(b.1923 – d.2012)
Dayton Peace Hero – 2011
Jeanne M. Comer, née Kuncl, was born August 1, 1923, in Omaha, Nebraska. She met Orville Comer in Collinsville, Illinois, just before World War II. They married there in 1941. After Orville returned from the war and completed his degree, they moved to Dayton, Ohio. Orville accepted a teaching position at the University of Dayton, and Jeanne eventually took a position as an executive secretary with the Northrup Corporation, where she worked for 18 years.
Jeanne became interested in Friendship Force after reading an article about the group in 1979. Friendship Force is an international organization that promotes peace through person-to-person exchange visits. Members stay in the homes of local families in countries around the world. Jeanne saw value in the “friendship goal.” She attended Friendship Force’s second annual convention in 1979, and worked to establish the Friendship Force of Dayton.
The Dayton chapter got off to a rocky start. Comer began organizing its first exchange with the United Kingdom. Over 100 people signed up as ambassadors for the June 1980 exchange. Many who signed up were teachers. Unfortunately, the English hosts cancelled the exchange. A substitute exchange to Cali, Colombia, was quickly arranged. It was scheduled for May when school would still be in session. Comer lost the majority of her ambassadors due to this change. With encouragement from both her husband and Friendship Force, Comer pressed forward. She gathered 100 ambassadors for the trip to Colombia in a short amount of time.
Since then the club has participated in numerous trips. One highlight was the 1996 visit to Sarajevo to celebrate the first anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accords, the agreement which ended the three-and-a-half-year-long war in Bosnia-Hercegovina. Thirty members of the Friendship Force of Dayton went on the 10-day trip, including Jeanne’s 17-year-old grandson. Witnessing the remaining devastation had a profound impact on the ambassadors. Of her grandson’s experience, Jeanne remarked, “I returned with a young man wise beyond his years.”
Friendship Force of Dayton is now the oldest and largest Friendship Force club in Ohio. It has won awards as both U.S. Club of the Year (1997) and Top Friendship Force Club Worldwide (2002).
Jeanne’s many awards for promoting peace include Dayton’s Top 10 Women (1983), the Rosalyn Carter Friendship Force Lifetime Achievement Award (1999), Dayton Walk of Fame (2000), and recognition by the Dayton International Peace Museum as a Peace Hero (2011).
Jeanne served as a shining example of the difference one person can make. She died November 23, 2012, two years after her husband.
Moss, M. (26 November 2012). “Jeanne Comer, founder of Friendship Force, dies at 89.” Dayton Daily News. Retrieved from daytondailynews.com/news/news/local-obituaries/jeanne-comer-founder-of-friendship-force-dies-at-8/nTF6M/
“Who we are.” (n.d.). Friendship Force International. Retrieved from friendshipforce.org/index.php/who_we_are
Image credit: Jeanne Comer (left) with Charlotte Paugh, by the Dayton International Peace Museum. Used with permission.