Mary Webb Duryee

Small Town Girl, Big Time Communicator

A young fireman on a fund drive in North Everett approached a little lady out sweeping her front porch. She asked bright pertinent questions, was kind, reassuring and happy to donate. However, by the time he walked away, he had volunteered to help raise money for her latest cause, the Imagine Children’s Museum. He had met a veteran fund-raiser, Mary Webb Duryee.

Born in 1918, Mary Webb was the only child of “O.T.” and Mandy Webb, whose modest house stood in a North Everett neighborhood where everybody knew everybody. Back in the early 1920s Mary could be found sweeping the porch of her back-yard playhouse or fixing sandwiches for the neighborhood kids; she hated being an only child, but not one to brood, surrounded herself with friends. School gave her more friends and bigger groups to organize, and in the eighth grade she won a Rotary Achievement Award. The awards luncheon proved to be a watershed event in her life: her interest in people had led her to community service, and she met Daniel Duryee Sr., who would one day be her father-in-law and real estate mentor.

Mary’s father, O.T. Webb, an Everett attorney, instilled in her a desire to take initiative, work hard and appreciate what she had. The Webbs were Norwegian immigrants from Wisconsin who had come to the Everett/Lowell area by boxcar in 1899. O.T’s sisters (Mary’s aunts) all had put themselves through nursing school. He had worked his way through University of Washington Law School, graduating in 1905. O.T organized and became Grand Lodge President of the local branch of Scandinavian Fraternity of America (SFA) and often gave long speeches encouraging members to help the needy, respect women, and be kind to mothers! Mary often accompanied her father to SFA events, such as a picnic in June 1930 where she heard him give one of his rousing speeches to 600 Scandinavians. She was embarrassed when he introduced her to people as his “promising daughter”, but it also made her realize he had great confidence in her.
Mary was a natural leader. Like her father, she had a knack for public speaking. But leadership itself was not her goal, she just wanted to be INVOLVED. She was President of her 9th grade class, and later Everett High School Girl’s Club president, but her 1935 commencement speech was titled “The Homemaker”. Mandy, Mary’s mother, the daughter of Swedish immigrants, had had little education herself but it was she who made sure Mary learned to sing, dance, speak in public, sew, cook, garden, and, of course—entertain, important in the world of organizing community functions.

At the University of Washington, Mary seriously considered a degree in law, something much promoted by her father. But the depression was in full swing and the five year law course was expensive. Instead, she majored in history, became president of her sorority and in 1938 represented her sorority at their national Convention. After college, Mary moved home, enrolled in Mrs. Rogers’ Business School and got a job at a bank.
Her marriage in 1941 to Dan Duryee, Jr. was the beginning of a great partnership, a love affair that lasted until his passing in 1990. When they married, Mary was welcomed into an “old” family, which had been in this country for 8 generations, and included women of great strength and character. One of Danny’s grandmothers, a single parent and businesswoman, had staked a claim in Alaska during the Gold Rush. His other grandmother, an Everett pioneer, well-educated for her time, had been a founding member of the Everett Women’s Book Club back in 1894. And Mary had suddenly acquired siblings: Danny’s two dynamic and creative older sisters.

In return, Mary cherished her role as Mrs. Dan Duryee Jr. In Danny, she had found a soul-mate: both found PEOPLE endlessly fascinating. Like Mary, Danny was an early-riser, a list-maker, problem-solver, and good organizer; like Danny, Mary loved children, animals, sentimental movies, popular music, dancing, and bringing people together. They were both absolutely committed to Everett and exceptionally unselfish and low-profile about their good works.
Dan and Mary were just beginning their lives together when Pearl Harbor was bombed and the United States entered World War II. Assuming he would be drafted, Dan asked Mary to join the staff of the family company, D.A. Duryee and Co., learn the real estate business, and get the credentials to run the company. Thus, in 1942, Mary became one of the first women in Washington State to have her own real estate license and, at age 24, when Danny joined the army, she began coordinating every aspect of the business.

