1906 earthquake survivor Irma Mae Weule dies

Saturday, August 16, 2008

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Irma Mae Weule, who may well have been the oldest survivor of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, died August 8 at the age of 109.

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Mrs. Weule was born in San Francisco in 1899, lived all her life in the city and died of old age at her San Francisco home.

"I think she just decided it was time," said Elizabeth Hale, one of her grandnieces.

Mrs. Weule had vivid memories of growing up in the horse-and-buggy era and clearly recalled the 1906 earthquake, which she experienced as a child. She was one of 11 earthquake survivors who attended a centennial commemoration in 2006 and was interviewed on national television.

She was living at the time of the earthquake with her parents in a portion of the Bayview district called Butchertown, an area so far out that the family kept a cow in the backyard.

Her father, Louis Nonnenmann, ran a wholesale meatpacking business. The family home was large enough to have a social hall in the basement, and Mrs. Weule remembered that her father took in whole families of earthquake refugees.

She attended Cogswell College in San Francisco, worked in the USO during World War I and married Harold Weule in 1923. He was a member of an old San Francisco family that manufactured and sold nautical instruments near the waterfront. The family was so well known that a World War II Liberty Ship was named after family member Louis Weule.

In those days, said Hale, wives of prominent businessmen did not have careers. "They were not expected to work," she said.

Mrs. Weule remembered riding horseback on San Francisco's Ocean Beach, taking vacations at Northern California resorts and going for sleigh rides in the snow in the Sierra.

Mrs. Weule never considered living outside the city. "She loved San Francisco," said Ruth Hale Roe, her niece. "She liked San Francisco as it was, but she closed her eyes to change."

Though Mrs. Weule was fond of horses, she loved to drive automobiles, starting as a young woman when a trip by car to San Jose was an adventure.

She gave up driving at the age of 96, and gave her last car, a 1981 Cadillac, to Hale.

Mrs. Weule had no children. She is survived by her niece, Roe; by two grandnieces and a grandnephew; and by six great-grandnieces and great-grandnephews.

She was a friend for more than 60 years of Chrissie Mortenstein, who was the previous oldest survivor of the 1906 earthquake. Mrs. Mortenstein died earlier this year.

At Mrs. Weule's request, no service was held.

E-mail Carl Nolte at cnolte@sfchronicle.com.

This article appeared on page B - 5 of the San Francisco Chronicle


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