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KENNETH SOUSA, SPECIAL TO THE DAILY PRESS
Ruth McDaniel, a resident of Phelan for over forty years, celebrated her 100th birthday during a party held at the Hesperia Leisure League Senior Center on Sunday. Family members as well as guests gathered for Ruth's celebration as well as a lunch buffet and live music.

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First honorary mayor of Phelan turns 100

The first honorary mayor of Phelan, Ruth McDaniel, turned 100 years old Tuesday, But it's not winning the race in 1962 and holding the title for seven years that made her such an integral part of the community of Phelan.

When McDaniel moved to Phelan in 1939 with husband Gordon Mannigel, electricity, streetlights and phones were luxuries that were nonexistent. These luxuries were made available one by one because of the persistence of McDaniel, along with her first husband, Mannigel, her second husband, Al McDaniel, and the families of the Howards, Nilsens, Johnsons and McAllisters, to name a few.

“No one person did it alone,” Ruth’s daughter, Patty McDaniel, who refers to Ruth as a “true pioneer of the High Desert,” said. “They did it as a community.”

Born in 1912 in Minnesota, Ruth married Mannigel in 1934 and they moved to Long Beach in 1935. They relocated after Mannigel saw an ad in the paper that offered work on five acres of land in Phelan that had “house, general store, post office, three cabins and game bird farm,” Ruth said. They purchased the property in 1940.

In 1945, Phelan residents, as well as surrounding cities, wanted electricity.

“Sue Wilkerson of Desert Springs suggested we contact Rural Electric Administration (R.E.A.) which federally funds organizations to give rural areas electricity,” wrote Ruth in her personal history, “Phelan: The Land of Champagne Climate.” Since R.E.A was out of state, “we formed Mesa Electric R.E.A.,” wrote Ruth.

However, after more than a year of working on getting electricity, California Electric and Edison Co. began a dispute because they wanted to provide the service to Phelan. Mannigel and Tom Buchanan traveled to both companies until a settlement could be reached, Ruth wrote.

Some Phelan residents allowed the California companies to provide their electricity, which prompted Kay Howard and Bernice Nilsen to hold a sit-in while waiting for the settlement. Where workers were trying to put the pole in, “Kay and I took turns sitting in the hole,” Nilsen said, laughing at the memory.

Phelan and several surrounding cities, Hesperia for one, finally got electricity in 1947. Unfortunately, Mannigel died the same year of a heart attack — 20 days after their third child, son Tom Mannigel, was born, said Ruth.

In December of 1947, Ruth met Al when she attended a Christmas play at the Green Spot Hotel, she said.

“(There were) three women in town at the time. Two were going steady and that left Ruth,” said Patty, recalling Al’s retelling of that night. Ruth and Al married in 1949.

During her time as a Phelan resident, Ruth was in charge of running the general store, post office and the county library, which were all located in the same place. In 1950, her store was home to the first pay phone in Phelan. She and Al sold the corner property in 1960. The post office was relocated to their new home, keeping Ruth postmaster for 31 years.

In 1990, they retired and moved to Hesperia, where they spent their time at the Hesperia Leisure League. Al played in the band and Ruth was a ticket-taker at the door, Patty said. Ruth and Al celebrated 58 years of marriage before he passed away in 2006.

Ruth had her 100th birthday early with more than 100 attendees, including five generations of family, friends and Parrot Heads (Jimmy Buffett fans) at the Hesperia Leisure League on Sunday.

Several of Ruth’s friends and family commented on how she has managed to live such a long life.

“So kind and so helpful, good Lord decided to let her keep on doing it,” said Nilsen, 93, whose birthday is also Dec. 18. She and Ruth have been friends for 68 years.

Tom Mannigel, Ruth’s son, credits her long life to good genes, a good husband, good diet and a good job. Also, being a tough woman.

“She saw the world through rose-colored glasses but she carried a baseball bat in case somebody tried to shatter them,” Tom said.

Still actively involved in the community, Ruth, who may be the oldest Parrot Head in the country, will be joining Patty in handing out stuffed animals to seniors in nursing homes for Christmas.

“Young on the inside, she’s rocking, doesn’t see her age as any kind of limitation at all,” said fellow Parrot Head, Rob Mehl.

Ruth said she never dreamed she’d reach 100, saying she’s never known anyone to reach that century mark. She credited being a hard worker her whole life, which kept her going. Plus, she added, the “Good Lord went with me all the way.”

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