Real estate was very different then from what it is now. Multiple Listing Service and office computers didn’t exist. She opened and closed the office seven days a week, inspected property, showed houses (being careful not to compete with the veteran salesmen), wrote and posted ads, handled escrow, banking, payroll, rents, bills, repairs, and leases, and loyally chauffeured her father-in-law.

She gave pep talks to boost morale and mediated staff, tenant, and family dramas. But, somehow, she found time to read and answer the long, detailed letters her husband wrote during the war…love letters of a unique kind because they focused on Everett, on the challenges Mary faced, and on their future together.

Mary Duryee at Lake Bosworth on a bright day, Feb. 22, 1944. Daniel Duryee, Sr. took photo. “The person in the picture is so enthused, I assume, that she is already practicing her gestures to emphasize to a customer at some later date, some of the attractive points of this property.”

Mary adored her father-in-law, Daniel Sr. and while working along side him during the war years, she learned as much about community service as she did about real estate. Dan Sr. had grown-up with the town, graduated from EHS in 1898, and personally helped rescue the struggling YMCA in 1900. He understood and actively supported the town’s backbone of human services. In his quiet, hard-working way, Dan Sr helped Mary see how much a single individual could contribute to strengthening a community.

When Dan returned home in 1946, Mary handed over the big stack of nearly completed contracts that happened to be on her desk and became “the Homemaker”. Within a year, Dan Sr had passed away, Mary was pregnant, and Danny was re­invigorating his company; DA Duryee & Co went on to grow and prosper for 50 more years, but Danny used to say of the war years: “we couldn’t have done it without Mary”. She gladly became a full-time housewife, and then Mom to her two daughters, but she was never really out-of-the-loop of her husband’s working life. She had enjoyed the action of real estate, its potential for meeting people’s wants and needs, and for several decades she kept her real estate license current…..just in case.

While Danny worked 12 to 15-hour days both at his office and with various community boards, Mary kept her desk at home piled high with to-do lists, agendas, and her ever-growing card file of names. Like many others, she began soliciting door- to- door for Children’s Orthopedic Hospital and then worked with their North Everett Guild for many years. She served for 13 years on the YMCA board, worked as fund-raiser and board member for UGN (later United Way) and helped organize and run her church bazaars, for which she’d spoon 10-gallon kettles of mincemeat into jars every November for decades. She was a life member of the Children’s Foundation at Everett General Hospital, organized many charity auctions and fund-raisers for the local Junior Club and supported Volunteers of America and Campfire USA.   A highlight of her life was her decade as Campfire group leader for each of her daughters. “Miss Mary” held meetings in a cabin-like room above her garage. It had plain wooden floors, an upright piano, a big table for art projects and a special row of coat hooks, each with a little girl’s name on it. While it may have felt like a “play-room”, one wall was also covered with a big map of the world, and while Mary wanted the girls to find fun and friendship, her primary goal was to teach them to be responsible. She was just as comfortable helping the shy Campfire girl earn her first service beads as she was when speaking to a big crowd at a charity banquet.
Mary continues to live just three blocks from the house where she was born. Her own Everett Women’s Book Club group, now down to eight women, has been meeting regularly since 1947. Her Campfire girls stay in touch and still call her “Miss Mary”. She quietly supports many charities and non-profits around town, including the Emma Yule Society. However, when the opportunity came to help organize support for the Imagine Children’s Museum in the early 1990’s, she put on her old walking-shoes, and went, with cane, to the meetings, thrilled once again, to be making lists and stuffing envelopes.
In September 2007, at the United Way Spirit of Snohomish Co Breakfast, Mary was given the Reeves/Sievers Award for Lifetime community service. The keynote speaker that day, Lou Tice, said about people like Mary: “You can’t control how much you get, but you can control how much you give.”

Sources: Personal remembrance and family photographs, Maureen Duryee.
© 2008 Maureen Duryee All Rights Reserved

Lorraine Smith

One of Everett’s “Rosie the Riveters

By Teri Baker

Rosie the Riveter. Her picture was everywhere. A fit, young woman sporting a bandanna and wearing blue coveralls, sleeve rolled up and arm flexed to show a worker’s muscle. Her motto was “We can do it!”
Two days after arriving in Everett from Haugen, Wisconsin, Lorraine E. Smith answered her country’s call for female factory workers and went to work at the Boeing Branch Plant, located in what is now Everett Public Market. She knew she “could do it.”

