For years, Peggy Sprabery has been one incredibly busy lady when it comes to volunteering her time to benefit Mississippi Gulf Coast charities.
– By Maurice Singleton
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A fan of various musical genres, Sprabery may be best known for her involvement with the Gulf Coast Symphony Orchestra Guild, where she co-hosted Barbecue Under the Oaks for twenty-six years. She also served as a member of the Board of Directors for the Gulf Coast Symphony Orchestra for twelve years, including two terms as its president.
Barbecue Under the Oaks was started by Sprabery and her husband, Dr. Don Sprabery, when the symphony was looking for a way to raise money to cover operating expenses. Initially, a few barbecue teams were invited for a friendly competition on the Sprabery’s front lawn off Menge Avenue for her and her guests. Over the next 26 years, the event grew to as many as 34 teams with well over 1,000 guests – and the event is still held on their front lawn.
“That was obviously my passion,” said Sprabery. “Music is my passion. And it brought the community together with the businesses. A lot of friendly camaraderie.”
Sprabery said that what really made the event successful was the tremendous participation of the business community, which included building contractors, banks, lawyers, doctors, and the individuals who paid $35 to enjoy the food, music and fellowship. The event would raise over $100,000 a year during the last years of the fundraiser.
“It was really cool,” said Sprabery. “We started with a goal of raising about $5 thousand, and we doubled it almost every year. When we added a silent auction and a patron party, it was big time. It was a lot of fun.”
Sprabery recalled that in the best year of the event, more than $50,000 was raised in sponsorships alone.
She said that she misses interacting and communicating with the teams and businesses for Barbecue Under the Oaks, but she understands that everything has its season. She is clearly honored by her involvement with being a co-host and her role in planning and making the event a success. It appears to have been the perfect event at the perfect time for her.
And although the huge event is no longer held (the final Barbecue Under the Oaks was held in 2014), music continues to inspire and motivate Sprabery, years since her father first pointed out different notes to her when she was a child. Those exposures blossomed in her marriage as her appreciation for music grew along with Don’s love for music.
“When I married Don, I knew nothing about classical music, and he knew everything,” Sprabery explained. “He had educated parents who just loved music. We had a radio in the kitchen, XM Pops, and they would identify the composer, the piece of music, and it helped me to learn the difference between baroque, classical and romantic. And I just fell madly in love.
“So I went from going to a concert with him and mentally making my grocery list, not being there, not present, to ‘Oh my gosh,’ my heart was being touched by what I was hearing.”
Over the past ten years, Don and Peggy have hosted a different gathering at their home: the Oaklawn Concert Society, which features a concert in the living room of their home for its 38 members, six times per year. The entertainment list for this event has included musicians from the Louisiana Philharmonic, Gulf Coast Symphony Orchestra, the Mobile Symphony Orchestra, the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra and the Meridian Orchestra.
Sprabery said this event is not a fundraiser; it’s strictly for the enjoyment of the members of the Oaklawn Concert Society and their guests.
A lifetime member of Gulf Coast Symphony Orchestra Guild, Sprabery’s involvement in the community has gone far beyond musical events and organizations. She served as president of the Coast Medical Alliance; trustee of the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art and chairperson of several of their fundraisers; vice president of Mississippi State Medical Alliance; PAL board of directors; and chairperson of the Cat Cora and Chefs for Humanity Gala, One Big Table with New York Times cookbook author Molly ONeill and One Big Southern Table.
Dave Dennis, a longtime resident of Pass Christian, said, “Peggy’s unconditional commitment to maintaining and promoting musical and artistic cultural traditions is unparalleled on the Coast. She is simply amazingly generous with her talents and hospitality.”
A graduate of Mississippi University for Women, she served the university as a member of the Executive Council for the Alumni Association. Her board membership involvement is extensive, including the Salvation Army, the Great Southern Club, Humane Society, DuPont Delisle Community Advisory Board, Gulfport Exchange Club, Mental Health Association Annette O’Keefe Humanitarian Award, and American Heart Association, where she served as chair of Go Red for Women and Circle of Red.
Presently, Sprabery keeps busy with yoga, and she lifts weights four times a week. She also has chickens and peacocks. The Raw Oyster Marching Club is another of her joys. She said that she doesn’t know how much longer she’ll participate with the marching club, but at the present time, she greatly enjoys the camaraderie with the ladies.
“I feel very validated with my life. And blessed,” said Sprabery. “I have a great husband that I cherish. He’s great. My motto in life is carpe diem, which translates to seize the day.”
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