Mary was the youngest of three daughters born to Kelton L. and Mary Belle Gentry Pepper. She was born on July 6, 1908, in Atlanta, Georgia, and was raised as an Army brat, traveling with the family to the Philippines, Japan, China and the Panama Canal. This afforded her the opportunity to meet famous people, such as Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Gen. George Patton, actors Randolph Scott and Jimmy Stewart and Bob Hope.
Following her graduation from Randolph-Marion College, she reported on high school sports for the “Atlanta Constitution.” Mary married Charles Weir Crankshaw in 1927 and had three sons and one daughter. By 1940 they divorced, leaving Mary to raise the children in an era lacking equal rights for women. Without the aid of welfare, she managed to give all of her children a college education. Mary worked in the Tampa shipyard during World War II and volunteered in the Army Air Force Filter Center, which tracked the movement of planes and submarines.
Mary claimed to have been a volunteer since the age of eight, before she knew what the word meant. In 1974, when the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) began in St. Cloud, Florida, Mary was a founding member. Besides spending many years at the Kissimmee/St. Cloud Convention and Visitors Bureau greeting tourists coming to this area, Mary divided her time between the Osceola School District, Meals on Wheels and as a board member for the Osceola County Council on Aging. For several years, she headed the March of Dimes Mothers March in Osceola County.
The first Osceola County resident to receive the Jefferson Award for Public Service in 1980, Mary was also one of eight senior volunteers recognized in 1978 at the Sea World Community Service Awards. A member of both the Joshua Stevens Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution and the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Mary took pride in showing off a family heirloom, a sofa used by Thomas Jefferson in the Blue Room of the White House. Jefferson gave the sofa as a wedding gift for his niece, Arabella Randolph, who was Mary’s grandmother’s grandmother.
Mary died on July 13, 2000, after volunteering on the Living History Panel at Narcoossee Center School. She was 92 years old and left 17 grandchildren and 39 great grandchildren.
Written by Anza Bast.
Sources: “Orlando Sentinel” February 16, 1978, September 3, 2000; Ancestry.com