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Beloved local celebrates 100 years


Kyle Clayton / Petersburg Pilot

Diane and Ruth Sandvik at Ruth's birthday party on Monday.

When I was told I better write a story about Ruth Sandvik turning 100 years old the first thing I thought was, Who is Ruth Sandvik?

I knew of her of course. Her name is synonymous with art, books and a general zeal for life, one of the cornerstones of cultural life in Petersburg. But I didn't know who she was. I certainly didn't know how to encapsulate her, 100 years of her, in one newspaper story.

I can try though to glean a few clues, and perhaps pick out a pattern, from the collection of things and people that have accumulated around her during some of that time.

I can peek around her small room in Mountain View Manor. A cassette, George Orwell's "1984", is lodged in her audio book player. Stacks of CDs-Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole and Mozart-sit on shelves.

A blue and purple flyer hangs on the room's wall advertising a free public lecture, hosted for two days at her old home, on transcendental mediation as taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

On another wall a framed picture hangs with a quote from Epictetus, the Greek Stoic philosopher who taught that we choose how to define our character, and ultimately, our lives.

She echoed that philosophy on her 100th birthday invitations: "Every morning you walk out that door, your mood will largely determine how your day goes. Do your best to greet any situation with a smile and a positive attitude. And it's bound to turnout better."

Sitting in Sandvik's Mountain View Manor room, her daughter Diane remarks at the open-mindedness, the blast of color and inspiration her mother has embodied and brought to both of their lives.

"Mom's always been interested in everything," Diane said. "As a big city girl you come to Petersburg and it's more provincial. Any class that came through Petersburg, whatever the topic, my mother participated in because she was eager for stimulation and new ideas."

Diane stopped talking to me and turned to her mother.

"I've always admired that," Diane said. "You're willing to try anything."

Sandvik traveled to Petersburg on a steamship in 1941 for a job. Sandvik was a teacher, a librarian, and a globe trotter. She was an artist and an adventurer. After retirement she travelled to Europe, Africa, China and India. She was a founder of KFSK. In 1995, at the age of 79, she met a long-time goal to hike and camp with her family on Petersburg Mountain.

"The view was spectacular as ever and the town was sparkling with night lights," she said in an interview for a Petersburg Pilot story in 1996.

In the 70s, Sandvik wrote a weekly column for the Petersburg Pilot entitled "The Purple Librarian." In an April 16, 1975 edition she ended her article, "Remember, take time to smile."

She certainly beamed as a room packed with friends, family and admirers-many of whom were draped in purple-sang Happy Birthday at the Holy Cross House for her 100th birthday party on Monday.

Could she have imagined, riding on that steam ship 75 years ago, that a future mayor of her soon to be life-long home would read a proclamation naming a day after her?

From the 25 year old eager and adventurous Petersburg-bound Sandvik making her way up the Inside Passage on a steamship from Portland, Oregon, to the 100-year-old purple clad, tiara crowned birthday girl last Monday, Ruth Sandvik seems to exude, like a smattering of sunshine and blue sky through grey Petersburg skies, a sense of joy and curiosity that has touched Petersburg.

Certainly she's not impervious to suffering. She has doubtless experienced the same pain and loss that affects everyone at one time or another. But it's clear she is not a victim of that suffering. She does not despair over it and it does not control her.

I asked her, a few days before the party, how it felt to be turning 100 years old, to have experienced so much of the ebb and flow of life.

"I feel just the same as I did before," she said.

She said it smiling.


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