Ruth Ittner: Talk given on her 90th birthday

  • Posted 6/12/2010
  • Essay 9452

Ruth Ittner (1918-2010) was an ecologist, trails advocate, hiking legend, tireless volunteer, author, and University of Washington public policy administrator, She is most remembered for her work with Volunteers for Outdoor Washington and for building the Iron Goat Trail, a hiking trail near Skykomish that follows the old Great Northern Railway line. These are her words spoken on January 12, 2008, at a celebration of her 90th birthday. The celebration took place in Seattle at MOHAI (the Museum of History & Industry.

Ruth Ittner

The other day I happened to see a copy of the acceptance speech I gave 20 years ago when I received the Mountaineers Service Award in 1987.  Reading it I realized that most of it applies to all of you and to my whole life.

It’s been a joy to know each one of you and the organizations you represent but you have given me far more than I have contributed over the years.  I mentioned my Mother’s admonition: “Ruth, you’ll never be grown up until you see something that needs to be done and DO it without being asked!”  I’m sure she was thinking about household chores but looking back, I see I have applied this to life. It was true when I was a trails coordinator for the Mountaineers.  It was true when applied to the creation of Sno-Park and helping to staff the Volunteers for Outdoor Washington.

At this time I feel compelled to share what you all have given me. First of all it was Adventure. Adventure helps you cope with challenges. This applies to life. In participating in outdoor activities, I gradually gained strength and health. After being an invalid for years, I took the climbing course at an age when some people leave this activity. The instructor started helping me develop my potential, not by focusing on my weaknesses.  In teaching me to climb, they taught me to have faith in myself: “You can do it with one step!” Climbing requires focus -- the next step, the next handhold -- there’s no other way to reach the summit.  You learn to pace yourself; you don’t run up mountains and with perseverance you achieve what seems like an impossible goal.  This applies to all life’s goals and objectives.

I’ve participated in a variety [of] the region’s seasons and over the years I’ve had the privilege of participating in all of them -- summer, fall, winter, spring; easy, moderate, difficult; on trails, in snow, over rocks; on all types of terrain, in the lowland valleys and the summits of mountain peaks.  Outdoor trailbuilding is a lifetime endeavor that becomes more precious and meaningful each year.

You gave me companionship, sharing experiences, forming bonds of friendship.  I’ve met the most wonderful and dedicated folks from all walks of life, a special kind of fellowship.

And then it comes to witnessing the beauty of nature: observing the changes of the seasons and the flow of life force brought about by spiritual awareness.  Listening to the wind in the trees, the babble of the brook, the roar of the waterfall, the silence of peaks, the glory of the wildflower and mountain meadows, the majesty of mountain peaks at dawn and sunset and reflections in the still lakes bring serenity.  We learn to live one day at a time and find joy in each moment.  Through the years I’ve gradually learned about ecology and the web of life. I’ve hiked and climbed with geologists, botanists, and naturalists and it has opened my eyes to the wonders in which we live. Now I feel dedicated to work toward making it possible for future generations to continue to enjoy the outdoor recreation experiences that have meant so much to me.

Thank you not only for coming tonight but for all you’ve given me through the years.

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