Emily West Day never let age get in the way of doing what she loved.
Well into her late 90s she traveled, helped raise money for park benches at her beloved Woodlake Nature Center and kept a Friday reading date with the children at the nearby elementary school.
“She’d show up in her little blue car, sometimes after a tennis match,” said LeeannWise, principal at Centennial Elementary School in Richfield. “Emily was a person beyond words.”
Two years after moving out of the Richfield house where she lived for nearly 60 years, Day died on Jan. 13 at 101.
She was born in Columbus, Ohio, graduated in the 1930s from Oberlin College and planned to attend medical school at Ohio State, but decided to become a social worker instead.
After getting a master’s degree in group social work from Case Western Reserve School of Social Work, she worked at several inner-city settlement houses during the Depression, including stints in Cleveland and Chicago. While running the Elliot Park neighborhood house in Minneapolis, Day helped develop a summer camp for kids. She needed camp equipment, and someone referred her to Whittier Day, the director of a Big Brothers camp in northern Minnesota. They married and in 1949 moved to Richfield.
Day raised their four children and immersed herself in volunteering — anything that would help build community. She dedicated herself to the Friends of the Library, the Richfield Historical Society and by the mid-1950s went back to school and got a degree in elementary education at the University of Minnesota. She taught until 1979, and worked as a substitute teacher well into her 80s. Day was on the Richfield Park Commission, volunteered hundreds of hours as a traveler’s aide at the airport and helped develop Richfield’s Woodlake Nature Center.
Her son, Thomas Day of Duluth, said that although there was plenty of hardship in her life, she always kept a positive attitude. “She was probably the happiest person most people ever met, and it was honest,” he said. “She just loved being on this Earth and wanted to make it better for other people.”
After her husband died, Day lived alone and independently for nearly 30 years in their tidy Richfield house. She knew, however, the solitude wasn’t serving her well.
So one spring day in her late 90s, she put her four adult children on notice that she’d finally make the move that fall to a nearby apartment for seniors. “Moving out was tough,” said Thomas Day.
Day’s dedication to Richfield, and to the many close-to-home projects she nurtured, didn’t come at the expense of her desire to see the world. She set foot on every continent, including the Arctic and Antarctica, and wasn’t afraid of getting off the beaten path. She traveled by train across Siberia, by mail boat up the coast of Norway and in the 1930s went to Cuba with her sister, Helen. On her 95th birthday she hopped into a hot-air balloon and floated across the Nile River, getting a bird’s-eye view of the antiquities she’d read about.
When she was 100, her family took her to a beach in North Carolina for a family reunion. “She was fascinated by sea turtles,” Thomas Day said. “So we carried her across the beach in a lawn chair like an Egyptian goddess, and she dipped her feet in the ocean.”
In addition to Thomas and his wife, Christine Day, Day is survived by daughter Sarah E. Day of Richmond, Va.; daughter Mary Day of Victoria; son John Day and his wife, Suzanne Degler of Palo Alto, Calif.; her African son Trywell Nyirongo and his wife, Marilyn, of Malawi; as well as 11 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Morris Nilsen Chapel, 6527 Portland Av. S., Richfield.