“My two sisters and I grew up on an 80-acre farm,” she recalls. “We grew all our own food and had 14-17 cows to milk every night. We all worked, and we all worked hard” Looking on the bright side, she adds, “At least living on a farm during the Depression, we always had wood to burn to keep warm and food to eat.”

After high school graduation, Lorraine worked two full-time jobs in Highland Park, Illinois, one at a restaurant, the other as a telephone operator. “At the telephone company, they left me on my own and told me nothing,” she says. “Bells were ringing, the board was all lit up and there was no one to help. I was pretty nervous, but I finally found out how to shut the thing down.”
She moved to Chicago to work in a quilt factory and on the occasional weekend visited her uncle in Milwaukee. It was there that she met Army Tech. Sgt. Gordon Wells. It was 1942, and although they did not become engaged, Lorraine and Gordon had “an understanding” when the sergeant left to fight in Europe. In October 1943, Gordon’s parents, Orly and Lucy Wells, who had become close to Lorraine, decided to head to the West Coast to look for work. Dissatisfied with his job at a Wisconsin creamery, Orly felt he could be of more use in a “war job,” possibly at a shipyard. “They asked if I would like to go with them,” Lorraine says. “I said ‘yes’ and packed my clothes and my new little Singer sewing machine. They picked me up in a 1939 Buick, a real gas guzzler, and we headed west.”
The trio eventually arrived in Everett. Orly got a job the next day, and the family moved into a new, two-bedroom, partially furnished apartment at Baker Heights. A day later Lorraine was hired at Boeing, where she was required to wear overalls and a bandanna similar to Rosie the Riveter’s. The head scarf was a safety precaution to keep hair from catching and being wound onto the drill. She called the uniform her “tux.”
Everywhere she looked, Lorraine saw reminders that she was involved in a serious business. Walls displayed Rosie posters and signs that said “Buy Bonds” and “Loose Lips Sink Ships.” Lorraine says, “You didn’t say ‘boo.’ Not a word. No one talked about what was being built or how many worked at the plant or anything else that might be useful to the enemy.”
Lorraine started out as a bucker. She explains, “When the riveter goes rat-a-tat-tat, the bucking bar flattens it on the other end.” It was not glamorous work, but it was vital to the war effort. Boeing had not yet built its great complex in Everett. To increase production, the company opened branch plants in Everett, Chehalis, Bellingham, Aberdeen and Tacoma. Initially, the branches accounted for 15 percent of the Seattle Division’s Flying Fortress (B-17) production, but that number soon increased to 20 percent.
A monthly branch edition of Boeing News was started and included small articles about the plant, along with personal events such as births, marriages, visits from sons in the military, etc. of branch employees. In the first Everett edition is a photo of former major league pitching great Cy Young working at the Everett plant as a jig-maker. Lorraine is in the background, clad in her Rosie uniform, operating – what else? – a riveter.
Lorraine still has the pay stub from one of her biggest checks from Boeing. For two weeks of work, including overtime, she was paid $77, a grand sum in those days. She recalls that to address the concerns of its “feminine employees,” Boeing added a “women’s supervisor and councilor” for each shift to be available at all times “either for discussion of ‘on the job’ problems or any other matters women wish to discuss.” Lorraine never went to her councilor, but her heart went out to those who did, women who received telegrams beginning, “We regret to inform you…” which meant a son, a husband, a father or a brother had been killed.
The war was never far away from Lorraine’s mind. She anxiously awaited the mail and was thrilled whenever she heard from her intended, even if the censors blacked out some of the words. Day after day she toiled, hoping for more mail, dreading the thought of a telegram. Then one afternoon, shortly after she checked in at work, an announcement blared from the loudspeaker. The war was over! “There was just this big celebration, then we went home” she recalls. “That was the last day we worked.”
She and Gordon married in 1946 and, along with Gordon’s siblings, lived with Orly and Lucy, who had by then purchased Olivia Park Store, until the young couple purchased a house nearby. “I was happy to be a stay-at-home mom,” Lorraine says. “We had been in the Depression, and we wanted better for our children.” She grows quiet for a moment and speaks of her generation: “I think we made it too good for them. There was just too much materialism.”
Lorraine, who taught sewing for 4-H, wove fabric and turned it into stunning garments. She has passed down her giant loom to her daughter. When Gordon died in 1984, Lorraine coped by staying active in church, maintaining friendships and continuing to travel at home and abroad. She started a daily journal that she still keeps up and became active in Widowed Information Consultation Services. It was at the Eagles Hall after a WICS meeting that she met John W. Smith. “John said he was going home to read a book,” she recalls with a smile, “but my friend Margaret found out he could dance and told him, ‘You are not going home!’” Being a gentleman, he asked Lorraine to dance, and in 1988, a year to the day after they met, John and Lorraine were married.
Among the couple’s interests are fishing and travel. Lorraine belongs to a “Rosies” organization and was honored along with 90 others in 2002 at Seattle Center by Washington Women in Trades Association.

