`Miss Marguerite' dead at age 100

Woman's Exchange fixture for decades

April 19, 2001|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Marguerite Schertle, the quick-stepping waitress who delivered tomato aspic and charlotte russe lunches to Charles Street patrons for nearly 80 years, died yesterday in her sleep at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. She was 100 and lived in Parkville.

Until she retired at age 95, she was a presence at the Woman's Industrial Exchange, a genteel downtown Baltimore institution. Customers recalled her as a "Metroliner on her feet" as she raced between kitchen and tables in her white orthopedic shoes and blue uniform secured by a puffy bow.

"What an alert, sparkling, feisty and marvelous person she was. She took nothing off anybody - she was courteous and polite - but she didn't back off," said Julian "Jack" Lapides, a customer and former state senator who lives in Bolton Hill. "She really was a tradition at the Exchange, and the Exchange survives because of the Marguerite Schertles of this world. She was unique in a unique environment. We should all do as well."

Mrs. Schertle earned a small part in the 1993 film "Sleepless in Seattle" and once told off a crew member who tried to instruct her in how to wait on a customer. "Do me a favor. Let me do it my way," she said to the chastened moviemaker.

Another time, complaining about tourists who visited the Exchange at Charles and Pleasant streets, she said, "I'm tired of those walking tours they bring through here to show us off. They walk in here, look around, use the ladies room and don't buy anything."

"She was tough and could be bossy, but I liked her," said Phyllis Sanders, a former tearoom hostess who retired in August after working at the Exchange since 1939. "Marguerite hated change, and she criticized other waitresses if they weren't just so in their uniforms. She wanted them perfect. She wanted everything to be perfect."

Mrs. Schertle, whom her customers addressed as "Miss Marguerite," began her 49-year tenure at the Woman's Exchange in 1947. It was the last of the sedate Charles Street tearooms where she had worked after her graduation from the eighth grade of the Cathedral Parochial School.

She would occasionally reminisce about Charles Street in the pre-World War I era, when, as an 14-year-old, she started working in the kitchen of the Dutch Tea Room, where she baked Lady Baltimore, orange and Wellesley fudge cakes. After she finished her chores in the kitchen, she waited on her customers, many of them women who shopped in the select stores along Charles Street.

She recalled the generations of Blue Book Social Register customers who wore white gloves and hats and had their chauffeurs drop them off and pick them up. She could rattle off the names of many of the women she served - and their tipping habits.

"Her work kept her working," said her son, Kenneth Schertle, director of the Maryland Racing Commission. "The daily exercise of going out and feeding off of people kept her going. ... Even after she could no longer work, she kept in contact with her customers and former co-workers."

Ms. Sanders, her former co-worker, recalled how quickly Mrs. Schertle paced through the Exchange's dining room. "She wiggled her nose as she ran down the aisle," she said, recalling that Mrs. Schertle was an expert at tying the bows on the waitresses' uniforms. "She always tied our bows."

For many years, she worked alongside her identical twin sister, Anna Schertle. The sisters married brothers and lived side by side in identical houses on Plymouth Road in Hamilton. Her sister died in the 1990s.

Mrs. Schertle continued working into her 90s after she broke a hip. She recuperated, but when she broke her hip a second time, she retired from the Exchange.

Born in Baltimore, Marguerite Klaus was reared on St. Mary's Court in the Seton Hill neighborhood. In 1924 she married William Schertle, a city fireman. He died in 1972.

In 1991, when she turned 90, she spoke to a Sun reporter about her working life:

"Who wants to stop working? Why would I quit? What would I do? People who stop working get in a rut. They get depressed."

She said her working day was governed by a routine: At 7:45 a.m. she caught the No. 19 bus on Harford Road and met with other downtown waitresses for breakfast. "We race like hell to get here by 10:30," she said.

"She was irreplaceable," said Elizabeth Nilson, vice president of the Woman's Industrial Exchange board. "She worked so hard for so many years."

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 9 a.m. Saturday at St. Ursula's Roman Catholic Church, 8900 Harford Road, where Mrs. Schertle was a member.

In addition to her son, Mrs. Schertle is survived by six grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.

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