On April 13, 2009, the lives of the Peterman family changed forever. On that day, Sandra Peterman, the wife of Representative Jack Peterman, her granddaughter, 9-year old Madison, and Madison’s friend, 8-year old Hannah Davies, stopped along the side of Route 1, just past the overpass leaving Milford, to watch as firefighters fought to contain a blaze at the Hampton Inn, which was under construction. A propane truck, who had just crossed the overpass, drifted onto the shoulder, striking the Peterman vehicle. Mrs. Peterman, Madison and Hannah were all killed.
“I don’t remember much about that day,” Carrie Peterman, Madison’s mother said. “I remember gathering in the chapel.” For the next four years, birthdays were a struggle for the family as they had always made a big deal of them with Madison. Carrie and her husband, Scot, would take Madison out of school in order to do something special. After her death, the family and some of Madison’s friends would gather at Madison’s grave to release balloons with notes to Maddie attached. Carrie said that when it was time to prepare for the fifth birthday without Madison, she knew something had to change. With the help of family and friends, she decided that Madison’s birthday each year would be celebrated with Random Acts of Kindness.
For the past three years, through the help of social media, Random Acts of Kindness Day has spread throughout the state. In 2015, people as far away as South Carolina and California posted on Carrie’s Facebook page about how they celebrated the day by performing such acts as taping bags with quarters to vending machines or delivering flowers to nursing home residents. The event has grown significantly in just three years.
On March 24, 2016, the event gained official statewide recognition when Representative Bobby Outten sponsored House Resolution 25, declaring March 25 as Random Acts of Kindness Day in Delaware. March 25 would have been Madison’s 16th birthday. The measure passed unanimously.
“I’d like to ask all the members of the House to engage in random acts of kindness on Friday,” State House Minority Leader Danny Short said on the House floor. “If you are in line at the drive-thru, pay for the car behind you. If you see some veterans at the coffee shop, pay for their meal. You will be surprised what those small actions can lead to.”
Throughout Delaware, people celebrated Madison’s memory by performing random acts of kindness. Dionne Parker Keeler and her family shared Madison’s story and served pizza to children at Walker’s Mill. Sheila Breckner shared goodie bags with her coworkers.
“Today we had an early morning visit from Carrie Ann Peterman and Phyllis Jerman and two friends of Madison Peterman’s,” Dawn Mitchell posted on her Facebook page. “I worked with Madison’s grandmother 30 plus years ago and remember Carrie when she was much younger than Madison would’ve been today. Doggone Happy Animal Rescue was included in the random acts of kindness that is in celebration of Madison’s birthday. And, of course, our kids had to be in the middle of the events. Frankie approves of the beds. Happy birthday in heaven, Madison. You’re, no doubt, looking down smiling with pride.”
Terry Donato Hanson posted that, although she did not know Madison, her daughter, Bella, is in class with Madison’s brother, Remy. She said that it has been a blessing to know Madison’s mom and her strength and kindness were a positive example for people everywhere. Ms. Hanson said that she and Bella had been performing random acts of kindness all week and continued to do so on March 25.
“There is nothing better for me as Madison’s mom,” Carrie said. “…to know she is being remembered in such a wonderful way tells me her spirit is still here.”