When a younger friend expressed an interest in growing bonsai, the Japanese technique of artfully growing trees in small containers, Myrtle surprised him the next time they met with a fine enameled pot planted with a small grove of Japanese maples, the quintessential bonsai subject. Though this was many years ago, and only one of the original plantation of maples survives, the recipient still cultivates a small collection of bonsai.
Myrtle Wolf died March 2 in her home of over sixty years in Berkeley. She was 98 and had been in declining health over the past several years. Myrtle Opal Richey was born August 7, 1913 in Glasgow, Kentucky to Lucian Richey and Leda Mae Baker Richey, the fourth child and second daughter. Her father was an peach orchardist who moved his growing family to California in 1918. They settled in the small community of Winters, west of Davis, in California's Central Valley. The family grew to include four boys and four girls. In 1928, Myrtle was recovering from a tonsillectomy, when Wilford and Arlette Nichols, part owners of a neighboring farm with whom she had become friendly, offered their home in Berkeley as a place to recuperate.
Once in Berkeley on Derby Street, Myrtle was home. She transferred to Berkeley High and graduated in 1931, subsequently enrolling at the University of California, Berkeley, receiving her AB in Botany in 1935 and teaching credential in 1936. She then began her 36-year career with the Oakland public schools, starting and ending her service at Fremont High School, with many years in between at Oakland High. Clad in a starched white lab coat, she primarily taught Life Sciences, seeking to involve her students in the subject matter with a wide collection of skulls and bones, and preserved fish and amphibians. She also served as a counselor, both official and unofficial, to her students and took additional academic courses to extend her skills; she was awarded an MA in education by the University of California in 1961. She learned to listen well: throughout her life and career, friends and acquaintances found solace and non-judgmental acceptance with Myrtle.
She married Frantisek Wolf, a professor of mathematics at UC Berkeley, in 1945. In 1947 their son Thomas was born. Prof. Wolf died in 1989.
After her retirement from teaching, what she called the "dessert of her life" began: her full-time involvement with plants and horticulture. She joined the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) in 1966 and was a stalwart contributor in the East Bay chapter for over 30 years. She was a major force in the development of their annual plant sales as fundraisers and promoting the use of native plants in the California landscape. She was made a Fellow of CNPS in 1987. She had a deep affection for the Botanical Garden of UC Berkeley. She had warm and vivid memories of the garden while a student at Berkeley and delighted in its collection of plants that flourish in California's Mediterranean climate. She was honored as a Friend of the Garden in 1990, and in 2000 the library at the Garden was named in her honor. With both CNPS and the Botanical Garden she was a member of regular group of volunteers who gathered weekly to nurture cuttings and seedlings to sell at periodic plant sales. She found great pleasure and long-lasting friendships among her co-workers.
All of Myrtle's seven siblings predeceased her. Her son Thomas, of Fairfax, nieces and nephews, and a host of friends survive her. A celebration of Myrtle's life will be held on April 19, 2012, starting at 3 pm at the Conference Center of the University of California Botanical Garden, 200 Centennial Drive, Berkeley. Memorial gifts in her honor may be made to the UC Botanical Garden, 200 Centennial Drive, Berkeley 94720-5045 or to the Myrtle Wolf Scholarship Fund, CNPS, PO Box 5597, Berkeley, CA 94705-0597.