Earlier this week, a small number of friends and relatives made their way to Aptos to celebrate the 100th birthday of Jean Rusmore, a former longtime Ladera resident and author of popular local hiking guides.
Rusmore, who is in memory care at an assisted living home, turned 100 on Sunday, Sept. 13. She enjoyed a small, socially distanced family gathering outdoors where family members told stories about life lessons they had learned from Rusmore, said her daughter Kaki Rusmore.
And on Tuesday, three friends — members of a female hiking group Jean Rusmore founded in the 1980s called the Walkie Talkies — visited her and presented her with a commemorative book produced by the group. The group remains active (although not presently due to COVID-19). Twenty-seven people contributed at least a page, highlighting different hiking excursions from the group Jean Rusmore led out on trails once a month for over 30 years.
"It was very special," said Cissie Hill, a Sunnyvale resident and Walkie Talkies member who organized the creation of the book as her "pandemic project." "We read the pages we'd written and talked about the different hikes from the past. ... She was just really happy we were there."
Jean Rusmore was born in Anaheim, the oldest of four children. She attended University of California at Berkeley and majored in physical education. She met her husband, Ted Ruschhaupt, in 1938, and they married after she graduated in 1942, both changing their last name to Rusmore.
In 1948, the couple was one of the first families to buy into Ladera, and Jean was a member of the Peninsula Housing Association, the cooperative that founded Ladera. They built an Eichler-style home and raised six children there, according to a biographical page from the Walkie Talkies book.
Kaki Rusmore says her father, who died in 2004, got her mother into hiking, and once she started "there was no stopping her."
"I used to say until she hit 75 I couldn't keep up with her on the trail," Kaki Rusmore said in a phone interview Tuesday.
Kaki Rusmore and her siblings were "hiking from the time we could walk," exploring places like Windy Hill Open Space Preserve and Jasper Ridge before it became a biological preserve.
"She was a self-taught naturalist," she said of her mother. "She was great about how little kids are on the trail. We'd rather sit down or whatever, and she was good about getting us excited about what might be down the trail."
As a young mother, Jean Rusmore became friends with Ladera neighbor Frances Spangle, who introduced her to the League of Women Voters, according to a 2002 Almanac article. They took their children hiking and backpacking to county and state parks, and Jean Rusmore joined the San Mateo County Trails Advisory Committee.
When Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District was formed in the '70s and began to buy new areas of open space, hiking opportunities grew significantly, but they weren't well-advertised, Jean Rusmore told The Almanac in 2002.
"These were hidden gems," she said. "Nobody knew about the trails. They didn't tell anybody."
Jean Rusmore teamed up with Spangle and wrote "Peninsula Trails: Outdoor Adventures on the San Francisco Peninsula," first published in 1982, according to the Almanac article. Then came "South Bay Trails: Outdoor Adventures In & Around Santa Clara Valley" in 1984, followed by "Bay Area Ridge Trail: Ridgetop Adventures above San Francisco Bay." Spangle and another friend, the late Betsy Crowder of Portola Valley, are listed as co-authors of the first two books, all of which have been reprinted with multiple editions.
Kaki Rusmore recalls one year when Kepler's Books gave her mother an award as the author who had sold the most books in the store that year.
"Apparently Kepler's said this means she edged out Stephen King — that's how popular her books were," she said, adding the books "still serve as some of the definitive guides to trails in our area."
Jean Rusmore founded the Walkie Talkies hiking group. Their hikes often consisted of 15 to 20 women, and her mother always invited people to come along, Kaki Rusmore recalled.
"Even if she didn't know this person at all she'd reach out to them, encourage them," Kaki Rusmore said. "My mom makes friends everywhere she goes."
Walkie Talkies member Hill says the values and traditions Jean Rusmore instilled as the group leader — of being kind and respectful toward everyone — have carried on.
"From the day I started I was very accepted and have made tremendous friendships," Hill said. "Walkie Talkies has truly enriched my life, and Jean's beautiful spirit continues to lead us up the trails."
Jean Rusmore lived in Ladera until 2005, when she moved to the Vi at Palo Alto senior living facility before relocating to Aptos in 2017. During her decades on the Midpeninsula she was an active community member, serving as an early member of the Committee for Green Foothills and as part of the Sempervirens Fund and a founding member of the Ladera Recreation District, according to her daughter.
"She was really involved in trying to protect the open spaces, and she was an early pioneer in that work," Kaki Rusmore said. "She was a very active member of the community and really always tried to make life as enjoyable and interesting for everybody that she came across."