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Mercer Island resident celebrates 100 years

Mercer Island resident Elisabeth Tuttle recently celebrated her 100th birthday. She moved to Mercer Island in 1974. - Contributed Photo
Mercer Island resident Elisabeth Tuttle recently celebrated her 100th birthday. She moved to Mercer Island in 1974.
— image credit: Contributed Photo

How many 100-year-olds do you know who are still full of stories and life? How many 100-year-olds do you know at all?

Elisabeth Tuttle reached the century mark on Aug. 16, 2010, and is a great neighbor, friend and wellspring of stories and knowledge. She celebrated her milestone birthday with family and friends on Sunday, Aug. 15, at her Mercer Island home.

Tuttle was born in 1910 in Painesville, Ohio, just 30 miles east of Cleveland. She decided to become a social worker in high school, after a visiting vocational speaker delivered a presentation about the profession.

“The person who spoke to us about social work really impressed me. I thought, ‘That’s for me.’ So I never changed my mind; I had a career in social work.”

She studied sociology at Oberlin College and then received a scholarship to Washington University in St. Louis, where she earned a master’s degree in social work. By graduation, the Roosevelt administration was putting the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) into full swing, and Tuttle took advantage of this great opportunity to apply her skills. She worked at FERA in St. Louis for one year before taking a job with the Child Welfare Services Program in Missouri.

Tuttle was assigned to the Southwest corner of Missouri, an expanse of 20 counties united by the Ozark Mountain Range. It was here that she witnessed the abject poverty that she recalls to this day. One of her primary duties was to ask local authorities if they needed help with truant children. One family that Tuttle helped lived in a clearing in the woods, with only boards on the ground for beds.

“Every time I’d think, ‘Well, nobody could have fewer possessions than this family does,’ but the next one would be worse,” said Tuttle.

One of Tuttle’s favorite memories is of helping a child of mixed race from the Ozarks find an adoptive home in St. Louis. A white woman in the Ozarks gave birth to a black baby and asked for help finding a new home for her child because, as Tuttle recounts, “She knew he’d never have a chance in her county. Any black person who came into the Ozarks got chased out.” With the cooperation of a worker in St. Louis, Tuttle found an adoptive family for the child.

“It was Christmas time and they had a Christmas tree for their baby to enjoy. I like to think of the contrast in conditions between where I took the child from and where I took him to. There’s one child I know I really helped,” says Tuttle.

After spending some six years in the Ozarks, Tuttle went on to work for the state department in Missouri, before becoming executive of the Children’s Aid Society in Williamsport, Pa., and finally executive of the County Welfare Department for Cuyahoga County in Cleveland, Ohio. She retired in 1972.

Making use of her newfound freedom, Tuttle moved to Mercer Island to be closer to her sister. She lived in an apartment for two years, until she found the perfect house to buy one day while walking to visit her sister. She was wise to buy it when she did; she said, “I bought it for $28,000. What do you think you can buy on Mercer Island for that today? Not an empty lot!”

Tuttle says she “couldn’t give up working altogether” and has volunteered for the Red Cross and the Mercer Island Library, among other places. She now lives in the same house that she bought for $28,000 back in 1974.

When asked what the most rewarding thing about her many years in social work was, Tuttle replies without hesitation, “Never a dull moment.”

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