A baby who was so severely injured during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake she was expected to die ended up living until she was 105 years old. Nancy Mary Sage, one of the quake’s last remaining survivors, died Thursday, just three days before the 104th anniversary of the temblor.
Sage died of natural causes at her nursing home in Colorado, her son Darrell Sage said in a phone interview today. She had battled Parkinson’s disease for years and recently suffered an intestinal virus.
Although she was just 15 months old when the earthquake hit April 18, 1906, Darrell Sage said the quake and its aftermath shaped his mother’s life profoundly.
Nancy Sage’s mother died just after the earthquake, and her father, who was unable to support the family after he lost everything in the fires that ravaged the city, put Sage and her sister up for adoption.
Sage wasn’t expected to survive, so her grandfather and step grandmother took her in.
They raised her in logging and mining camps in Idaho, where she cooked and laundered for the men.
After years of moving from camp to camp, she finally got her high school diploma when she was 21 and became the librarian for a small Idaho farming town.
“She was obviously a very strong woman,” Darrell Sage said. “She was pretty stoic and didn’t have much of a sense of humor, but she was a very loving woman.”
Nancy Sage was widowed in 1952 when her husband, Howard Sage, was killed in a logging accident. She never remarried. During World War II, Howard Sage did construction work for a military base in Hawaii, and Nancy Sage kept every letter he wrote her during the war.
When Darrell Sage was stationed in Vietnam in the 1960s, his mother kept every letter from him, too.
Darrell Sage said his house was full of books growing up, and his mother had read every book in the public library where she worked. She was particularly fond of romance novels and biographies, and she had some poetry published in the 1920s.
She also liked gardening and canning fruits and vegetables.
Nancy Sage never talked about the earthquake, her son said.
Instead, she gave him a book called “Complete Story of the San Francisco Horror, 1906” when he was 11 years old.
“She did not want to talk about it because of how much it affected her life and led to her being raised kind of in the wilds of Idaho,” Darrell Sage said. “She was never proud of the way she grew up. She called herself a hillbilly.”
Eventually, though, Nancy Sage was recognized for her accomplishments.
She was given a “Woman of the Year” award for Meridian, Idaho, in 1972 and kept the trophy on her dresser until her death.
In 1984, she suffered a fall and moved to Littleton, Colo., to live with her son and his wife.
She moved to a nursing home in 2009 and was deaf by the time she died, but Darrell Sage said she still beat him in cribbage, a math-based card game the two played every Sunday morning.
“She was quite happy living with us here,” Darrell Sage said. “It was fun for us. I’m really going to miss playing cards with her every Sunday. That was sort of our Sunday service.”
In addition to a private family memorial, Sage will be remembered in San Francisco on Sunday at a 5 a.m. service marking the 104th anniversary of the earthquake.
Every year, hundreds of people meet at Lotta’s Fountain on Market Street on April 18 at 5:11 a.m. to observe a minute of silence and drape a wreath on the fountain.
They then go to 20th Street to repaint the fire hydrant that saved the churches in the Mission District, and they end the morning with a Bloody Mary breakfast at the restaurant Lefty O’Doul’s.
This year, the wreath will be dedicated to Sage, and she will be remembered at a survivor’s dinner at John’s Grill on Saturday, event organizer Lee Houskeeper said.
Houskeeper has kept track of the earthquake’s survivors for the past 25 years and believes about eight are still alive.