Pearl Gertrude Hannah Pringle: On the job at her hardware store until age 92
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 21, 2010 - For the past seven decades, people in north St. Louis, particularly those in the McKinley Bridge area, could get their documents notarized by Pearl Pringle while they shopped for supplies at Tobin Hardware. The store belonged to Mrs. Pringle, who went into the family business when she was 21.
Mrs. Pringle had vowed to work right up to her death -- and she almost did. She died Saturday at Alexian Brothers Sherbrooke Village following several strokes, less than a year after leaving the job. "She had nothing left to fight with," said her daughter, Patty Pringle. Mrs. Pringle was 93.
A memorial Mass will be at 10 a.m., Thurs., April 22, at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis King of France, 209 Walnut St., commonly known as the Old Cathedral.
"We took her out of here (the hardware store) on May 20, 2009, in an ambulance," Pringle said. "But it was still her store, and she let us know it."
A Lifelong Labor of Love
The store was one of the two family businesses Mrs. Pringle helped manage and later owned. Her father and mother started Tobin Electric and Sign Co. in 1920, four years after she was born. They built and repaired lighting and light fixtures when many homes were just beginning to make full use of this new technology. They opened the hardware store in 1954.
With only a ninth-grade education from Central High School, Mrs. Pringle successfully ran both businesses.
They closed the electric company in 1987, but the hardware store and Mrs. Pringle remained viable fixtures at 3321 North Broadway.
Besides the necessary merchandise, Mrs. Pringle filled the store with knickknacks and her own brand of humor, like a sign that says, "Anyone who enjoys work, would have a hell of a time around here."
At the counter, Mrs. Pringle greeted customers, many of whom called her "Miss Pearl" or "Mama Pearl," and quickly and astutely diagnosed, to the chagrin of some, what was wrong with the many things they brought in broken.
"She knew more than some of the guys and some of them didn't like that," her daughter laughed.
More than anything, Pringle said, her mother like notarizing papers. In doing so, she could dispense a bit of legal advice, knowledge she had acquired over many years of affixing her notary seal, which she began doing in 1942.
The office where she did her paperwork was a mirror of the store: a snapshot of a bygone era filled with mementos, framed humorous clippings and antiques, the favorite of which was her ornate rolled top desk, which she had refinished more than once. And three dogs had the run of the place. Many times, there had been even more dogs on the premises.
"At one time, she had 11 dogs, all saved from the streets of north St. Louis," Pringle said. "They walked in the back gate, someone gave them to her or dad chased them down. And they lived to be ancient, like her."
The canines prompted Mrs. Pringle to purchase a new Chevrolet Monte Carlo in 2006.
"I need a good car to take the dogs to the vet; I can't be breaking down," her daughter said she told the car dealer.
The store contains one nod to modernity.
"Can't live without a fax machine," Mrs. Pringle told NewsChannel 5 in 2008.
Mrs. Pringle was born December 12, 1916, across the street from her hardware store, and she lived above the store for more than 50 years. Most of her family, who affectionately called her "Sis," lived close by.
"We (our families) own the whole block on the Ninth Street side and half the block on the Broadway side," said Patty Pringle.
An Independent Woman
During World War II, Mrs. Pringle had entertained the troops, playing accordion, guitar, bass fiddle and banjo in an all-girls' band, Charlie Beurke's Orchestra, which visited USOs and military bases throughout the region. During this period, she also learned how to prepare tax returns and began offering her tax services.
Mrs. Pringle, who was known for being an independent woman, was cited many times for her work as a Ward 2 Republican committeewoman during the 1980s.
In 1947, she had married a Marine from her neighborhood who was stationed at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed and who was later wounded during his tour in the Philippine Islands. Pearl and James D. Pringle, who worked alongside her at the hardware store, were married until his death in 1993.
In addition to her husband of 45 years, she was preceded in death by her parents, Pearl E. and John B. Tobin, and her brothers, Harold "Bud" W. (Ann) Tobin and Harry Tobin.
In addition to her only daughter, Patty Pringle of St. Louis, Mrs. Pringle is survived by her nephews and niece, John B. (Mary) Tobin, Daniel H. (Joanne) Tobin, Robert L. Strassner and Janine M. (David) Potrezeboski. She is also survived by two great nephews and a niece, Scott (Janine) Tobin, Jeff (Angie) Tobin and Kim (John) Wall.
Visitation for Mrs. Pringle will be from 4-8 p.m. today at Kutis City Chapel, 2906 Gravois in St. Louis. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. on Thursday at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis King of France, 209 Walnut Street, in St. Louis. Interment in Calvary Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, the family would appreciate memorials to the Humane Society of Missouri, 1201 Macklind Avenue, St. Louis, Mo. 63110, www.hsmo.org.
Gloria Ross is the head of Okara Communications and the storywriter for AfterWords, an obituary-writing and production service.