Mary Anderson, a climbing enthusiast who helped start the outdoor retailer REI that has become the nation’s largest consumer-owned retail cooperative, died March 27. She was 107.
Her death was confirmed by REI and reported by the Seattle Times. No other details were immediately available.
Mrs. Anderson and her husband, Lloyd, along with 21 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.
Mrs. Anderson’s “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 Mrs. Anderson’s German skills to translate gear catalogues, the Andersons 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 group officially formed Recreational Equipment in 1938. Each paid $1 for a lifetime membership fee. Mrs. 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, while he sprayed them with waterproofing. A room off their kitchen served as their office, the newspaper reported.
Mrs. 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.
— Associated Press