Mary Settelmeyer Fair dies at age 99

Mary Settelmeyer Fair, who died Thursday at age 99, was remembered by family members and friends for a love of learning that kept her active well into her ninth decade.

Everything she embraced - family, faith, teaching, and writing - reflected her energy and outlook on life.

"She was my role model and she was my grandma," said Laura Scarselli, 20. "Age is just a number, that's how she felt."

Fair died at her home, three months after her 99th birthday.

"It was kind of a slow, gradual fading away," said her daughter, Charlotte Bass of Reno.

Bass was with her mother when she died.

"It was very peaceful. I think we can attribute a lot of that peacefulness to Mom. She created that, too. We all gathered around her energy and her outlook on life."

Bass recalled her mother's 97th birthday in 2004.

"She wanted a party at a pizza parlor," Bass said. "The cake had candles with the number '97.' She looked at the candles and said, 'Oh, my gosh. 97? I am not that age!'"

Bass said even in January, Fair seemed in awe that she was 99.

Value of education

Fair was born Jan. 3, 1907, in Twin Falls, Idaho. When she was 2, her family moved to Fallon.

She came to Gardnerville in 1937, and as "Miss Mary Hancock" was a beloved teacher until her marriage to Lawrence Settelmeyer in 1940.

"Mary always encouraged me to get good grades," said rancher Arnold Settelmeyer, her nephew.

"She said, 'If you're going to be a rancher nowadays, you've got to go to college and get a degree.' She also encouraged me to run for the school board," he said.

Bass remembered her mother as a devoted member of Trinity Lutheran Church.

"She participated in and conducted Bible study classes for several years," Bass said. "She will be remembered by many people as being very inspirational."

In 1995, when Fair was 87, she co-authored a centennial history of the church, "His Love Endures Forever."

Record-Courier Editor Kurt Hildebrand assisted her with the project.

"I'd known her writing from her work at The R-C, but I learned that she was also an excellent editor," Hildebrand said Friday. "Mary inspired me to work harder on the book than any other project I'd applied myself to at the time. She was my best connection to old Carson Valley and I learned a great deal from her.

"She honored me by giving me her autobiography to read. Mary was a Nevadan as sure as any I've ever met. I was proud to have worked with her," he said.

For many years, former R-C People Editor Joyce Hollister was Fair's editor for her frequent "Gems From DCHS," recounting events from her days at Douglas County High School where she taught business subjects.

Fair was honored by the Nevada Press Association for her columns in 1989 when she was 82.

"I remember when I was going to write about her for the Almanac, she invited me to dinner at her house with several people," Hollister recalled Friday. "I interviewed her afterwards, and we chatted awhile about how she'd taken a magazine class from Robert Laxalt at UNR, about her life at the ranch, how she lost her daughter, been a schoolteacher, etc.

"She had written a history of the Settelmeyer family that we ran in the paper in a couple of installments, then she wrote a regular column for the historical society - to help raise funds and interest in the DCHS museum.

"About the time I was ready to head home she whipped out a business card. It read 'Mary Settelmeyer, Freelance Writer,'" said Hollister, now editor of Nevada Magazine.

Bass recalled her mother - well into her 70s - driving at night to University of Nevada, Reno, to take journalism classes. About that time, she also mastered the computer.

On Friday, Bass talked about her mother's extensive files.

"She has 2-3 filing cabinets here full of writing. She wrote all of her life, journaling, writing about all kinds of things," Bass said.

Community service

Fair was an early supporter of the Douglas County Historical Society.

She edited and wrote many newsletters for the organization and worked tirelessly to convert the old Douglas County High School into the Carson Valley Museum and Cultural Center.

"I was in awe of her historical knowledge," Arnold Settelmeyer said. "She was a walking history book."

Fair, who survived a bout with polio, became an ardent supporter of Easter Seals.

"She helped put on an annual fundraiser dinner in the spring," Bass said. "She loved to decorate hundreds of eggs that were beautiful."

Laura Scarselli said her grandmother welcomed every day.

"Her strength was amazing. She looked at every day as a new day and appreciated what it was. She taught us every time we came out here - baking cookies, she had a treehouse built for us. She stood for a lot of morals we have in our lives. She put us in Bible school," Scarselli said.

Annalyn Settelmeyer said her great aunt was like another grandmother.

"She will be sorely missed. She always brought us presents from her travels. She was always one to talk literature and books with," Settelmeyer said.

For the last six years of her life, Fair employed Carrie and Robert White as caretakers.

"She just really taught me so much," White said. "She was really like a mentor. One of these days I am going to start writing."

Fair's life was not without heartache.

A daughter, Francis, died at age 6; Lawrence Settelmeyer died in 1985.

But Fair's indomitable spirit prevailed through happy times and sorrow.

In 1991 - at age 84 - she married Ralph Fair, a fellow parishioner at Trinity Lutheran Church.

They enjoyed a happy marriage until he died in 1999.

About that time, she opened her home to the Whites who cared for her until her death.

"I believe there are no accidents. I think Mary kind of orchestrated this. When she found out she needed some extra help, it fit into our life at the time," Carrie White said.

"She really shared a lot of herself and her strength. She was a blessing for so many of us."


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