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Colorado Springs woman who inspired 'Peanuts' character has died

April 20, 2015 Updated: April 20, 2015 at 9:40 am
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Louanne (Clark) Van Pelt was a new bride when she moved to the Springs with her husband, Philip, after World War II. Philip hadn't known Charles Schulz when they served together in the U.S. Army's 20th Armored Division, but they recognized one another when they crossed paths in the stairwell of a downtown office building, where Schulz had rented space in a bid to overcome writer's block.

As it turned out, the men lived a few houses from each other in the Bonneville neighborhood, near the Old North End.

Although Schulz, who died in 2000, only spent about a year in the Springs, it was a formative time for friendships and his nascent "Peanuts" comic strip, for which he was struggling to find an audience.

Louanne Van Pelt, who inspired the cartoonist's iconic character, Lucy Van Pelt, died April 6 in Colorado Springs.

"We grew up a few blocks away and they would play bridge all the time," said daughter Martha Van Pelt, who goes by Marnie. "During that time, when they were all playing bridge, he was developing the characters."

Schulz introduced the know-it-all brunette to the cartoon strip in 1952 after moving with his wife and daughter, Meredith, to California.

"Mom always said when she was interviewed that she was much nicer than that (Lucy) in person," said Marnie, who acknowledged that Lucy and her mother shared some common, telling, traits. "She was a loving mother, but she was very bossy. She even looked a little like her (Lucy), if you look at some of her old pictures, with dark wavy hair. I don't know how to describe it, but they resembled each other."

Lucy's memorable gags included one in which she pulls away a football just as Charlie Brown kicks it, and her infamous psychiatry booth, where insights come with a 5-cent charge.

"He was just fascinated with my mom's character, and it (Lucy) really does reflect a lot of her character," said Louanne's son David Merrill. "What he did with her, a lot of it was accurate. But he was pulling out the eccentric moments instead of the normal moments."

There was much more to the real Louanne Van Pelt.

"She always seemed to have a completely responsible attitude toward mothering and housekeeping and the marriage," Merrill said. "That's one of the rare things you find, people living with one love, (who) marry and live out their lives together."

Louanne cared for Philip, her Schroeder, a retired administrator with Colorado Springs School District 11, after he suffered a heart attack, until his death in 2009.

"My dad, he enjoyed life and enjoyed the music. Maybe there was some Schroeder with my dad, but the character doesn't seem to be like my dad in the way my mom's character is similar to Lucy," Merrill said. "They just loved each other and were completely dedicated to the ritual of marriage."

Over the years as his fame grew, Schulz, or "Sparky," as Philip dubbed him, kept in touch with the Van Pelts, sending letters and personally signed comics to the man who helped contribute some of the more famous "Peanuts" gags.

"I think the psychiatrist booth is one of the ideas that Sparky admitted came from my dad," Merrill said.

Although Lucy and "Peanuts" may have defined her early time in the Springs, Louanne spent the last seven years of her life investigating genealogy, discovering that she wasn't the only famous figure in the family tree, which includes famed English architect Sir Christopher Wren, among other historically significant characters, Merrill said.

"Family history, that's what defined her in the later part of her life," he said.

Louanne Van Pelt, 85, leaves behind three children, a "passel of grandchildren" and an enduring, if somewhat ill-tempered, comic legacy.

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