Former WRL staff member Peter Kiger died on August 19 in New Castle, Indiana. He was 80 and had Parkinson’s disease.
Born and raised in Spiceland, Indiana, Peter became a Quaker whose life mission was peacemaking. But during his freshman year at DePauw University (1956) — before becoming a pacifist — he won a Chicago Tribune medal as an outstanding Air Force ROTC student. Then in his junior year he went to Germany for pre-med studies, living with a German family who had suffered great losses during World War II. This, along with seeing the war’s devastation first hand, was life-changing. He came home an avowed pacifist. After graduating with honors from DePauw in 1960, Peter spent a year in medical school at Northwestern, followed by a year in Springfield (IL) Federal Penitentiary in 1961 as a conscientious objector for having refused alternative service to the military.
In 1960 he got involved with New England Committee for Nonviolent Action’s (CNVA) Polaris Submarine actions, eventually joining the CNVA staff. In 1966, he burned his draft card and was jailed for three months in 1969. He was on the WRL staff from 1967 to 1972. Peter was quick to volunteer for civil disobedience actions and was arrested about 40 times throughout the 1960s and early 1970s.
As David McReynolds wrote in a 2008 remembrance of Ralph, “Some of us are pacifists and nonviolent in theory — we can talk a good game. But one afternoon, as I looked out my window at 339 Lafayette, where the League had moved, I saw a gang of youth approaching a man, clearly fearful and backing away, as the gang swung clubs. ‘What,’ I thought, ‘would be the right pacifist response — after all, here we are, the national office of a pacifist organization.’ While I was pondering the theoretical question, I saw that Peter Kiger and Ralph DiGia had rushed out from our building and were putting themselves between that single frightened man and the mob.”
In 1971 he married WRL member and activist Beverly Woodward. After leaving the WRL staff in 1972, he moved to Boston, resumed his medical studies at Tufts, then worked with Boston’s mentor program caring for disturbed youths. Following their divorce, Peter moved to Portland, OR, and spent three years at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, graduating in 1983. Peter returned to Dunreith, IN, in 1987 to care for his parents and eventually take over his family’s printing business. After his parents’ deaths he used the family home to provide shelter for many families who had fallen on hard times.
Peter is survived by his sister Gretchen Cryer of New York City, his sister-in-law Judy Sadler, seven nieces and nephews, 15 great nieces and nephews, his caretaker Kim Hayes, and his dog Blackie, a constant companion during his later years. He was preceded in death by his brother Christopher McKern Kiger in 1984.
There will be a memorial service Sunday, October 6, 2019, 1 pm, at Hinsey-Brown Funeral Service, Knightstown, Indiana.