Edythe Kirchmaier sat smiling from a chair at Direct Relief’s Goleta headquarters on Tuesday, watching her great-grandchildren scatter across a room full of pointed party hats and supporters gathered in her honor.
Guests stood in a circle around her, going in for hugs one at a time and drawing inspiration from one of the nonprofit organization’s longest-serving volunteers.
Kirchmaier, who turns 107 years old on Thursday, spent the day like any other Tuesday — visiting the humanitarian-aid organization where she’s spent 40 years of her life in service to others.
She even proudly drove there herself until a few months ago.
But instead of Kirchmaier dutifully visiting once a week to handwrite thank-you notes to Direct Relief donors, family and friends offered her thanks and recognition at her birthday party.
“I just enjoy the people I’m working with,” Kirchmaier told Noozhawk. “Direct Relief is very important in my life.”
Volunteer work has long been important to Kirchmaier, who was born Jan. 22, 1908, in Springfield, Ohio. She lived several places before moving to Lompoc and then into a Santa Barbara home, where she still lives today, in 1948.
After retiring from the Family Service Agency of Santa Barbara County, Kirchmaier and her late husband, Joe, served two 18-month stints teaching abroad in Taiwan for Direct Relief. Even when Joe passed away seven years ago, Kirchmaier never stopped giving.
She gained international fame two years ago after she told Direct Relief that her 105th birthday wish was to raise awareness for the nonprofit’s work by getting 105,000 people to “like” Direct Relief’s Facebook page — a goal she surpassed while amassing thousands of her own followers as the world’s oldest Facebook user.
“We are her fan club,” said Ann Pless, a friend and fellow volunteer who’s become part of a tight-knit group including Kirchmaier.
Admirers took turns thanking Kirchmaier at the party, praising her “invaluable voice,” warm hugs and beautiful penmanship.
Direct Relief CEO Thomas Tighe emphasized the importance of volunteers, especially one “putting the fuel in the tank” to motivate like Kirchmaier.
She nibbled a scone and sipped coffee while Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez praised her spotless driving record and named her a model citizen and “police chief for the day.”
In honor of her birthday, Decker’s Outdoor Corporation offered to match the first 107 donations made this week to Direct Relief in Edythe’s honor, up to $10,700.
Direct Relief officials also vowed to name a portion of a planned new facility after Kirchmaier, who plans to volunteer as long as she’s able.
Kirchmaier enjoyed the bustle of the party, but she said for her actual birthday Thursday, “I’m just going to stay home and relax.”