‘Pure class’ Peg Rider passes away at age 101

Last week, Peg Rider of Sharptown passed away at 101. (Brice Stump Photo)

Sharptown is like so many small rural neighborhoods on the Shore that have a sprinkling of Victorian style homes, bungalows, maybe a small church, fire department and a few streets. Some might still be holding onto their struggling post offices.

Brice Stump.

Sharptown is the village across the gently rolling, greek fields from the home of Peg Rider and Herman Fletcher.

Ask someone where they are from, and if they say Sharptown, you both have something instantly in common — Peg Rider and Herman Fletcher. It seems thousands of folks know these two. Even though they’ve lived on a farm within sight of the town — the Sharptown Carnival buildings are in view —  they have become the face of the community.

Herman, 93, grew up in Sharptown. Peg, born May 12, 1918, was from Choptank and the Hurlock area.

She grew up without electric lights in her home, no phone, few automobiles and at a time when chamber pots were still a common bedroom amenity.

No jets, few radios, and, of course, no television.

There was a young Peg at a time when rural folks had few luxury items, one of which was the coveted hand-cranked Victrola or a radio powered by batteries.

There were no electric irons in the days of her youth. No electric refrigerators, just weekly deliveries of blocks of ice. When she was a young girl, there were still plenty of Civil War veterans still alive.

She came to the farm as Homer Rider’s young bride in 1940. Soon she would be running a house in dire need of repairs, cooking, cleaning and washing for the 11 folks living there. She washed their clothes on a washboard.

Several farm hands moved in, and at a time when he was socially frowned upon to interact with blacks, Peg invited two young men to move in and spent the next several years raising them.

Each year, according to family friend Michael Murray, of near Salisbury, she would take the two to the former Culver’s Men Shop in Sussex County and have a tailored suit made for them.

When Herman, of Sharptown, was 16, he was a farm hand for the Riders, working in their dairy operation. When he was 17, Homer asked him to stay at the farm as cow milking came each day before dawn. Herman moved in and never left. He still has the bedroom that was his when he was 17.

Homer died in 1984, and Herman stayed, continuing the farming operation on the Century Farm. They had always been, Peg told me, “lifetime friends.”

In May of last year, she and Herman hosted her approaching 100th birthday party in Sharptown. She spent the day in heels, greeting every guest. As was her daily custom, Peg was impeccably dressed.

It was her attention to dress and fashion that made her and Eastern Shore legend.

The former “hairdresser” who operated a shop in her home for years, had her hair washed and styled every week for at least 75 years. Her ivory-white hair, that touched her waist, was always worn in a bun. And each day of her life, until she was hospitalized and cared for at home, she applied make-up.

Every day was a fashion-statement day. Never mind she cooked and cleaned daily, she, like June Cleaver of TV’s “Leave It To Beaver” show, wore heels, a necklace and earrings, and attire suitable for entertaining. She was always ready to be photographed.

This attention to her dress made her well known among family and friends and a topic discussed with strangers. How could anyone, much less at 100, still have the determination and ability to maintain such a daily regimen?

Once I asked Peg, of all the changes in her life, which change most interested her.

The change that made the most impression on her was women’s fashion.

This answer quite surprised me. It surprised me because I considered her answer from a man’s perspective, and a lack of appreciation for changing female fashion trends.

Yet men and women fashions are surely a billion dollar industry that has driven economic engines for centuries. The right clothes really do make or break a male or female image.

Fashion appreciation

As a teenager, she told me, her appreciation of fashion was set. She always wanted to look her best.

She began collecting vintage clothing, rare, delicate, expensive garments that showcased tasteful styles from the Civil War-era forward. She even retained her prom dress, and proudly remarked that she was able to still slip into it at 100. To maintain that youthful figure, and size four, Peg had an eating rule — never take second helpings.

For decades she had numerous one-woman fashion shows, changing dozens of times to showcase vintage clothes. This past summer she even hosted an exhibition at the MAC Center in Salisbury allowing guests to see her collection.

More than a year ago I did a story on Peg’s collection, stored on the second floor of her home by her bedroom. The stairs heading up are narrow, steep, the steps tall and dangerous. How on earth did she manage to routinely go up and down them without falling? I was hugging the wall.

