Jeanne Comer, founder of Friendship Force, dies at 89

Jeanne Comer, who helped create peace in the world one relationship at a time, died Friday, Nov. 23, at the age of 89.

She was best known as the founder of the Dayton Chapter of the Friendship Force, the organization that matches families around the world for home visits. The Dayton-area club, which has hosted hundreds of world citizens over the past 31 years, is the oldest and largest in Ohio and has been active in exchanges with international friends since 1980.

“The opportunity to meet people in foreign countries and to make friends with them, and to bring others from foreign lands and have them visit us in our homes, it just sounded fascinating,” Mrs. Comer told the Dayton Daily News in June, when describing a 1979 article in the Wall Street Journal that inspired her to start the local group. “And it was such an inexpensive way to travel.”

The Kettering mother of eight, whose license plate had the word “peace” on it, visited more than 34 other countries over the years. She helped organize the historic trip to Bosnia commemorating the one-year anniversary of the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords and took her 17-year-old grandson along.

“He didn’t really want to go, but when we got there, we visited the big cemetery in Sarajevo and he saw one plot that had nothing but babies that had been killed during the siege, he came back and wrote an ‘Ode to Sarajevo,’ ” he was so changed,” Mrs. Comer remembered.

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Her message of peace will live on, friends and family say.

“Jeanne put Dayton on the map for thousands of people around the world,” said Vicki Thompson, a former president of Friendship Force of Dayton. “We have lost a friend, and Dayton has lost an ambassador of great grace, but the legacy of her passion for peace continues.”

Mrs. Comer has been honored as one of the Dayton Daily News’ Ten Top Women and was presented with the Rosalind Carter Friendship Force Lifetime Achievement award in London, England, in 2000. She is represented in the Dayton Walk of Fame in the Wright Dunbar district and was especially proud of the Peace Pole that stands at Deeds’ Point, near RiverScape MetroPark, that was donated by Friendship Force of Dayton. She had a smaller version at her home.

Mrs. Comer was born in Omaha, Neb., and was married to her husband Orville for 69 years. She worked as an executive secretary for Northrop Gruman for 18 years before retiring.

“One positive impact she had on all of us was to make us much more aware globally, aware of the plight of other people around the world, aware of our blessings, aware that we share a common bond,” said Judy Imparato, one of Mrs. Comer’s eight children, speaking on behalf of the family.

Visitation is from 5 to 8 p.m. tonight at Tobias Funeral Home, Far Hills Chapel, 5471 Far Hills Ave at Rahn Road in Kettering. The funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 28 at the funeral home. In lieu of flowers the family has requested donations to the Friendship Force, P.O.Box 291992, Dayton, OH 45429 or to SICSA, 2600 Wilmington Pike, Kettering, 45429.

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