Happy 107th Birthday, Mary Anderson!

Lifetime Mountaineer and REI co-founder (she holds membership card #2) Mary Anderson turns 107 today, and we’re thrilled to wish her a wonderful birthday.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
December 07, 2016
Happy 107th Birthday, Mary Anderson!

Today we wish a very Happy Birthday to our longest standing member: Mary Anderson – a Washington State native, longtime teacher in the Seattle Public School Districts, and co-founder of REI with her husband Lloyd (she holds membership card #2). She was one of a handful of Mountaineers instrumental in setting up our climbing course in 1936.

In recognition for the contributions that Mary Anderson made in the lives of young people during her years as a teacher, over her years of working at REI, and through her life-long love of the outdoors, The REI Foundation established the Mary Anderson Legacy Grant in 2009 in celebration of her 100th birthday. The annual grant is presented in support of efforts that actively engage young people in learning about nature through hands-on engagement and exploration of the outdoors.

The Mountaineers was a proud recipient of the $50,000 grant in 2011 and 2012 for our Youth and Family Initiative to grow Mountaineers youth programs and provide funding for outreach to underserved youth. Today these programs provide over 6,300 youth outdoor experiences thanks to the generosity of donors and continued support from The REI Foundation.

In honor of Mary’s centennial birthday, Governor Christine Gregoire and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels each proclaimed, Dec. 7, as “Mary Anderson Day” across the State of Washington and City of Seattle.

Join us in celebrating Mary Anderson Day and wishing her a very Happy Birthday!

We wrote about Mary and Lloyd Anderson in a RetroRewind column of Mountaineer Magazine. To help celebrate Mary Anderson Day, here is the story as it originally appeared in our Sept/Oct 2014 edition:

Lloyd and Mary Anderson’s Legacy Mountaineers' search for the perfect ice ax adapted from The Mountaineers — A History

by Jim Kjeldsen
Lloyd Anderson graduated from the University of Washington in 1926 with a degree in electrical engineering, only to find that jobs in his chosen profession had evaporated during his student years. In 1928, he finally landed a job with Seattle Transit, where he would remain for thirty-two years, but with little professional reward. He was chronically bored by the time he joined The Mountaineers in 1929. The climbing course would rescue him from that boredom. Both he and his wife, Mary enrolled in the first course in 1935. All of Lloyd's previous climbing, including Mount Rainier, had been done with an alpenstock. But the type of climbing being taught by Wolf Bauer was more technical, and an ice ax had great advantages over an alpenstock.

The problem was, ice axes were expensive and the selection was limited. "We had a few dinky little stores that sold stuff," Lloyd said in 1996 of the outdoor recreation selection available in 1935.

But they didn't sell much, and what they did sell was at exorbitant cost. He found an Austrian-made ice ax at the OutDoor Store, the traditional Mountaineers supply outlet, but he found the twenty-dollar price tag outrageous. Lloyd kept hunting and was told at another small shop, Cunningham's, that he could get an Austrian-made ice ax for seven dollars. Even that was a good deal of money in the days when many workers earned fifty cents an hour, but he relented and ordered the ice ax. However, when he went in to pick it up just before the climbing course began, what was handed to him was not an Austrian-made work of art but a Japanese knockoff, and the price had gone up to twelve dollars.

Lloyd couldn't help but feel he'd been slickered, and his prominent jaw turned rock hard as he dug deep into his wallet. It was either that or go without, and he had already determined that the testing grounds of human character were on mountain rock and snow.

Lloyd kept grumbling about the incident until a fellow climber, Swiss-born Rudy Amsler, informed him of European magazines that carried ads for climbing equipment the way Pacific Northwest magazines carried ads for hunting rifles. A catalog from Sporthaus Peterlongo in Innsbruck, Austria, was soon delivered to the Andersons' front door. Mary knew enough German to be able to translate the equipment descriptions and convert schillings to dollars. But to Lloyd, with his crummy twelve-dollar ice ax, her translation seemed all wrong. Mary insisted she was right, and so they sent off for the genuine Austrian ice ax Lloyd longed for. When it arrived, delivered to their doorstep by the postman, it turned out to be a superb example of European mountaineering technology. The cost: three dollars and fifty cents, postage-paid. Lloyd's jaw set up rock hard once again as he realized just how much money the middlemen were making with their monopoly on mountain gear.

