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Advocate for civic engagement, Marilee Scaff, dies at age 104

Claremont’s “senior statesperson” and Pilgrim Place resident Marilee Scaff died Friday in her sleep. She was 104.

Ms. Scaff has been a cornerstone in Claremont civic life for more than 70 years and is one of the last links to the generation that saw the city grow from a sleepy farm town to the busy cultural hub it is today.

“She truly was an inspiration. Well beyond the age of 100, she remained active in community issues and campaigns. She would speak at our council meetings and offer very meaningful comments and advice,” Mayor Corey Calaycay said in a Facebook post. “I will truly miss seeing her around our community. She lived a long, full, and meaningful life.”

She earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology and economics from the University of Texas and a graduate degree from the University of Chicago in theology and social ethics. She married Alvin Scaff, who she met while pursuing her undergraduate degree, in 1938.

Soon after, the couple left for the Philippines, where they served under the mission board of the Congregational Church. They were stationed in a remote mountain village, dividing their time between raising their young family and teaching local children.

In 1947, Mr. Scaff took a job teaching sociology at Pomona College, which launched Ms. Scaff’s love affair with the City of Trees. When she wasn’t caring for her three children, she taught part-time at the nursery school of the Claremont United Church of Christ, then called simply the Claremont Church. She also served as the church’s director of Christian education.

She also taught at El Roble and later served as counselor at the intermediate school. Her involvement with education continued to grow after she earned a seat on the Claremont Unified School District’s Board of Education.

Ms. Scaff was a vocal advocate for Claremont taking control of the local water utility—an issue that was important to her for decades. As a longtime member of the League of Women Voters, Ms. Scaff was instrumental in studying local water issues, preparing comprehensive reports for the public and, in her late-90s, testifying on behalf of residents before the California Public Utilities Commission and at trial.

“I’ve always been interested in public affairs, because that’s how we have to be,” she told the COURIER in 2015.

A complete account of Ms. Scaff’s life will appear in a future edition of the COURIER.