SEATTLE - Mary Anderson, a climbing enthusiast who helped start the outdoor retailer REI that has become the nation’s largest consumer-owned retail cooperative, has died at 107.
REI said she died March 27, the Seattle Times reported Tuesday.
Anderson and her husband, Lloyd, along with 21 other mountaineering friends, started the consumer cooperative in 1938 out of a desire to find high-quality, affordable climbing gear in the United States. By forming a co-op, they were able to buy outdoor gear in bulk from Europe and other places.
REI, headquartered south of Seattle, has grown to about 6.3 million active members, more than 140 retail stores and about 12,000 employees.
Anderson’s “legacy is deeply engrained in REI and her contributions to the outdoor community extend far beyond the co-op,” the company said in a statement. “REI and our employees are grateful to the Andersons for their dedication to REI and the incredible foundation they established.”
In search of high-quality outdoor gear and relying on Anderson’s German skills to translate gear catalogs, the couple discovered they could order ice axes from Austria and have them delivered to Seattle at better prices, according to an REI blog post. Friends heard what they were up to and wanted to get involved.
The couple and 21 other outdoor enthusiasts officially formed Recreational Equipment in 1938. Each paid for a $1 lifetime membership fee. Mary Anderson held membership card No. 2, according to the Mountaineers, the Seattle-based nonprofit outdoor organization in which the Andersons were heavily involved.
For years, the Andersons operated the co-op out of their Seattle home. She stitched tents and packed food in boxes while he sprayed them with waterproofing — a room off their kitchen served as their office, the newspaper reported.
“They never started this buying cooperative to create a store,” said Thomas Vogl, CEO of the Mountaineers and a former senior vice president of marketing at REI. “All they really wanted to do was make it easier and more accessible for people to get into the outdoors.”
Anderson was born in central Washington’s Yakima Valley. She was a longtime teacher in Seattle public schools and was among a handful of people who helped set up the Mountaineers climbing course in 1936.
She retired from REI in 1968.