Nita Spangler — journalist, conservationist, activist, mother, wife — dies at age 96

Ray and Nita Spangler in a newspaper photo from the late 1940s.

Daily Post Staff Writer

Nita Spangler, a conservationist and former journalist at the Redwood City Tribune and Country Almanac, died yesterday (April 18), a day after turning 96.

“More than anything this morning, I am deeply grateful for my mother and proud of her life’s work,” her son Jon Spangler, of Alameda, said in a statement.

“She had a full, active life and accomplished a great deal as a reporter, photographer, historian; a community activist, organizer, and volunteer; a conservationist, a builder, an artist, a wonderful mother and hostess, among many other things.”

Born Nita Reifschneider in Mendocino County in 1923, Spangler grew up hiking, skiing and fishing in Reno, Nev. She also played the tuba, tap-danced and was crowned Miss Nevada. She graduated with a journalism degree from the University of Nevada-Reno, where she was president of the sorority Kappa Alpha Theta.

After graduating in 1944, she took her first job out of college at the Redwood City Tribune, where, along with the City Hall and San Mateo County Superior Court beats, she covered the drafting of the charter of the United Nations at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco.

She also wrote a series that led to the formation of the Sequoia Hospital District.

She married the Tribune’s editor

The paper’s editor and publisher, Raymond Spangler, invited her to complete a foursome for a golf game at Stanford Country Club. The two fell in love and got married in 1946.

The Tribune’s nepotism policy meant Spangler had to leave her reporting work as her husband would remain the paper’s publisher until 1969.

Not only was she unable to work for her husband’s paper, but other papers wouldn’t hire her because she was married to the editor of the Tribune.

After her husband retired, Spangler would return to reporting part time for the Country Alamanc in Woodside from 1969 to 1976, covering the Sequoia Union High School District, which was then in the middle of desegregation.

The Tribune merged with the Palo Alto Times in 1979 to become the Peninsula Times-Tribune. The Times-Tribune closed in 1993, four years before Ray Spangler died at 93.

Beverly Morgan, whose father David Schutz hired Spangler at the Tribune, said that Spangler was “hugely” disappointed that she couldn’t work in journalism for most of her career.

“You have this very intelligent, talented woman who can’t work in this chosen field anymore,” Morgan said. “That’s why she got so involved in so many other things.”

In the 1950s the Spanglers built a house on Upland Road in Redwood City and had three children, Jon, Mary and Thor.

A love of history and the outdoors

Nita Spangler introduced them to camping and backpacking, taking them on camping trips at Zephyr Cove on Lake Tahoe with a canvas Army tent and footlockers filled with canned food.

Jon said his mother would continue backpacking until her knees gave out, in her 60s or thereabouts.

Spangler’s love of history and the outdoors led her to become involved in a number of environmental conservation and historical preservation movements on the Peninsula. She was also a member of the Redwood City Citizens Against Racism, a group that organized in the 1960s and 1970s.

Spangler served two terms as president of the San Mateo County Historical Association, starting in the 1960s.

She organized and was the first president of the Portola Expedition Bicentennial Foundation that convinced the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors to acquire 18 acres on Sweeney Ridge.

This involved designating as a national historic landmark the site where, in 1769, Europeans glimpsed San Francisco Bay for the first time. Previous efforts had been turned down twice by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Spangler also helped get National Register of Historic Places listings for the 19th-century Sanchez Adobe in Pacifica and the Woodside Store, an 1854 wooden structure that was once used as a general store, post office and dental office.

Helped write preservation plan

She was a major participant in writing the historic preservation element of the county’s Coastside General Plan.

Spangler chaired the County Scenic Roads Committee, which secured State Scenic Highway designation for Skyline Boulevard, Highway 1 south of Half Moon Bay and Interstate 280 south of South San Francisco.

In 1982, Spangler joined the Friends of Redwood City to halt the development of Bair Island, leading to the land’s purchase in 1997 by the Peninsula Open Space Trust.

Up until she had a major stroke in 2016, Spangler remained an avid reader. Morgan, who became a close friend of Spangler after retiring in 2013, estimated that she had 6,000 books at home.

Jon Spangler said he was grateful not only for his mother’s accomplishments, but for the love she shared with her family.

“We are deeply grateful for her love, her passion, her work for the environment and on social justice, and the terrific example that she and my father gave us when they rolled back the living room rug after dinner and danced cheek to cheek, ‘just because,’” Jon Spangler wrote.


  1. My parents were married in the Reifschneider family home on John Fremont Drive in Reno, Nevada on September 22, 1946.

    They had to sneak around Redwood City to go on dates because they worked together. When they were married, they could not announce it to their co-workers beforehand and took vacations separately in order to travel to Reno for their wedding.

  2. Jon, sad to hear of your mother’s passing. What important lives both of your parents lived. Hope the memories you and your siblings share in remembrance of your parents come to bring you joy and draw you closer together. The deaths of my parents brought all my sibs closer and I am so grateful.
    Perhaps see you at the August 17 50th reunion of the class of ’69? If perchance you haven’t heard of this yet, shoot me an e-mail and I can forward you a picture of the announcement and registration form.
    Wishing you peace in this time of sudden change…..Rick Edson

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