Nine must be Midge Gutterud’s lucky number. She turns 90 on Sept. 9 – 9/09/09. But in the eyes of friends and family, she is definitely a 10.
“If I could be anyone I would want to be like Grandma Midge,” said Gutterud’s granddaughter, Cheryl Everard, who is throwing an intimate dinner party with close friends and family to celebrate the birthday.
Born “in the beautiful Bitterroot Valley on the farm in Montana,” Gutterud said she moved to Spokane after high school to attend Kinman Business University.
After graduation she stayed to work, applying her organizational skills as a secretary, court reporter and a night teacher of secretary science subjects at Spokane Community College. She won typing competitions, volunteered with the National Secretaries Association and for many years worked as an executive secretary to the president of Cominco American in Spokane.
Working hard and staying busy, she said, have been lifelong values.
“I’m very independent. I come from a family of achievers. I like to be busy. If something needs to be done, I could do it, attempt it.”
While growing up, for example, she wanted a typewriter, so she worked as a church janitor to pay for it. She also worked to buy her first car when she was 18, a cream Ford convertible with red trim.
“That was cool,” she said, adding that one of her early administrative jobs was at a finance company in Spokane where she made $80 a month. Her sister, who lived with her and worked at Old National Bank, made $60 a month. “We had enough money to buy fur coats,” she recalled with a smile.
It was the 1930s and Gutterud danced to big bands at the Natatorium Park. One night the dance floor fell in and everyone scrambled off but stayed to listen to the band, which kept right on playing.
At age 23, Gutterud married her first husband, Jim Chandler, who died in 1971. In 1972 she married Lloyd Gutterud, who died in 2001.
For Everard, who was about 12 at the time of the second marriage, she gained a loving grandma who treated the children and grandchildren from both families the same.
“They all have the same place in my heart,” Gutterud said.
“I’d ride my bike for three or four miles just to stay with them. I enjoyed it so much over there,” said Everard, describing how she called her Grandma Midge for comfort when she received a bad grade in penmanship at school. “I just remembered that is who I called. She was there saying, ‘Everything will be OK sweetheart, don’t worry about it.’”
Along with surviving two husbands, Gutterud has survived two children, and a grandchild. She is also a breast cancer survivor, but is known for her perpetual perseverance and optimism, even in the midst of heart-rending loss.
“As little as she is, she could be an Amazon woman, she is so strong,” Everard said. “She is fun-loving. I’ve never seen Grandma Midge down or grumpy or angry. She has been absolutely wonderful that way.”
“She has determination. Even though she has had some difficult situations with deaths in the family this last year, she never let it get her down. She was always there to help anybody else,” said Lorri Pierson, resident services director in the Spokane-area retirement home where Gutterud lives.
“She has just a good moral outlook on life,” said Patricia Harkness, who worked for Gutterud as a Kelly girl at Cominco American. They have been friends almost 40 years. “She is always so caring about what is happening with me and always wanting to be my friend and she doesn’t judge anything about me.”
That positive approach to people and situations is important to Gutterud. “Attitude makes a lot of difference,” she said. “You get up and say, ‘This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.’ ” That Bible verse is tacked above the light switch by her front door, where she will see it whenever she leaves her apartment.
Now, in retirement, Gutterud channels her energy into volunteering.
Gutterud has volunteered with the Cancer Society, the March of Dimes, as an English as a second language tutor, and as queen of a chapter of the Red Hat Society. She volunteers in her retirement community to work in the garden, at the community store and on the welcoming committee for new residents.
“She is always caring about the other person. She is a phenomenal person as far as I’m concerned,” said Harkness. “I cherish every moment I spend with her.”
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