Bethesda Gardens resident Peg Sharp was born April 3, 1910 — less than seven years after the Wright brothers’ first flew at Kitty Hawk, and while the Titanic was still under construction.
The first U.S. President Peg says she remembers was Woodrow Wilson. He served from 1913 to 1921. Had she been old enough to vote for him, however, she couldn’t have cast a ballot, because women were not granted the right to vote until 1920.
Remembering Her Youth
Peg was the daughter of German immigrants, and was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., as Mildred Schroeder. She was not particularly fond of her first name, often shortened to Millie. In her kindergarten class, there were three Mildreds, who were dubbed Millie, Pilly, and Silly. She was called Pilly, and attributes the nickname to her struggles as a sister sandwiched between two brothers.
She and her brothers grew up in the Flatbush neighborhood of the Brooklyn borough. At the turn of the century, Brooklyn was a mix of Germans, Italians, and Jews from many nations. “On our block, people came from all over the world,” she says. “I remember a Chinese man who ran a laundry across the street. The kids used to drive him crazy by stealing ‘leechy nuts’ off of his counter.”
Entertainment was not complex. “We had a lot of sidewalks, so all you had to have was a piece of chalk in your pocket to play hopscotch,” she says. The German families in the neighborhood often gathered for picnics on grounds next to a cemetery, where the children played while the adults drank beer. “I don’t think we kids paid much attention to the headstones,” Peg says.
She remembers people arrived at the festivities via horse-drawn buggies. “We didn’t travel long distances in those days because you could only go as far as your horse could go,” she says.
Peg’s family moved to a farm in New Jersey, and then into a small town where her father became a butcher in order to pay for his eldest son’s college tuition. Learning about other people and places was important to her parents. The only magazine her father allowed in the house was National Geographic. “He said it made for good dinner table conversation,” Peg recalls.
Coming of Age on the East Coast
When it was her turn for college, Peg went to Douglass College, a women’s college in New Brunswick, N.J. “It was the only college in the U.S. founded by women,” she says. “Every building on the campus was financed by a woman or a women’s club.” She graduated in 1931, with a major in German and a minor in French.
She married John Sharp in 1936. He was a chemist who interviewed for a job with the Monsanto Corporation here, in St. Louis, MO. “It was the only job he ever applied for, and he got it,” says Peg. He went on to work for Monsanto for the next 42 years.
Peg taught school in the Kirkwood and Rockwood school districts, and eventually became President of the Teachers Union. Peg and John had three sons before John was diagnosed with a serious illness that would eventually take his life.
A Life of Adventure – Exploring the World
Peg had always been the adventurous type; a world explorer, if you will. Her husband, on the other hand, had been carefully preparing for their future. “He worked all his life to save money so we could travel, but he was getting weaker and weaker,” she recalls.
But eventually, they did find the time to enjoy traveling together. One year, they bought an RV and drove to Alaska. On another trip, they found a company that strapped their RV to a railroad flatcar on a special train and delivered it over the road-less mountains of Mexico.
There were many adventures in Peg’s life, including salmon fishing in Alaska and climbing in the Rocky Mountains. Her travels, many with John, included trips to Morocco, Yugoslavia, Germany, Russia, Egypt, India, and Australia.
Keeping Active in Retirement
Now, for the last three decades, Peg has lived at Bethesda Gardens, an independent retirement community in Kirkwood. At age 108, she has given in to some limitations: “I exercise on the bed now instead of the floor,” she laughs. “I’ve had two strokes, and I can’t turn too fast or might fall down because I don’t have good balance.”
What she does still have is a keen, searching mind that is not obsessed with the past. She reads a newspaper every day and books on—what else—travel.
Life is good for Peg at Bethesda Gardens, she says. She plays Wii bowling three times a week with her fellow residents, enjoys bingo, listens to music, and sees her surviving son John almost every day. They are now working on a video project together sorting through photos and slides. They read movie reviews and John takes her to the cinema.
Her choices of movies and books (don’t hand her a silly murder mystery) is about learning. “I want something I can think about—something I can sink my teeth into,” Peg says.
Wisdom That Comes with Age
How does Peg deal with 108-years-worth of change? “It’s like a race. If you fall behind, you either speed up or quit,” she says. And Peg is no quitter.
If you ask her if she has any regrets about her life, she will tell you that she wishes she had paid more attention; meaning she wishes that she had been better at distinguishing between facts and fiction, gaining knowledge and insight into what is real and important.
“My father told me ‘If someone tells you something and you doubt it, don’t guess. Find out the truth.’ And that’s what I try to do.” she says.
At 108, Peg Sharp is still exploring the world.
Schedule a Tour at Bethesda Gardens
Bethesda Gardens and all of Bethesda’s Independent Retirement Living communities in the greater St. Louis area offer a wide variety of activities for their senior residents. Schedule a tour at a community near you to see what this dynamic lifestyle can offer you in retirement.