Six decades have passed since Lorraine moved to Everett and first took her lunch pail to work at an airplane plant. Two more stars have been added to the flag. Boeing stopped making B-17s long ago. But the spirit of the Rosies, women like Lorraine Smith, lives on. Rosie’s poster said, “We can do it!”
And they did.

Source: Personal interview with Lorraine E. Smith, 2002.; WLP Story Number 20

Alice White Reardon

Newspaper Publisher 1867 – 1951

By Nellie Robertson

Ink ran in the veins of Alice White Reardon nearly from the time of her birth in 1867 until her death in 1951. Born in Ft. Dodge, Iowa of pioneer stock, she was the second daughter in a family of five children. When she was two years old, her father established the first newspaper in Soda Bar, Iowa. Her newspaper heritage followed her throughout her life.

In 1890 Alice married John J. Reardon. The couple had six sons, one of whom died in infancy, and one daughter. In 1893 Reardon entered into partnership with Alice’s brother in the newspaper business. When John left the partnership, the family came to Washington in 1911 and to Monroe in 1913. Reardon bought the Monroe Independent and settled down to report on life in the small town. It became Monroe’s official newspaper. Ten years later the Reardons bought the Monroe Monitor and merged the two publications.

Alice helped in the newspaper office and still managed to take good care of her family.
When tragedy struck, not once, but twice, in a matter of weeks, Alice responded with courage. Her husband died on March 20, 1928, and on May 18th of the same year, John and Alice’s oldest son, Joseph, who had served in France in World War I and had been associated with his father in the Monroe Monitor, died in an automobile accident.

Alice White Reardon, circa 1945? Born in 1867 at Fort Dodge, Iowa, the second of five children, she died in 1951. Photographer: Bruno Art Studio, 416 SW Alder, Portland, Oregon. #506504 Photograph Courtesy of the Monroe Historical Society, Monroe, WA
Alice White Reardon, circa 1945?
Born in 1867 at Fort Dodge, Iowa, the second of five children, she died in 1951.
Photographer: Bruno Art Studio, 416 SW Alder, Portland, Oregon. #506504
Photograph Courtesy of the Monroe Historical Society, Monroe, WA

Alice bought her daughter-in-law’s interest in the Monitor, and her son Keiron, who would later serve in the state legislature, joined her as editor. Newspapers often spawn confrontational episodes, but Alice did not allow herself to become embroiled. She handled the business part of the publication with equanimity. She published the newspaper until she sold it in 1943.

Descendants and friends characterize her as a kind person, always busy. Great-niece Catherine Hammond said, “I never saw her mad or cranky.” She made crazy quilts out of velvet and embroidered with silk thread. Her family treasures those quilts. She also crocheted and knitted.

