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Beulah Magruder is outliving all of us

Editor’s Note: This is a part of a collection of stories SDNN will publish throughout the month of March to celebrate Women’s History Month. Join us as we recognize Women’s History Month by sending in your stories too and checking SDNN every day for stories from other women in our region. Happy Women’s History Month!

When Beulah Magruder’s high school reunion rolled around, she boarded an Amtrak train to transport her from San Diego to the Iowa countryside. She was 96 years old.

That journey of a lifetime that took her from her Kensington home in San Diego, all the way back to her 1907 birthplace would include in the many decades in between a role in breaking down gender barriers in the U.S. government and working toward equal rights for women. Even well into retirement, she continued to serve as an inspiration as a woman of distinction as the oldest, most tenured Inaugural Committee volunteer, having assisted with the ceremonies for Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon (twice), Carter and Reagan.

Yes, the former Beulah Cole has come a long, long way since riding her pony named Tony to classes at a one-room schoolhouse in the Iowa countryside.

“No matter what challenges Mom’s had to face, she’s just kept putting one foot in front of the other and pushed on ahead with a positive ‘can-do’ attitude and wonderful sense of humor,” said her daughter Josephine “Josie” Magruder Rhodes, upon her mother’s 102nd birthday last year.

It didn’t take long for Beulah to stand out at her Iowa school, given her class had only 20 students: five boys and 15 girls. Her public speaking skills not only earned her an Iowa State Championship, but they served her well when she left Fonda for Chicago and co-founded the Go-See-Go Club, promoting travel and adventure.

After a brief marriage and a move to Michigan, she became the U.S. General Accounting Office’s first female auditor and soon ramped up her lifelong activism for women’s rights, volunteering alongside well-known Women’s Suffragist leader Alice Paul and others at the National Women’s Party Headquarters in Washington, D.C. to pass the Equal Rights Amendment.

“She went through hell as the first and only female auditor at that time – working harder than the men and receiving less pay for it,” her daughter recalled. Josie also remembers her mother’s involvement with the ERA. “As a child, I was very much part of that; we’d stay at the National Women’s Party headquarters in Washington, D.C., where she and Alice Paul would rope me into putting the ERA into the Congressional hopper as often as they could!”

After 30 years at the GAO, Beulah retired at age 70 and essentially transferred her trademark altruism and work ethic toward volunteer work. At 77, she was helping at the XXIII Olympics in Los Angeles and building homes for Jimmy Carter’s Habitat for Humanity in the Deep South.

She had more than a passing connection with Carter and the four U.S. Presidents who preceded him as part of all their Inaugural Committees. Ronald Reagan, too, benefited from Beulah’s efforts and expertise and in 1985 lauded her in a White House ceremony, where she received a framed poster memorializing her mantra: “Let’s do it right the first time.”

That mantra permeated all avenues of Beulah’s life. At 85, she purchased an RV and drove the Alaska-Canada Highway (the Alcan) with a fellow octogenarian girlfriend Carol Knutson. It was just the two of them, taking on one of the most dangerous stretches of roadway in North America.

Even well into her 90s, she went in search of adventures, from the aforementioned Amtrak trip at 96 years old to subsequent years walking the Ocean Beach Fishing Pier, wearing a beanie that says “I don’t want to grow up.” She stayed busy volunteering as a Litter-Picker in her Kensington neighborhood, sweeping her neighbors’ sidewalks, staying busy gardening, and doting on her granddaughter and great-grandchildren.

A broken hip suffered just after she turned 101, while sweeping the gutter in front of her home – left her temporarily hobbled. Although dementia has left her memory-impaired, Beulah Cole Magruder continues to gain admirers, including those at the George G. Glenner Alzheimer’s Family Center in Hillcrest, which recently celebrated her 103rd birthday with a big party.

Her secret to a long life, according to her daughter, is: “Work hard and do your best. Don’t ever give up. Just get up and get going.”

Given how well it’s served her to date, it’s worth the rest of us considering for adoption.

(Beluah Cole Magruder with President Ronald Reagan in 1985.)

Anne Saita is the development associate for The George G. Glenner Alzheimer’s Family Centers, Inc.