Mary Anderson, Mountaineer and REI Co-Founder, Passes Away at 107

Mountaineers member, REI co-founder, and Pacific Northwest visionary, Mary Anderson, passed away at the age of 107.
Tom Vogl Tom Vogl
Mountaineers CEO
April 03, 2017

On Monday, April 3, 2017, I received the news that Mary Anderson passed away at the age of 107. A Washington State native, co-founder of REI with her husband Lloyd, one of a handful of Mountaineers instrumental in setting up the climbing course in 1936, and a longtime teacher in the Seattle Public School District, Mary's legacy will surely surpass her long life. 

During the time I worked at REI from 2006 to 2012, I had several opportunities to spend time with Mary. Even at nearly 100 years old, she was a remarkably strong and vibrant person, sharp-witted and full of life.  Many years of a life well-lived in the great outdoors was clearly imprinted on Mary's inner being. 

Mary will be missed by The Mountaineers community yet the impact of her tireless commitment to connecting people with the outdoors is still felt today.


Born Mary Gaiser on December 7, 1909 in Yakima Valley, Mary loved Washington and the natural world from a young age. She moved to Seattle and taught grade school until the mid-1930s, while always sharing her love for wild places with her students. She was especially passionate about biology and natural history. 

Together with her husband Lloyd, Mary joined The Mountaineers in 1929. They were among the earliest graduates of our basic climbing course in 1935, students of Mountaineers legend, Wolf Bauer. Immediately thereafter they began sharing their love of the mountains by instructing aspiring climbers. They were among the first climbers to use new ice axe techniques lauded by the next generation of mountaineers. 

The only trouble was, ice axes were expensive and nearly impossible to find here in the Pacific Northwest. However, that was a solvable problem for Lloyd and Mary. Lloyd and Mary created a "buying cooperative" to order in bulk from Europe,  making climbing gear and eventually other products easier to find and more cost effective than other options. 

Thanks to Mary's German translation skills and Lloyd and Mary's keen business acumen, REI was born in that year, 1938. They operated Recreational Equipment Cooperative in their attic (and kitchen, and dining room) of the West Seattle home Lloyd had built. For many years they continued to operate REI out of their home. Many years later, Mary acknowledged that she and Lloyd never thought about opening a store in those days - they simply wanted to make good quality gear more accessible so people could enjoy the outdoors.

Eventually Mary retired from teaching and took over the everyday operations of the co-op. She stitched cotton into tents, packaged food into expedition-ready boxes, and handled ordering and deliveries. 

She continued to be heavily involved with The Mountaineers, supporting Lloyd's ambitious climbing schedule while nabbing a few first ascents of her own. Mary assisted Lloyd with the "Climber's Notebook" which evolved over nearly 20 years into the first edition of "Freedom of the Hills", first published in 1960. In so many ways Mary was an early pioneer in the outdoor industry. She retired from REI in 1968.

Lloyd Anderson passed away in September 2000 at the age of 98. They were married for 68 years. In honor of Mary’s 100th birthday in 2009, then Governor Christine Gregoire and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels proclaimed December 7, 2016, as “Mary Anderson Day” across the State of Washington and City of Seattle.

That same year, in recognition for her contributions to the lives of young people and life-long love of the outdoors, The REI Foundation established the Mary Anderson Legacy Grant. 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 our youth programs and reach to underserved youth. Today, these programs provide over 7,300 youth outdoor experiences thanks to the generosity of donors and continued support from The REI Foundation. We're forever grateful to Mary for this opportunity.  She will be missed.


We wrote about Mary and Lloyd Anderson in a RetroRewind column of Mountaineer Magazine, and have posted Happy Birthday messages for her the past few years. You can read more about her legacy here.

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