By Linda Ball
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
Ruth Parker Winquist doesn’t say much these days, but when she does, it’s said with a dry, quick wit. Out of nowhere, Winquist remembers “someone daring someone else to lick a cow pie.” Good fun back in the day!
It is not very often that a centenarian is in our midst. Winquist is a week away from that milestone – on Saturday, September 10th, she plans to celebrate her 100th birthday with family, at her home in Brookdale Admiral Heights, where she has lived for more than 10 years.
Winquist was born in Portland in 1916 to Charles Arthur Parker and Ella Ethelyn Gabriel. She was the middle child of three – sister Nancy, born in 1914, is gone now, but brother Ben, born in 1921, lives in Mill Valley, Calif., and talks on the phone with Ruth every Sunday. Her earliest memory is when her mother took she and Nancy to see French Marshal Ferdinand Foch in a parade after World War I. Her mother thought it was important for her daughters to see a real war hero.
The Parker family lived for many years in Seaview, Washington, where the kids would put crossed nails on the railroad tracks, delighting in the squashed nails after the trains went by. During this time her grandmother Lillian, her father’s mother, was an important presence in the young family’s lives. She said her grandmother had a twinkle in her eye and sort of scandalized her mother, who was very straight-laced. Her father worked for The Oregonian newspaper in Portland in addition to working aboard a fishing scow on the Columbia, but in the early ’20s the Parkers moved to Seattle, where her dad got a job with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
The Parkers eventually settled in West Seattle in a little beach shack – with a tree that grew through the roof – near Lowman Beach. They went barefoot in the summer, swam in Puget Sound, and played on the beach, making camps out of driftwood logs. Ruth and Nancy started school at Gatewood Elementary. It was a happy time, but her parents decided to build their own home instead of renting at the old beach house, which is still there.
Her father then built what was to be a temporary home on two view lots above Gatewood school, but the Depression came along and they stayed in it much longer. Her father also built Seaview Methodist Church, where Ruth would eventually marry her husband, Bob Winquist. She said the West Seattle trestle was a real “thriller,” back then, 25-feet in the air on pilings. People who came to visit them in West Seattle were so terrified they swore never to come and visit again.
Charles Parker did work through the Depression, but most of the people they knew didn’t have work. People picked up surplus food or welfare stamps at a central area, hoping no one they knew would see them. The Parker family joined a group called “Work and Eat,” planting and harvesting vegetables and fruit. Additionally, they helped can food at a cannery in Kirkland in exchange for some of the bounty.
After Gatewood Elementary, Ruth attended the then-newly-built James Madison Junior High for the last half of the eighth grade and all of the ninth, before enrolling at West Seattle High School, where she graduated in 1934. Spontaneously, she will sing the WSHS fight song like it was yesterday!
She attended business school for a semester and then worked in school offices, most notably at Tyee High School in South King County for a long time. While working at Tyee, two students stood out. Steve Pool, longtime KOMO TV weather anchor, was one; the other was Gary Ridgway, who would later be identified as the Green River Killer.
“He was always hanging around the office,” Winquist said of Ridgway. “I always thought it was him.” She said Pool was a standout among the other students, and she always knew he’d go somewhere.
Her first date with Bob Winquist was to a dance at Echo Lake. She wore a pretty white dress and white shoes with a blue jacket, not knowing they’d have to hike a ways from the car. Her dress was pretty dirty when they got back to the car – a Model T. The car wouldn’t start, so they had to hitch a ride to the end of the nearest streetcar then transfer to downtown to a West Seattle streetcar. From then on, she and Bob were an item, marrying at Seaview Methodist on June 17, 1938. For their honeymoon, the couple journeyed on the Princess Marguerite to Vancouver and Victoria.
With the help of her father-in-law, the couple built their first home at 42nd and Dakota. But when they decided to have a family, they moved “way out of town” to one and a half acres in Hazel Valley, which is now 128th and Ambaum Blvd in Burien. She said she remembers sitting on the privy watching the cows go by! There, they raised their children – Sallie Morris, 74, Bob Winquist, 72, and Jim Winquist, 69. She said it was a good place to raise kids, and a very happy time. Ruth now has seven grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren, with one more on the way. The entire extended family all live in various parts of the Seattle area.
Among her memories: Every spring and autumn the Winquist family would have a golf tournament at various golf courses around the state. This trophy was passed around from year to year, the Winquist Cup, which is actually a booze bottle:
You can see Ruth won in 1977. (One side of the bottle had the women who won; the other, the men.)
Bob worked at the Fisher Flour Mill on Harbor Island until he retired. Ruth remembers that for every Christmas they received a turkey from the Fishers. She sold the famous Fisher scones at the Puyallup Fair for many years.
After becoming empty nesters, Bob and Ruth sold the Hazel Valley house in 1973, moving to an apartment while a brand-new condo was being built overlooking the marina in Des Moines. Bob liked the water, she said. When asked what was the highlight of her marriage, she said, “That’s a secret!” She and Bob moved into Brookdale in 2004; he died in 2007.
Friday, September 9th, at 4 pm, there will be a birthday celebration for Ruth at Brookdale (2326 California SW), for the residents and anyone in the larger community who would like to attend and meet her. This countdown hangs on the wall in her apartment:
At next Friday’s party, the West Seattle High School Band will perform, and maybe even do the fight song for her. Daughter Sallie Morris will present her mother with a proclamation by Mayor Murray.