Ethel Madrene Clark, better known as “Tootsie” and famous for her cinnamon rolls and generosity, has died at age 95.
“She passed on Sunday at home, where she wanted to be,” her son, Donald Clark, said Tuesday.
With enthusiasm and a baking pan, Mrs. Clark made the annual reopening of North Cascades Highway each spring into a beloved and festive event.
Since the 1970s, she made it her mission to be first to cross the mountain pass on Highway 20, which closes each winter because of heavy snowfall and avalanche danger.
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To mark the reopening, Mrs. Clark passed out coffee and cinnamon rolls drizzled with whiskey sauce to the first batch of drivers traveling east over the pass.
It became a tradition that she would carry out even in her last year of life.
Over the years, “It just grew and everybody grew with it,” Mrs. Clark said last May at the reopening of the highway.
She never met a person she didn’t have a friend with. … She would invite people into her dinner table that would just drop by unannounced.
Donald Clark, about his mother “Tootsie”
Her family had a long history in the Marblemount area of Skagit County, just west of the mountain pass. Her grandmother came by canoe to the Upper Skagit Valley, Donald Clark said. The family settled and later operated a mill in the Marblemount area until it burned down in1953.
After the fire, Mrs. Clark opened a resort, Clark’s Cabins, and later founded a restaurant called The Eatery with her sister.
“When she opened her restaurant, it was an immediate hit. People wanted that home-cooked meal with real ingredients – pie with real berries and milkshakes with real fruit,” Don Clark said Tuesday. “People traveled a long distance on Sunday to have her Sunday fried chicken.”
Handing out cinnamon rolls was Mrs. Clark’s way celebrating and drawing attention to the highway reopening and to the Marblemount community, which depends on the tourists who travel the scenic roadway, her son said.
Donald Clark said his mother would be remembered for her fun-loving nature and her cooking.
“She never met a person she didn’t have a friend with. … She would invite people into her dinner table that would just drop by unannounced,” he said. “Her personality was bigger than her physical being.”
In recent years, the highway’s opening had become something of a reunion for family and friends, who gathered each year to celebrate the roadway, and Mrs. Clark.
In addition to her son, Mrs. Clark is survived by her daughter, Judith “Judi” Brooks, and three grandchildren. Services are pending.
“She embraced so very, very many people who at first were strangers and then were friends,” Donald Clark said. “It was … a good life. We'll be celebrating that life in the next few weeks.”