Co-op founder’s wife was his rock

Sugar cane matriarch ‘made it look effortless,’ longtime friend says.

By Susan Salisbury Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

BELLE GLADE — Peggy Rawls Wedgworth, 86, of Belle Glade, died Wednesday after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

Wedgworth was the wife of George Wedgworth, founder of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida in Belle Glade, who survives her. They were married Sept. 4, 1948.

“George Wedgworth wouldn’t have been able to build this great company without the steadfast support of his loving wife of more than a half-century,” said John Hundley, chairman of the cooperative’s board.

Her friends and family recalled her as a fun-loving lady who lived life to the fullest. She was a gracious and charming hostess who was devoted to her husband and family.

Peggy and George met after the Rawls family moved to Belle Glade in 1943. After graduation from Belle Glade High School in 1946, both Peggy and George headed to Michigan State University, where Peggy had been awarded a full swimming scholarship.

While at Michigan State, Peggy was a star on the Spartan Diving Team and set swimming records that lasted for decades.

Born in Coral Gables to Sadie and William J. Rawls, Peggy became the youngest member of the famous Water Babies at age 2. The aquatic troupe consisted of the five Rawls siblings and featured Peggy’s oldest sister, Hall of Fame swimmer Katherine Rawls.

Her oldest grandson, Keith Wedgworth, recalled her positive and competitive spirit.

“If she wasn’t playing tennis or getting the family together, she was the one who was making the jokes and pulling the pranks,” said Keith, who lives in Wellington.

Sue Bailey of West Palm Beach, a close friend of the Wedgworths since the late 1950s, said that when George founded the cooperative, he worked long hours and traveled a lot.

“Only a spouse like Peggy could have pulled him through this,” Bailey said. “She was calm. She had more energy than anyone I have ever been around.”

Longtime friend Joanne Royal of Belle Glade, who played tennis with Peggy, said, “She had the tennis team up to their ranch in Okeechobee every year. She was always entertaining her family and so many other people. She made it look effortless.”

Wedgworth is also survived by her sons, Douglas K. Wedgworth and wife Teresa, of Jupiter, and Dennis G. Wedgworth and wife Becky, of Wellington; daughters Deborah W. Altman and husband Thomas, and Diane W. Triplitt and husband Tom, of Travelers Rest, S.C.; a sister, Dorothy R. Williams, of Lafayette, La.; 11 grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren and 17 nieces and nephews.

Funeral services were Saturday at the Community United Methodist Church in Belle Glade.

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