Esther McFeely, Rockridge Resident and Centenarian, Passes Away

Monday, March 9, 2015

Esther Ann Hunt McFeely, believed to be the longest surviving Oakland Tech High alumna, left us quietly at age 104 on February 13, 2015, in the presence of her children gathered in the Rockridge home in which she had lived since 1920.

Esther was born in San Francisco January 19, 1911, to Howard and Cecelia Hunt and spent her early years in Nevada City where her grandfather had been a "grubstaker" during the California Gold Rush of the 1850s.

Esther married high school sweetheart Fred McFeely on June 7, 1941, a union from which daughter Suzy Ruhe, of Coarsegold, and son James McFeely, of Alameda, were born.

Esther's siblings Teddy Hunt and Mary Steeves predeceased her.

Esther supported her children through Camp Fire Girls and Cub Scouts and received a PTA Life Membership from Rockridge Grammar School, which she attended as a child. She also volunteered at Children's Fairyland and the Oakland Baby Zoo as Mother Goose. Later, she raised several baby chimps too young for the zoo under the direction of Suzy, a zookeeper. She was also the floral planner for her senior center. (Most of the flowers were "donated" from neighbors' gardens.)

When her children were young, Esther opened her home as a neighborhood ballet studio and invited the mothers of the children's classmates to enroll them.

Her front porch was usually decorated for the holidays and was the center for caroling, accompanied by the playing of the family antique pump organ. Her kitchen was the center for many family celebrations.

Fred passed away in 1967. Esther's grandson Patrick resides in San Diego with Danielle, Alyssa and Mr. Kitty. Nieces Donna Sage lives in Hidden Valley, Dori Steeves in Redding, Dawn Mazarakis in London, and Nelly McFeely in Oakland. Nephew Donald Steeves lives in Walnut Creek. For those who made Esther comfortable — Carmen, Christy and "the Italian Lady"— we thank you.

A memorial is planned for the near future.

About Esther: Liz Adams Rebensdorf/Early Family Friend

Our Mom, Martha Adams, and Esther were best friends; the McFeely family lived at one end of Lawton and we were at the other end. We four sisters (the Adams girls) were always grumpy when we would be out with Mom and we'd run into Esther, since that meant we had to stand around and wait for a long time while they chatted.

I (Liz) fondly remember that several times, we'd pull Esther's pump organ out onto her front porch, Mom would play Christmas carols, and neighbors would gather around to sing.

It was always exciting when Mom had to go to the hospital to deliver another baby sister; I'd get to go to Esther's. Whereas Mom would put our school lunch - sandwich and milk - into a metal lunchpail, Esther would produce a lunch with everything (carrot sticks, potato chips, cookies, pickle, unknown goodies) all wrapped up individually in wax paper. Sister Motsy remembers when we were home alone and our dog Toots went into labor. One of us ran to get Esther, and she came scurrying down the block, sat on the kitchen floor and helped deliver the puppies, exclaiming each time, "Oh, this one is a beauty!" Another time, Mom called Esther down to look at the spots on Motsy's leg, fearing it might be chicken pox;

Esther diagnosed it as felt marker spots, Motsy's poor attempt to stay home from school that day. Sister Katsy remembers Esther as being the neighborhood organizer - if something fun was happening, Esther had made it happen. Our Mom didn't sew, a handicap with four "ballerina" daughters, so Esther was the force behind many a ruffled tutu. Sister Ginny remembers Esther walking to and from the corner store (Otto Raible's grocery store on James at Clifton). We all loved Esther: she was like a second mother to us and a big happy part of our Rockridge childhood.

Barbara Anderson/Neighbor

Esther and I were neighbors on Lawton Avenue; we lived less than a block apart. Most often, we'd rendezvous on the sidewalk: I would be in the front yard forever weeding, she would be pushing a wirebasket cart up to the College Avenue Presbyterian Church with her garden blossoms for the Senior Center tables. Conversation was wide-ranging, starting with gardens, often our pets, neighborhood happenings, and certainly RCPC hot buttons. Esther could be depended upon to speak her mind.

Lots of us shared her dining room table monthly for the counting and sorting of RCPC newsletters for distribution. I remember the huge pile of random rubber bands of all sizes which she collected, and the drama around opening up the round table to add extra leaves. I remember how sweetly she welcomed our kids who often came along after school.

Brooke Levin and I fondly remember a special decoration in her living room at Christmastime. On a small table sat a two-foot tall artificial tree heavily encrusted with pins, bracelets, brooches, earrings all dazzling with rhinestones, pearls, cloisonne enamel and more. She was casual about it, something she and other family members had made a long time ago; it always came out for the holidays. Today, each of those costume jewels would be treasured finds in the local vintage shops.