Date: February 1st, 1999
Ruth Ittner was six weeks old when she went on her first hike. It must have made an impression.
Eighty-two years later, Ruth lives in Washington state, where she continues to coordinate the transformation of an abandoned stretch of railway into the Iron Goat Trail. Eight and one half miles long, the route offers handicapped access wherever possible.
"Without her, that trail never would have happened," according to Sheridan Botts, a volunteer and Living Longer reader who nominated Ruth for Living Legend coverage. "She doesn't do it all herself, but she recruits people. There's kind of a joke--when Ruth calls, be on your guard. She's going to ask you to do something."
In 1987, six years after she retired, Ruth suggested transforming a historic rail line into a hiking route as she consulted for the University of Washington. Ruth figured the undertaking would be finished in time for Washington state's 1989 centennial.
"I thought two years would be plenty of time," she recalls. "I had participated in a lot of hiking work. We would take old railroad grades and make them into hiking trails. We just moved the ties, cleared the brush and had a trail."
But in the case of the Iron Goat, there were tons of debris to clear, private lands to hurdle, poor drainage to overcome. It all delayed its opening and the trail still isn't finished. Undaunted, Ruth helped found Volunteers for Outdoor Washington, a group which has done much of the clearing work, acting in unison with more than 30 other organizations.
Ruth says her volunteerism "gives meaning and zest to life." "When you meet and work with such wonderful people ... it's been a lot of fun."
You'd never know Ruth has osteoporosis. She's tough. In the past, she has worked her way through spinal meningitis, pneumonia, aplastic anemia, and car accident injuries.
"If something happens to her, she does what she can to fix it," Sheridan Botts observes. "She's my role model: I want to be like her."