90 years on earth and almost 70 years of speaking outB.P.C. activist going strong as she turns 90

By Mara McGinnis

Volume 17, Number 40 | February 25 – March 3, 2005

90 years on earth and almost 70 years of speaking out

B.P.C. activist going strong as she turns 90

Pearl Scher, who celebrated her 90th birthday on Feb. 24 and is best known as a feisty Downtown activist and fixture at civic meetings and discussions about her neighborhood, did not speak in front of other people until her early 20s.

One of Battery Park City’s most dynamic community board members, Scher says that she was extremely shy for much of her early life, until the day when a stimulating political lecture brought her to her feet. She suddenly found herself at age 23 — to her own amazement — speaking in front of a roomful of people.

“From then on, I haven’t stopped talking,” says Scher, a petite woman with gray hair, light blue eyes that sparkle from behind her thick glasses, and an awe-inspiring spirit. At 80 years old she entered politics, becoming the oldest elected official in Somers, N.Y., where she lived until she moved to Manhattan in 2000.

Over dinner in the dining room of The Hallmark — the sophisticated and luxurious retirement community on North End Ave. in Battery Park City where she now lives —- Scher explains that she has been working for the last four years to help her fellow residents at The Hallmark and the larger Downtown community with everything from registering to vote to getting them a shelter at the nearby bus stop.

“I’m concerned about what’s happening,” she says, which is a major understatement considering that those worries translate to action for her on a daily basis. The daughter of Russian immigrants, Scher grew up in Upstate New York, left home at the age of 11 for the big city and has made her way on her own ever since.

“I’ve been working since the age of 7 – sometimes for money, and sometimes not,” says Scher, who describes herself as decisive and optimistic. “The resume I’ve accumulated is for my entrance into heaven and I don’t have to write that one.”

Her paying jobs have included teacher, principal, travel agent and real-estate agent. She also served as a Marine in World War II and was recently recognized for that effort by the Museum of Jewish Heritage. The military wasn’t for her, however. “I was always in trouble and I talked too much,” she says.

But the work she does now is unpaid. The unofficial mayor of this Downtown community of more than 200 senior citizens, Scher says that she personally welcomes every new Hallmark tenant and tells them, “I’ll be around in a day or two to register you to vote.” Scher estimates she has registered nearly 300 residents in the past four years. Her latest endeavor is preparing a how-to guide for those who vote via absentee ballot, which she says is an extremely complicated and inconsistent process that affects many seniors.

“She’s the most knowledgeable person in the joint,” says Bernie Katz, a Hallmark occupant and retired New York University psychology professor.

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