The current year, 2020, is the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment which granted voting rights to women throughout the United States. To highlight that achievement, the 2020 SHS Newsletters will include articles about women who “made history” in Sunnyvale.
Springfield, Illinois claims Abraham Lincoln; Atlanta, Georgia takes pride in Martin Luther King, Jr. . . . but Sunnyvale, California can boast of Ida Trubschenck! “Aunt Ida”, as she was affectionately known by relatives and townspeople alike, worked for forty-four years as the first city clerk of Sunnyvale, going far beyond the parameters of her job description, while serving as an inspiration to women considering elective office.
Ida Trubschenck was born in San Francisco on September 19, 1886, a child of Danish immigrants. In 1901, her family moved down the peninsula to Encinal, renamed Sunnyvale that same year where her father, Herman Nicolai Trubschenck, owned and operated Pioneer Drug Store on Murphy Avenue. The family built a home on the corner of Washington Avenue and Taaffe Street, on a vacant lot purchased from Walter A. Crossman, the town’s first real estate “entrepreneur”.
In 1912, when Sunnyvale’s population grew to 1600 residents, a special election was proposed to incorporate the town. A young woman at the time, Ida worked in her father’s drugstore and studied music at the College of the Pacific. Although she felt certain incorporation would fail, friends encouraged her to run for the position of city clerk. Held only one year after women in California had won the right to vote, the election to incorporate was the first election in which local women could participate. After the votes were tallied, incorporation “won” and Ida was elected city clerk, Sunnyvale’s first city employee. She was re-elected again and again until 1946, when the office became an appointed position. Ida continued to serve for another ten years by appointment, finally retiring in 1956.
In her role as Sunnyvale’s city clerk, Ida handled the multitude of tasks required to keep the day by day “wheels of government turning.” Her duties included keeping detailed accounts of the city’s financial and public works records as well as writing all city correspondence. She computed water bills by hand, sometimes working late into the night at home to determine where she might have missed a penny or two. Many of Ida’s hand-written city records are stored in the Sunnyvale Historical Society archives.
Ida’s work ethic was legendary. When she finally took a vacation in 1950, the event was so extraordinary, City Hall closed for a day! A 1953 San Jose Mercury News article described Ida as “a very modest woman who despises talking about herself, but will wax loquacious on the subject of the city.” Ida responded, “I’m just a servant of the public. If you want to write about something interesting, write about Sunnyvale.”
In addition to her city position, Ida served as secretary of the California Association of City Governments, and, of special interest to the readers of this newsletter, helped to establish the Sunnyvale Historical Society.
Although Ida never married nor had children of her own, she doted on her brother’s children. According to her nephew, Lorin Trubschenck, she was the family’s anchor, supporting family members with love and financial assistance. Blessed with an extremely good business sense, Ida used her low-paying city clerk salary to buy and sell property and eventually took over her mother’s insurance business.
Well-known and much-loved for many decades, Ida was reputed to know everyone in town by name or sight. When she wasn’t on duty at City Hall, she tended her garden and played the piano, sometimes giving piano lessons or playing for various functions in town. According to her nephew, she loved and enjoyed what she did.
Ida passed away on October 6, 1983, at the age of 97; she is buried in a family plot at San José’s Oak Hill Cemetery. By the time of her passing, Ida had witnessed Sunnyvale’s growth from an unincorporated town of a few hundred residents to a city of more than 100,000. Saddened by the loss of green fields and oaks to Sunnyvale’s rapid growth, she stated in the afore-mentioned 1953 Mercury News article, “Everybody knows there has to be industry and business in a modern world, but it’s a pity to have it on land which is the best in the world for growing fine fruit.” Sixty-seven years later, the same lament is often heard from Sunnyvale residents of today.
1. “Ida Trubschenck, 97, Sunnyvale’s first employee”, SHS Newsletter, Nov, Dec, 1983
2. “Women Play Important Role in Sunnyvale History”, San Jose Mercury News,
Dec. 9, 1987*
3. “Ida Trubschenck”, Sunnyvale Collage II, Volume 2, pg. 299, 300
4. Ignoffo, Mary Jo. Sunnyvale: From the City of Destiny to the Heart of Silicon Valley.
Cupertino, California: California History Center and Foundation,
De Anza College, 1994.
5. Koning, Ben and Metz, Anneke. Images of America – Sunnyvale. Charleston, So.
Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2010
*Photographs and newspaper articles courtesy of Sunnyvale Historical Society and
Museum Association archives.
Article by Linda Kubitz