Only one 1906 quake survivor attends commemorative lunch 

Before tucking into a steak at the venerable John’s Grill, the only 1906 earthquake survivor to attend the annual survivors’ luncheon showed he was very much still alive as he mused on his part-time job and fended off an adoring, gun-toting fan.

"You stood me up," joked 90-year-old Esther Scheele as 104-year-old Herbert Hamrol mugged for the cameras. Scheele, the daughter of earthquake survivors, carried the small pistol — sans magazine — that her grandfather used to fend off looters of the remnants of his shop after the quake.

"We were supposed to take a cable-car ride three years ago and you stood me up," Scheele said. "Do you remember me?"

"No," replied Hamrol.

But the former grocer who still works part time at Andronico’s supermarket does remember more than almost any other San Franciscan about the panic following the early-morning quake, the nights spent in the park and the turmoil into which the disaster sent so many lives.

"I remember my mother carrying me down the stairs" of the family’s home at Sixth and Clementina streets, Hamrol said, seated at a side table with his daughter-in-law Carol Hamrol and author David Burkhart.

"There was a park a couple of blocks away. We stayed there the first couple of nights, then we went to Chicago," Hamrol said.

Hamrol attributed his long life to simple, healthy eating — he eats a bowl of soup every day — and his loving friends, neighbors and family.

But Hamrol’s friends’ ranks are thinning. On the 100th anniversary of the quake last year, at least 10 survivors made the pilgramage to lay a wreath at Lotta’s Fountain at Market, Kearny and Geary streets, at 5:12 a.m. This year, Hamrol was the only one who made it. Lee Houskeeper, who helps organize the eventevery year, said four or five other survivors had died and the rest were too ill to come.

"He’s the last man standing," Houskeeper said.

About 500 people showed up to commemorate the deadly temblor and fire that razed much of The City 101 years ago. While the event attracted far fewer than the thousands who thronged the streets at last year’s centennial, Houskeeper said the modest showing did indicate a level of "grassroots" interest. Taren Sapienza, who has historically organized the event, did not participate this year.

"She felt like The City took over too much last year, which we did. It was an international event and it was bigger than any of us every imagined it would be," Mayor Gavin Newsom said. "This year it’s kind of a protest thing. She’ll disavow that, but it’s unfortunate, she wasn’t there. We’ll work to get her back."

Hamrol did not show any signs of missing next year’s occasion. He grinned widely as Scheele and a cluster of reporters fawned over him. "Thank goodness I’ve still got a good appetite," he said.

amartin@examiner.com

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