Merle F. Ritter

Posted: Monday, September 06, 2010

Merle Forrest Ritter, age 86, passed away on August 30, 2010 at Wildflower Court from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Merle was born in Los Angeles, Calif. on January 3, 1924, daughter of George and Thula Forrest Ohlhausen. She graduated from Dorsey High School in Los Angeles and attended the University of Southern California.

Merle married Louis Frederick Haas in 1943. The couple and their two oldest daughters moved to Juneau in 1960. A third daughter was born in Juneau. Later, after a divorce from Louis, Merle married Paul K. Ritter. The Ritters lived in Fairbanks for a period of time during the 1970s.

Merle, a retired state of Alaska employee, was a lifelong Democratic Party activist. From her hero, Franklin D. Roosevelt, to Barack Obama, whom she proudly supported in 2008, Merle was a tireless and passionate campaigner for liberal candidates and causes. Merle walked door to door in support of Helen Gahagan Douglas (member of the U.S. House of Representatives from California in the 1940s) and had the name of Juneau's former State Senator Kim Elton tattooed across her knuckles during his last legislative campaign several years ago.

She voted in every election for the last 65 years.

Merle was the co-initiator of the Low-Vision Peer Support Group in Juneau, and played a leadership role in numerous community organizations over the years, including the PTA, the March of Dimes, and the Juneau Commission on Aging. Merle was a longtime advocate for the rights of seniors and people with disabilities. In 2008, at the age of 84, she received the Consumer Advocate of the Year award from S.A.I.L. (Southeast Alaska Independent Living). "You're never too old to raise hell," she observed at the time.

Merle was a colorful and unique individual, never shy about launching into a spirited discussion of her favorite subjects, which included politics, the USC Trojans, cats, and opera. She was an enthusiastic supporter of KTOO public radio, to which she listened every day. On her 80th birthday, Merle purchased a computer specially equipped for use by the visually impaired and joined the Internet revolution.

Merle was preceded in death by her parents and her eldest daughter, Denise Gaia Forest. She is survived by daughters Nan Hawthorne (James D. Tedford) of Bothell, Wash. and Laurel (Edward) Weiland of Bend, Ore.; daughter Denise's partner Summer McGee of Merville, British Columbia; grandchildren Albert Weiland of Japan, Jana Weiland of Portland, Ore., Robert Hamersley of Southern California, Freya Sanctuary of Vancouver, British Columbia, Shannon Hamersley of Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia, Christopher Hamersley of Vancouver, British Columbia, Naomi Hamersley of Toronto, Ontario, Noelle Hamersley of Toronto, Ontario and Tristan Hamersley of Courtenay, British Columbia; five great-grandchildren; and a number of "adopted daughters" in Juneau.

Friends of Merle may share their memories of her by visiting

An informal gathering in celebration of Merle's life will be held at the Juneau Senior Center, 895 W. 12th St., on Wednesday, September 8th, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. (Parking is available at the Bill Ray Center.) In lieu of flowers, please donate to Southeast Alaska Independent Living (S.A.I.L.), 3225 Hospital Drive, Suite 300, Juneau, AK 99801 in Merle's memory.

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