The oldest living original Islander celebrated her 100th birthday on Aug. 8.
Ruth Mary Close was brought to Mercer Island after her birth in 1917, and has never left. She was baptized, confirmed and married in the same church — Emmanuel Episcopal, in its East Seattle location. The church moved to its current home on 86th Avenue Southeast in 1959, and hosted the birthday celebration last Tuesday. Close carved the inscription on the church’s original mission bell, which still stands in the courtyard.
Many of the centenarian’s family members and congregation members attended the party. She and her husband, Don, had six children and many grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Close is a “Mercer Island pioneer” who enjoyed adventuring on the Island when she was a kid — building forts, camping and swimming.
Close is showcased in several pages of the “Images of America: Mercer Island” book. She and her parents lived on Mercer Island when deer outnumbered people, her family said.
Close remembers that her father built a plank walk from her house to school, over a mile away, so that she could walk while avoiding the thick gumbo clay.
She started going to East Seattle School in 1926, later taking the ferry to Seattle to attend Garfield High School and the University of Washington, where she majored in accounting and met her husband, an electrical engineer named Don.
They were married in 1938, and purchased property on East Mercer Way in 1941, where they lived with their six children: Dick, Marilyn, Cathy, David, Christy and Frank. When they moved from the west side of the Island to the east, they hired two men and a barge at a cost of $40 for the day, said Close’s grandson, Dan O’Neill.
Close lives with her daughter, Marilyn, and likes reading, gardening and looking at the water and the summer fireworks. Inspired by the family’s vacation home in Vancouver Island, Close enjoyed creating Native American carvings out of driftwood found on the beach.
“I remember her sitting in her rocking chair, cutting off chips of wood,” O’Neill said. “When she was done after about a month and a half, it would be ready for a museum.”
Don Close passed away in 2006, but passed along many life lessons to his family over the years. One was to always buy waterfront property, if you have the means.
Most of the Close kids still live by the water — two in Mercer Island (on property purchased from Close’s parents), one in Kingston and one in Whidbey Island. Dick died last year, but had also lived on Vancouver Island. He was a member of the first graduating class of Mercer Island High School, in 1958.
The Close family has given back to the community over the years, establishing a professorship at UW and volunteering at their church, where one of the reverends said Close had “a gift of welcoming people.”
“A lot of people turn 100,” said Close’s son, Frank. “But how many who turn 100 are living where they were born?”