"Her family and her children, and especially her granddaughter, were her shining accomplishments in life," Schuleit said. "She shared them with all of us."
Arrangements for a funeral or memorial service have not yet been finalized.
Three others involved in the crash were hurt, but not seriously, according to police. The crash remains under investigation.