Petersburg’s purple librarian, Ruth Sandvik, is 100 years old today. Family and friends are marking the occasion with fireworks last night Sunday night and a party this afternoon. Sandvik worked for years as high school librarian and has been honored for bringing the arts and radio to Petersburg.
Ruth Wetterborg grew up in Portland, Oregon and went to Reed College in Portland. She came to Petersburg to teach in 1941, one year after her friend Alice Foster Longworth.
In a 2010 Listening Project recording with her daughter Diane, Sandvik recalled getting a telegram from the superintendent of Petersburg schools George Beck asking her to come work here. “Well George needed a teacher at the last minute but fortunately I had met him at summer school the summer before,” Sandvik said. “And you can’t imagine what a very fine man George Beck was. After he met my mother and me, he said to my mother, ‘we wish we had a place in our school system for your daughter, Mrs. Wetterborg.’”
There was an emergency need for a teacher the year after that initial meeting, prompting the telegram and a new life for the young teacher. In Petersburg she married fisherman Oscar Sandvik and raised three kids. In that same listening project interview Sandvik remembered life as a fisherman’s wife and one particular phone call with her friend Tora Norheim. “She said it’s so fine when your husband comes home from fishing and you bake a cake and you have good things to eat. She says it’s Christmas all the time. And you know I can still hear her words. And it dawned on me, that’s the way life should be. We don’t have to just be nice to people at Christmas, we can be nice all year round.”
Sandvik is known for her love of the color purple, and her purple clothing. In a 2009 profile for Reed College magazine, she told former KFSK intern Melati Kaye, “In library school, they told me to pick something out that made me distinctive, so I decided to be the Purple Librarian.” For a while Sandvik wrote a column in the local paper under that moniker, including book reviews and notes from the libraries. She also taught calligraphy classes here and served on various boards in the community for the arts, libraries and civic improvement.
Hernandos Hideaway was the starting song for radio shows put on for decades by Sandvik and Longworth. The two were involved in the early startup of the radio station in the late 70s and helped the station broadcast city council meetings twice a month. In a 2004 interview Sandvik and Longworth recalling one broadcast. “We listened to the city council meeting and one night it was particularly quarrelsome,” Sandvik said. “They were having a hard time discussing things and Alice had a brand new piece of music she was dying to play and we could hardly wait for the program to be through. But finally it finished, on went our music and tell what it was.
“What was it?”Longworth asked.
“”Who’s sorry now,” laughed Sandvik, adding, “perfect.” Sandvik and Longworth retired from spinning records at KFSK in 2004. Two years later Ruth was honored by Mayor Ted Smith with the first of its kind Mayors Award for the Arts. That recognized her for her support of the arts council, arts in education, literary and performing arts, public arts projects and KFSK. “And I could give the thanks in return,” Sandvik told the city council. “Life in Petersburg’s been wonderful all through the years cause we’ve had plays, we’ve had music, we’ve had things to make Petersburg pep up. So we thank you.”
And KFSK thanks you too Ruth and wish you a Happy Birthday from all of us.
A birthday party for Sandvik is also scheduled for Monday, February 8 from 3:30-5:30 at the Lutheran Church Holy Cross House.