Fellow climbers who saw Lloyd's new ice ax quite naturally wanted one of their own, and it wasn't long before a visit to the Anderson home meant you were liable to be seated on a crate, bearing a European postmark that had arrived filled with ice axes, crampons, pitons, and carabiners. Lloyd and Mary's living room business was launched. Lloyd didn't see himself in competition with established outdoor stores. In fact, he didn't see himself in business at all. It was a pastime for him, something to take his mind off his job. He would import the gear for himself and his friends, charge precisely what he had paid plus a tiny cushion to cover unforeseen costs, and turn the goods over with a handshake.

But this could not go on forever since Lloyd had too many friends and was making more fast as word spread. The venture had to be formalized. So with the help of Seattle attorney Ed Rombauer, who believed in the Depression-era cooperative movement to the extent that he charged no fees for helping people set up cooperatives, Lloyd hatched his plan.

On June 23, 1938, five Mountaineers met at Rombauer's office, and each paid one dollar to join Recreational Equipment Cooperative. Lloyd and Mary were issued cards No. 1 and 2; Rombauer himself joined, taking card No. 3. The idea was that the members themselves would be the owners, receiving a dividend each year according to what they had spent at the co-op, rather than how much stock they had purchased in the company.

During the first year, Recreational Equipment was nothing more than a shelf at the Puget Sound Cooperative Store, situated just north of the Pike Place Market in Seattle. Today, REI is a multibillion dollar corporation with 135 retail stores in 35 states, and growing — with over 11,000 employees. However, the original premise of the co-op remains intact. It still refunds about 10 percent of its members’ annual purchases each year in the form of dividends. What began as a community of climbers in search of quality outdoor gear has grown nationally to serve more than five million active members and customers seventy-five years later.


Pictured above (left) Lloyd and Mary Anderson model the very latest in mountainwear for a 1946 newspaper photo. The caption read: "The Smart Set." Lloyd was The Mountaineers president at the time, and the cooperative they founded in 1938 (later known as Recreational Equipment Inc. - REI) was one of the best sources of mountaineering gear in the country.

At right is the first official REI storefront. For the first five years, REI was operated out of small shelves at the Puget Sound Cooperative Store and later Julius Ruen's gas station. Goods were sold on an honor system, with members taking what they wanted and writing their own receipt. It worked. In 1942, The Mountaineers club moved to 523 1/2 Pike Street, just above the Green Apple Pie Cafe. Soon thereafter, Lloyd Anderson moved his fledgling Recreational Equipment Cooperative down the hall, thereby establishing a kind of Mountaineers Central. The club and the co-op soon became identified as one, with the co-op commonly referred to as "The Mountaineers Co-op", even though there was no direct relationship between the club and the co-op. 

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Peter Hendrickson
Peter Hendrickson says:
Dec 07, 2016 07:50 AM

Dear Mary -- Thank you. My Dad sent me one of those Austrian axes when I started climbing glaciers in Ecuador 40+ years ago.Gear was hard to find in the early 70's in Quito but in the REI spirit, a blacksmith climber colleague started making mountaineering tools in his shop. Several REI axes later, our family still considers a trip to REI a proper outing. Happy Birthday. //Peter Hendrickson, Seattle Chair//

Helen Cherullo
Helen Cherullo says:
Dec 07, 2016 08:56 AM

Although many things have changed in gear and technique in your lifetime-- the spirit of challenge and adventure in the great outdoors is alive and well in no small part because of your visionary leadership. Happy, happy 107th birthday!

Joan Pringle
Joan Pringle says:
Dec 09, 2016 11:17 AM

Happy Birthday Mary How fortunate for all of us that you began this wonderful voyage Now, 107 years later, I get to take advantage of a great institution I ve been a member for 2 years and am enjoying my sea kayaking adventures in the South Sound area

Joan Burton
Joan Burton says:
Dec 09, 2016 11:18 AM

Happy Birthday, Mary

from Gary Rose, former REI employee and
Joan Burton

Don Bristol
Don Bristol says:
Dec 09, 2016 01:18 PM

Good Morning: I was just reading about Mary Anderson. I met them around 1940-41 when I first joined the Mountaineers. Is she still alive? I know that Lloyd died a few years back. He was my instructor of a climbing class. He also allowed me to buy some things out of the closet across the office of the Mountaineers without paying for a membership in the REI. I was just a teenager and didn't have much money. As I recall, it was Joe Hazard's wife, who was the secretary of the Mountaineers, that collected the money for the REI. If Mary Anderson is still alive, say hello for me.

Don Bristol, an old Mountaineer.