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Hazel Wolf: She’s Seattle Treasure Longtime Environmental Activist, ‘Simply A Phenomenal Person,’ Will Turn 100 On Tuesday

Fri., March 6, 1998

Hazel Wolf works daily as editor of “Outdoors West,” an environmental newsletter. She speaks once or twice a month at schools, conferences and conventions, and says she gets most of her exercise running for buses.

She turns 100 years old Tuesday.

The longtime environmental activist was recently hailed by author Studs Terkel as one of two aspects that make this a special era in Seattle.

“You have the Mariners, and you have Hazel Wolf,” Terkel observed a couple years ago.

“She’s simply a phenomenal person,” said former Gov. Mike Lowry. “She’s an optimist who knows that if you work hard on things you can make them better.”

At a 1993 timber conference in Portland, Wolf - then 95 - always seemed to be in the front of the pack bustling from one session to another in a vast convention center, Lowry recalled.

“Somebody said, ‘Wait for us, Hazel, slow down,”’ he said. “But she said, ‘I’ve learned at my age when you’re ahead you’ve got to stay there.”’

Lowry will be one of five honorary co-chairmen at a March 21 Seattle Audubon Society event honoring Wolf. The organization has established a “Kids for the Environment” endowment in her name to help acquaint youngsters with the beauties of nature.

Just about every important social and environmental issue of the century has drawn Wolf’s attention, from the rights of workers, women, prisoners and minorities to protecting wilderness, wetlands and wildlife and promoting world peace.

“On any issue she gets involved in, she does her homework and knows what she’s talking about,” says Helen Engle, a member of the National Audubon Society’s board of directors and a longtime friend of Wolf’s.

Born in Victoria, British Columbia, Wolf moved to the United States in 1923, a single mother looking for work and supporting a daughter.

After a stint putting “Made in Japan” stickers on plastic toys, Wolf became a legal secretary, a job she held for most of her working life.

During the Depression, Wolf joined the Communist Party, intrigued by a proposal for a system of unemployment insurance. Though she drifted away from the party, the association drew scrutiny in 1949, when federal authorities arrested her and sought to have her deported.

The Seattle Times headline read: “Canada-Born Secretary Held as Red.”

Wolf was jailed briefly, and - after a years-long legal battle - allowed to remain in the United States. She became a citizen in 1976.

Wolf is credited with helping to start 21 of the 26 state chapters of the National Audubon Society, plus one in Victoria. She still serves as secretary of the Seattle chapter.

The walls of her modest Capitol Hill apartment are alive with paintings and drawings of birds, including one of two doves under a tree branch, painted on silk by a Japanese-American artist in an internment camp during World War II.

In the two small bedrooms, one of which she uses as an office, are plaques, awards, certificates and photographs with dignitaries.

There’s a photograph of her with former President Carter at an Audubon Society function, and a simple portrait of the late state Sen. Cal Anderson, whom she recalls as a good legislator and dear friend.

While Wolf has outlived most of her foes, her persistent-but-gentle style kept her from making any serious enemies.

She smiles as she recalls the timber-company executive who once told her, “Hazel, you can say the most offensive things in an inoffensive way.”

Wolf said she plans to spend Tuesday spending her 100th birthday on the Olympic Peninsula with her family.

And though nearsightedness has hampered her ability to see the birds she loves, Wolf says she is not planning to slow down anytime soon.

Terkel included Wolf’s story among the 70 oral histories in his 1995 book, “Coming of Age: The Story of Our Century By Those Who’ve Lived It.”

Wolf told him: “I was born in 1898. I’m going to live till the year 2000, so I can have been in three centuries. Then I’m going.”

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