Ruth Spangler Wosser, a beloved elementary school teacher who taught generations of Belvedere and Tiburon children, died of kidney failure at her Tiburon home on Feb. 18, just 12 days shy of her 102nd birthday.
Mrs. Wosser taught first, second and third grade in the Reed Union School District for more than two decades, but her family’s roots in the area go back much further. The Wossers have lived and worked in the community since the late 1800s. At the time of her death, Mrs. Wosser, the last descendent of the family to still live in the area, was part of a small group of locals that had been urging Belvedere to rename a public lane in honor of the family.
Born Ruth Spangler on March 1, 1918, in Chico, she was the eldest of three daughters to Margaret Allinger Spangler and Charles Spangler. As a teenager, her parents helped her escape the heat in Chico by sending her to spend summers with her aunt and uncle — the noted architect Carr Jones — at their homes in Berkeley and Belvedere.
Years later, she recalled her summers in Belvedere fondly. As she told it, because the yacht harbor had yet to be built, there were no berths and kids swam from one anchored yacht to the next, grabbing a gunwale or a mooring line to pull themselves up to warm up under the sun’s rays.
During one of these summers, she met her future husband, Belvedere native Jake Wosser, whose mother and aunt were Belvedere’s telephone switchboard operators, working the switchboard in the Belvedere Land Co. office. His grandfather moved to Belvedere in the late 1800s and was chief engineer of the ferryboat Tamalpais between Sausalito and San Francisco.
Jake Wosser himself had joined the San Francisco Yacht Club in 1935 and would become one of the best racers in the club’s history.
He went off to college at the University of California at Davis, and Mrs. Wosser studied closer to home, earning a bachelor’s in education at Chico State University in 1939. She started her teaching career in Susanville, Weaverville and Sierraville before moving to San Francisco to begin a job working at the Federal Reserve Bank while also teaching school in Richmond.
Mrs. Wosser and her husband were married in 1942 and lived in San Francisco during World War II. Jake Wosser spent his Navy duty as a sailor in Naval Intelligence. After the war, he became a stockbroker with Pflueger & Baerwald.
Mrs. Wosser continued to commute to Richmond until 1948, when her daughter, Susan, was born and she became a stay-at-home mom for a few years. The young family moved into the Acacia Avenue home of Jake Wosser’s widowed uncle, Frank Ballard, in Belvedere.
By 1951, Jake Wosser and a team of friends completed construction of a snug home on Tiburon Boulevard at the foot of what later became Gilmartin Drive. The only things they had to hire pros for were the electricity, plumbing and chimney, Mrs. Wosser said in a 2018 article in The Ark about her 100th birthday.
“Cows used to eat right behind our backyard, and the train ran alongside the water across the street from our house,” she said in the article. “It always blew its whistle before coming to San Rafael Avenue. Imaging hearing that at midnight.”
The Wosser home sat halfway between the two dairies where Reed Elementary School and Del Mar Middle School are now located.
“We’d take our bottles to one of the dairies and buy cream so thick we’d need a spoon to get it out,” Mrs. Wosser said.
In 1953, the same year the Wossers’ daughter started school in the Reed Union School District, Mrs. Wosser started teaching again, taking charge of 40 first-graders at the request of Lester Blackmore, principal of the now-defunct Belvedere School. Because the baby boom was on and space was short, the class first met in the laundry room at The Hilarita apartments, which at the time was housing for U.S. Navy families. She moved on to teach second and then third grade at Tiburon School — which eventually consolidated with Belvedere School — before retiring as a special education and reading specialist in 1979.
Mrs. Wosser received a Golden Bell Award from the California School Boards Association for a reading program, Score, which she led in the years before and after her retirement.
The couple’s social life revolved mostly around the yacht club. In 1955, the Wossers turned their garage into a boatyard, and Jake Wosser and fellow sailor John Rumsey each built identical Star racing boats. The following year, the Wossers bought an International One Design class boat and called it Rutsan, a contraction of the names Ruth and Susan. At the helm, Jake Wosser won the International One Design World Championship three times. He skippered 13 San Francisco Perpetual Challenge Trophy races. Mrs. Wosser too loved to sail but mostly passed out sandwiches and beer, she said.
In the 2018 Ark article, Mrs. Wosser remembered one race in Southern California particularly well. She watched the race from the spectator boat, Santana, skippered by Humphrey Bogart, who, she recalled, drank Scotch the entire time.
Another time, on the final night of a regatta in Norway, she was seated at dinner next to Crown Prince Harald of Norway, now King Harald V.
“We talked about sailing and our families,” she said. “He was very easy to talk with.”
Eventually, Jake Wosser was named club commodore. Mrs. Wosser helped launch the yacht club’s ladies auxiliary in 1954.
After Jake Wosser died in 1990 at age 70, Mrs. Wosser traveled extensively across the U.S. and Hawaii, Europe, Africa, Bermuda, Siberia and Russia. She previously said her favorite trip was to Italy.
Mrs. Wosser’s house boasted an interior courtyard and a big front yard, where she enjoyed gardening in years when she was steadier on her feet. In her free time, she stayed busy playing bridge and dominoes, reading and serving on the yacht club’s historical committee.
Mrs. Wosser stopped driving at 92, but that didn’t keep her at home. Instead, she joined the Tiburon Peninsula branch of Marin Villages, whose volunteers drove her to appointments and errands. She in turn volunteered her home as the venue for its domino games.
She loved to socialize and never lost her desire to make new friends.
Lisa Brinkmann, the former executive director of Marin Villages and an ongoing volunteer with the organization, became a friend of Mrs. Wosser. She recalled the day Mrs. Wosser called her to say she knew Mrs. Brinkmann’s husband’s birthday was coming up, and she wanted to invite him to the yacht club for a birthday lunch.
Mrs. Brinkmann says she laughed and asked, “Can I come, too?”
Mrs. Wosser remained sharp of mind until a few days before her death. She attributed her longevity to a good diet and said she didn’t drink much and never drank alone.
Late last year, Mrs. Wosser approached her friend, former town of Tiburon receptionist Joan Palmero, and asked for help getting a street or lane in Belvedere named after the family.
Palmero, with the help of Belvedere residents Suzi Miller and Chris Morrison, researched and visited lanes across Belvedere Island and landed on an unimproved lane called Albert’s Alley as their top choice.
The lane is located near the island’s southern tip and runs down to a public beach on Belvedere Cove. The steps begin near the intersection of Beach Road and Bayview Avenue and connect to Lower Hawthorne Lane above. It was once used by ferry riders to get from the shore to their Belvedere Island homes.
The Belvedere Parks and Open Space Committee considered the request at its January meeting before continuing discussion to its March meeting. The name change has been backed by the Belvedere-Tiburon Landmarks Society.
Mrs. Wosser is survived by her two grandchildren, Amy Madrigali of Los Angeles and Matt Madrigali of Rohnert Park, as well as an extended family of nieces, nephews and other relatives. Her daughter, Susan, died in 2007.
A memorial service and birthday celebration was held March 1, on what would have been Mrs. Wosser’s 102nd birthday, at San Francisco Yacht Club.
Donations in her memory may be sent to Marin Villages, 4340 Redwood Highway, Suite F-142, San Rafael, CA 94903; or to the Belvedere-Tiburon Landmarks Society, 1550 Tiburon Blvd., Suite M, Tiburon, CA 94920.
Deirdre McCrohan has reported on Tiburon local government and community issues for more than 30 years. Reach her at 415-944-4634.