The creative life at Maris Grove

Reenactor Peggy Orner shares her portrayals with neighbors, other communities

Created date

August 29th, 2017
A black dress, black hat, and determination transform reenactor Peggy Orner into her most popular and longest-running portrayal, Mother Jones.

A black dress, black hat, and determination transform reenactor Peggy Orner into her most popular and longest-running portrayal, Mother Jones.


In 2013, Peggy and Tom Orner moved from a retirement community in Reading, Pa., to Maris Grove, Erickson Living’s retirement community in Delaware County.

Living at Maris Grove put the couple closer to family members. It also gave them peace of mind that should either of them need care, it would be available right on site at Maris Grove’s medical center and its on-site rehabilitation and continuing care neighborhood. 

And, for Peggy, it provided the special amenities of a campus theater and the Players group. 

Theatrical niche

“I’d never done anything theatrical until I was over 50,” she says, “but I’d always wanted to try.” 

She started by taking acting lessons when the Orners lived in Media. She did community theater in Reading. By the time she and Tom moved to Maris Grove, Peggy had created her own theatrical niche. 

In the mid-1990s, Peggy auditioned for a role as Mother Jones, a protestor and labor organizer in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Although Mother Jones was old and Peggy was the only woman over 35 to audition, she didn’t get the part. 

“That was the best thing that could have happened,” she says, “because I decided I’d write my own part.” She did. 

Peggy became a reenactor and gave her first portrayal of Mother Jones in 1996 for the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She received rave reviews. Encouragement and connections from an “old girls network” put Peggy’s show on the road.

She’s rarely stopped since. The Orners moved to Maris Grove in January, and Peggy gave her first campus performance as Mother Jones that March. 

Growing repertoire

A tireless researcher who immerses herself in her subjects, Peggy writes all of her material and delivers her hour-long monologues in costume and from memory. 

Her repertoire now includes Margaret Tobin “Molly” Brown; Frances Perkins, FDR’s secretary of labor; Granuaile, Ireland’s pirate queen; and her newest portrayal, Eleanor Roosevelt.

Except for Roosevelt, the achievements of these courageous, inspiring, and older women have been lost to history. 

But Peggy has put them on center stage with performances across New England and beyond in venues that include colleges and churches, museums, women’s organizations, and retirement communities.

If she’s not researching or writing, she’s practicing her lines. Finding it easier to memorize if she’s moving, Peggy walks while she rehearses. 

In inclement weather she can walk the entire campus iindoors thanks to Maris Grove’s network of internally connected hallways and climate-controlled bridges. 

The best place to be

When Peggy’s husband was eventually diagnosed with ALS, the move to Maris Grove proved an especially wise decision. 

Tom passed away last year, but through his decline additional care had been available, and the Orners were blessed with a built-in support group of caring neighbors and extended family. 

“He was still with me mentally,” says Peggy. “But seeing how fast ALS took him physically made me determined to do as much as I can for as long as I can.” Maris Grove’s lifestyle frees her to do that.

“You don’t have to conform to anyone’s idea of what living here means,” Peggy says. 

Peggy play bridge and mah-jongg for fun and has performed in Maris Grove’s Follies and plays. She’s also taken a few trips with Maris Grove’s travel group. 

Peggy enjoys the variety of six on-site restaurants at Maris Grove. She doesn’t clean either but contracts that chore to Maris Grove’s housekeeping services staff. 

Maris Grove has even provided her with a professional seamstress. A campus neighbor who’d designed and made costumes for a community theater group recently altered Peggy’s Mother Jones dress.

Peggy’s creative side has flourished at Maris Grove. She loves her life.