Several paintings lean against the wall of Mary Minderman’s apartment. Among them, a painting of Half Dome, the well-known Yosemite landmark topping the bucket lists of many outdoor enthusiasts.
These days, those hoping to climb Half Dome are required to secure a permit. But, at a time when the regulations were a little less strict, an adventurous 18-year-old Mary Minderman set about tackling the 8-hour trek.
“It was the highlight of my life,” Mary says, half joking. She shares with me her funny anecdotes, infusing her narrative with a blend of humor and honesty. Her father wasn’t happy when she told him of her Half Dome climb, she recalls, but she still considers it one of her biggest accomplishments. “I don’t remember any girls climbing it either—I just went up with a bunch of guys!”
Born in the foggy city of San Francisco, Mary spent her early childhood in the then-very-Italian neighborhood of Excelsior. Her family was, in Mary’s own words, “the kind when you see grandparents every day.”
Mary recalls a childhood filled with family traditions. She recounts the time she briefly lived with her grandmother—or “Nanny”—as she affectionately called her. She shares with me a memory of how Nanny and a then 7-year-old Mary would take their once weekly early morning trip to the market.
Another of Mary’s memories takes us to Camp Mather, a place that made an indelible mark on Mary’s life. “I knew that place since I was a baby,” Mary says, flipping through her notes, detailing everything she wants to share. Without looking up, she continues, “that’s where I met my husband.”
Richard Minderman was working as a camp assistant at Mather when they met. But it wasn’t love at first sight for Mary. “I didn’t like him that first year,” she grimaces. “He kept teasing me—called August 2018 me ‘Smiley’ because I never smiled.” Of course, this didn’t last. Mary’s family spent every summer at Camp Mather; the following year, she and Richard became friends. And the year after that, they got married.
Mary and Richard went on to buy a bungalow in Burlingame, expanding it over the years as their family expanded. Along with their two sons, Wes and Erik, they spent every summer at Camp Mather, where Richard worked as a manager until retiring in 1992. “He really was a great guy. He could do everything.” Richard passed away in 2006.
Last September, Mary moved into Sterling Court, just a few minutes from Burlingame. While she’s still getting used to the routine, she’s settling into her new life. Along with her paintings, Mary’s apartment is filled with photos of her children, grandchildren, and the rest of her still-growing family.
Mary had finished going over her notes, but there was still a question that I wanted to ask: what finally made her change her mind about Richard after their initial encounter all those years ago? Without hesitation, Mary reveals that it was the 1963 Corvette that Richard drove. “It had a split window!” she says.
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