Centenarian misses playing keyboard at churches, events

Margaret Park Sheedy, a Columbia native who moved to Charleston in 1939, turned 100 on Tuesday. She remains active and is hoping after eye surgery to return to playing keyboard for Our Lady of Good Counsel Church on Folly Beach.

At 100, Margaret Park Sheedy is hoping to get back to her lifelong avocation.

Born Feb. 15, 1911, she turned 100 on Tuesday. The spry, active centenarian has a vivid memory, and while she enjoys volunteer work and social activities, she greatly misses playing the piano and organ for local churches.

An eye ailment that made it difficult for her to read music forced her to step away from the keyboard several years ago. "It broke my heart to have to stop," said Sheedy, a Columbia native who moved to downtown Charleston when she married in 1939. She is hoping to have corrective surgery.

Sheedy has tickled the ivories for school classes and graduations and churches since she was a teen growing up in the Midlands. Most recently, she played for Our lady of Good Counsel on Folly Beach and earlier for the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist on Broad Street. She played for school plays, dancing classes and graduations in both Charleston and Columbia.

She's worked as a kindergarten teacher, kindergarten manager and gift shop operator, but she feels her most fulfilling role is making music.

In Sheedy's youth, Southerners "would sit on their porches in the afternoon and swing and talk." Back then, she said, people really got to know their neighbors. "You have no neighbors anymore. No one knows each other," said the mom of three, grandmother of seven and great-grandmother of six.

A University of South Carolina graduate in music, Sheedy remembers hand-crank telephones and train travel "through the wilderness" between Columbia and Charleston." The USC campus was small, and the annual football game with Clemson was played on "Big Thursday" at the State Fair.

Columbia was a lot like Charleston in those days, and Main Street was speckled with candy stores and dress shops. "You met all your friends on Main Street, and you'd drink a Coca-Cola with them and splurge, and have a good time."

So much has changed, she laments. "It's quite different now, nothing like it was. Children have so much now that nothing is a treat. I know nothing about the computer, and I don't want to know."

Sheedy is one of five children born to Joe and Agnes Park. They had a pony at home, but after the family acquired eight cars, creating parking havoc, the pony was retired to the country. Sheedy said she was just 14 when she was given a Ford Roadster. She didn't have a license yet. "I think I was driving before I got it (the license), but who hasn't."

It was a big deal, she said, when the family got a radio. "We would sit, Dad in his comfortable chair, and country music would come on, and it was really enjoyable," she recalled.

"Having a radio was a luxury, but there were not many choices" of what you could listen to, she said.

Sheedy met her husband, John, at church in Columbia. He was an auditor for the Fort Sumter Hotel in Charleston, and after their wedding, they lived on Church Street, then Queen Street.

She said a friend gave her this advice before she moved to Charleston: "Always carry yourself nicely. The blinds are always closed, but people are always peeping through the blinds. And when you go to King Street, always wear a hat."

She said her husband one day brought home one of the first televisions. "We were just amazed. All the children sat on the floor and watched Milton Berle and ate popcorn," she said.

TV has gone downhill these days, she says. "Now you are punching buttons all the time trying to find something decent."

She recalls that after Hurricane Gracie in 1959, there was no electricity at home for a week and boats traveled on flooded Queen Street.

And Sheedy remembers her first drive across the old, two-lane Grace Memorial Bridge. "I just looked straight ahead. I wouldn't look down or away."

Sheedy has recently surrendered her car keys. "The doctor told me I better stop driving," she said.

She never had an X-ray until she was in her 80s and received her first antibiotic in her 90s. She said she can't explain why she's in such good health for her age, but noted: "I can't stand water. I drink tea and sodas, but I never cared for water, even as a child."

But it is a benefit to "enjoy life, be happy, enjoy your friends and keep busy," she advised.