Through her collection Peg brought fashion history to life in a very real way. We could see and touch and learn about the fashions that exemplified generations of Americans. There was local history associated with them, too. She still had the dress that she lent Joanne Morgan of Sharptown in 1943 when she went on her first date with Granville Trimper, of Trimper’s rides fame in Ocean City. The two married in 1944.

Peg laughed when she told me the dress clinched the deal.

There have been many people who have lived to be 100-plus. Yet few have a claim to fame, or impacted people outside their family, other than reaching the century mark. Peg was a source of local history and one of the few folks in our area from old-time rural America. She was a living link to history. She inspired many to consider their daily attire and the look they presented to friends and strangers.

I must confess, she motivated me to put more thought into the clothes I was “going about” in. She was right — presentation matters.

As for “advanced years,” Peg told me, when she turned 100 last May, that she seldom considered her age.

Peg Rider as a young woman.

“I don’t think about my age. I get up in the morning and go about my day. I don’t sit around complaining about my ailments. I don’t have time for that,” she said.

And age didn’t slow her down.

In the autumn of 2018, she and Herman attended an antique car show in Hershey, Pa., with Herman driving his pickup, loaded with a golf cart, and pulling a trailer holding his 1926 Model T.

Three years ago they attended another show with the Model T and Herman drove non-stop from Illinois to Sharptown, even a challenge for a much younger driver.

They were both nearly-50-year members of the Eastern Shore Region Antique Automobile Club of America.

She was active and engaged.

For decades she maintained an extensive flower garden, and prided herself on its appearance. In November 2018 she was in the garden picking up tree limbs and raking leaves. By late December she was in the hospital and in a few weeks home again, but almost bed ridden. Friends told me she was simply worn out at 101-plus.

‘I’ve had a good life’

During my in-home visit with Peg and Herman a few months ago, Peg was concerned about the state of current international events, and said she was embarrassed by Donald Trump’s trials and tribulations.

Herman was upset that he couldn’t find a particular part for the tractor is was rebuilding from a local retailer.

They have made me laugh and have touched my heart these past few years.

This week, Peg passed away at 101 years and 18 days.

Two days before Christmas she was in her yard flower garden raking leaves.

“I’ve had a good life,” she told me with a soft smile several months ago.

Peg Rider. (Brice Stump Photo)

As the last days dwindled to a precious few, many friends came to see her, including Wicomico County Sheriff Mike Lewis who had befriended her years ago when he saw her driving or being driven in her 1957 Chevrolet BelAir in parades. People just loved “Miss Peg.”

Sylvia Bradley, co-founder of the Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture at Salisbury University, and director of the Westside Historical Society and retired Salisbury University professor emeritus, said she met Peg as a teenager. Bradley said her boy friend and future husband, Don, worked part-time on Peg and Homer farm, and her friendship grew with Peg over the years, so much so, that Peg became a founding member of the society.

As Peg’s 101 birthday approached May 12, Bradley paid a visit to her friend and during the conversation Bradley asked he what she would like for a gift. “She said she wanted a special bottle of perfume, and that’s what my sister, Claudia, and I got her.”

It was a request that didn’t surprise Bradley.

“She brought touch of elegance got everything she did. This is an element missing in our modern lifestyle. She loved history and bringing it alive through her fashions and fashion shows, showing us how people dressed from years past,” Bradley said.

To help the society raise much need funds, Bradley and Rider hosted a fashion show a number of years ago show-casing Rider’s collection of mostly authentic original period clothes from the Civil War era up to almost the mid-1900s.

All of the clothing was in Peg’s petite Size 4 — and only she wore them at shows. During the society benefit show, Peg, in her late 80s,  would change into 17 outfits, wearing 3-inch heels, during the two-hour-plus program. The society still benefits from DVD sales of the fashion show.

Fashion was very much her life. She made arrangements a longtime ago for the special outfit ion which she wanted to be buried. She left detailed instructions for her funeral. She even has a photograph of herself in her fashion finery, in her flower garden, on her tombstone.

Well before dawn on Saturday, comfortable and quietly, the grand dame of fashion and flowers slipped from this worldly realm into eternity, leaving memories to cherish and inspire.

“There will never be another Peg Rider,” Bradley said softly. “She was pure class.”

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