By ED FRANKS
The PACE Center for Girls of Lee County is holding its 2014 Grande Dames Tea Party honoring three women that "honor the female spirit." One of those women is Sarah Sciple of Matlacha.
The press release from PACE states: "Few people have lived life on a grander scale than Sarah Sciple, a 92-year-old Southwest Florida native who not only has a bucket list, but has checked off everything on it."
"I was born in Arcadia on Dec. 30, 1921," Sciple said. "My father was in the air service and he was stationed at the airfield there at the time. However, I grew up on Edgewood Avenue in Fort Myers. Now, after the Depression of 1929, Southwest Florida people were very poor. But we never knew we were poor because we always had enough to eat and people were so generous. If someone grew potatoes, for example, and they had more than they could eat, they would share them with their neighbors. This was a wonderful place to grow up."
She went on to say, "I went to public schools, of course, and graduated from Fort Myers High School. I was interested in flying because of my father and wanted to learn to fly airplanes. I went over to Page Field where they let me sweep out hangers in exchange for flying lessons. I learned to fly in a Taylorcraft and got my pilot's license when I was 17. I always tell people that I got my 'IFR' I Follow Roads.
"Back then there wasn't a bridge to Sanibel or Captiva and, of course, they didn't have any newspaper delivery. Somebody came up with the idea of just dropping the newspapers from a plane and I was hired for the job. I made deliveries to Sanibel, Captiva, Useppa and Boca Grande. You would drop the bag and then go around to be sure you hit the mark. If you missed and the bag landed on someone's roof I just dropped another bag."
Sciple worked at Buckingham Airfield as manager of the personnel department where she passed her civil service exam. She left the area to work in Washington, D.C., and New York City.
"Then I applied to become a stewardess with United Airlines, not a hostess or a flight attendant, a stewardess. I was a stewardess for just 2 1/2 years and they offered me a job in St. Louis with Ozark Airlines where I became 'Chief Stewardess.' I had to write a manual for them and hire all of the personnel for passenger service. We flew DC3's at that time where the coffee was hot and the cockpits were cold ... but we loved it.
"It was about this time my mother introduced me to my future husband, Carl Sciple, who graduated West Point in 1932 and was a colonel in the Army." Sciple continued. "Carl was on the diplomatic list and we lived in Stuttgart, Germany, for 11 months and then in Tehran, Iran, for 2 1/2 years. Those were the 'salad days' when the shah was still in power. I worked as the director of purchasing for Iranian Air.
"When we were in the Middle East I had an opportunity to dig for artifacts between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers," Sciple said. "The University of Pennsylvania was digging there and I knew little about it but I just knew I wanted to do it. I didn't know that I was supposed to save these little shards from old pots. I remember a fellow that found a small oil lamp and he gave it to me saying, 'Here, you can have this. It's only 300 years old.' We got a lot of good things out of there."
She continued, "One of the fellows that worked for Iran Air was the personal steward to the shah. He and his wife lived with Carl and I for a while. He was Swiss and had a beautiful home in the Swiss Alps. They invited me to their home in the Alps where I had the opportunity to ski.
"I also had the opportunity to climb Mount Damavand in Iran," Sciple said. "It is built just like Fuji and it is the highest peak in Iran at about 13,000 feet. You go the first day by donkey and then spend another day climbing the rest.
"When we left Iran our next station was Fort Belvoir in Virginia. We were only there a few days when a telegram arrived that my niece, just 5 years old, would be arriving at the airport. Kate lived with us until she graduated college.
"After 30 years, Carl retired from the military and we moved to Dallas where Carl was a vice president for a company," She added. "When the company went public, Carl was the last person hired and he was the first to be let go, and that's when we returned to the Fort Myers area. That was 1977. We were here only a short time when Carl had a stroke and lived another 13 1/2 years."
Sciple's adventures were far from over even after her "retirement" in 1991. On her 65th birthday, she went bobsledding in Switzerland and broke her leg in five places. However, that didn't stop her from walking the Great Wall of China (on crutches) a few weeks later. At age 85, she even embarked on a zip line adventure in Costa Rica.
The Grande Dames Tea was originated by PACE Center for Girls of Lee County to honor women who have played major roles in Southwest Florida history through decades of service, philanthropy and helping others.
PACE statistics demonstrate a high success rate with young women. Of the young women that participated in PACE, 94 percent had no involvement with criminal justice in the following year; 87 percent were placed in appropriate educational settings after leaving PACE and 88 percent improved their academic performance. (From the PACE website)
"If I was going to offer advice to the young ladies of today it would be, 'You can do it,'" Sciple said. "And don't let anything stand in your way."
Sciple will be honored at the PACE Grande Dames Tea at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theater on April 4, from 1-4 pm. Tickets are $50 and hats are encouraged.
Reserve your seat online at or by phone at 239-470-7548.