Alice was a well known and beloved member of the community. Of the things she is best remembered for, donuts top the list. When the goodies appeared at the Congregational Church bazaars, they disappeared before they hit the shelves. She generously shared her confection – but not her recipe. Not even her descendants learned how to make her donuts. A gifted storyteller, Alice did, however, share her life experiences with her family and friends such as former Monroe mayor Grace Kirwan, who sums up Alice Reardon in five words: “She was a wonderful lady.”

Sources: Monroe Monitor, Interviews with Grace Kirwan and Catherine Hammond;
WLP Story Number 17 ~
© 2002 Nellie E. Robertson

Mary Burgess

Braiding Multiple Talents into a Full Life

By Louise Lindgren
~ Braiding Multiple Talents into a Full Life
It’s a wonder the Burgess’ dump truck doesn’t have braided rug seats. After all, one of the drivers of that truck has made rug braiding a specialty.
Mary Burgess is admittedly a “country girl,” and has acquired all the skills normally ascribed to those of that upbringing, plus a few more. She can bake, garden, sew and braid rugs. She can pound nails swift and straight, ride a horse, act as a packer to a hunter or helper to a surveyor. Her paintbrush might hold house paint one day and oil paints for a canvas the next. And, she can drive heavy machinery if road work must be done.
What sets her apart is her willingness to learn just about anything and become not only proficient, but a perfectionist in each pursuit. She doesn’t just braid rugs – she teaches the art. She doesn’t simply cook – she researches exceptional magazines and books to find the most nutritionally sound methods of preparing foods. As for heavy machinery, years of helping her husband maintain roads for their Mt. Index community has given her more experience handling intimidating large machines than most men will ever have.
Why would a petite, seemingly “normal” woman who keeps an immaculate house be interested in mastering so many skills? Perhaps it goes back to her childhood; perhaps it’s just personality. Who knows how adventurous minds are bred or why they develop?
The background is clear – pure country. Born in Star, a now-defunct spot on the map in the Bohemia Mountains of southern Oregon, Burgess learned early on about sagebrush farming, including how to milk a cow at age six. Several moves were made during early childhood – from valleys to mountain territory, Oregon to Northern California. Finally, the family made the long trip north to homestead 80 acres in the Kittitas Valley of eastern Washington. The nearest town was Ellensburg, definitely just a town, not a city, when she was a girl. There they dug the canals and ditches which would bring irrigation to that sagebrush country and forever change the face of the land along the Columbia River.
Lessons ingrained upon young Mary’s consciousness included frugality and water conservation. “We used to re-use the water several times,” she recalls. “Leftover wash water was used to mop floors, and water left over from that was poured on the plants. We didn’t waste a drop! Those were Depression years [of the 1930s],” Mary remembers. “Still, I think we had as much fun as the kids of today – maybe even more, because we were forced to use our imaginations.” She learned to sew when flour sacks were the ever-present fabric for dish towels, curtains, aprons, and dresses for small children.
Mary learned by acute observation. There were all the normal farm chores to do, fences to mend, animals to care for, buildings to maintain. Always one who enjoyed being out “doing things” with her father rather than pursuing the gentler arts of the home, she became adept at such skills as pounding nails. This stood her in good stead at the Salinas County Fair when, years later as a young woman, she entered a nail pounding contest. On her initial attempt, she tied for first place. A glance at the technique of her competition immediately taught her how to win. The second time around, instead of “placing” the nail with just a tap on the first swing, she says, “I hit it hard, ‘Pow!’ and won myself five dollars!”
Married at age 16, she began raising a family of three boys. During the Second World War she worked at a motor company in Indiana that was making airplane parts. She discounts herself as a “Rosie the Riveter” because, she says, “We didn’t rivet. We drilled three holes in each part, then reamed them smooth, over and over again. The hard part was that they kept rotating shifts, and though I had to work graveyard, I couldn’t sleep during the day.” There was always the challenge of providing adequate childcare for three small boys.
Finally, with her marriage ended, Mary settled in Washington, becoming a cook, first on a ranch, then in restaurants. “At the ranch they left me on my own from the first, and it was pretty bewildering, but I got the hang of it,” she recalls. “The workday was a lot longer [than cooking for restaurants], but the time between meals was your own. I would help on the farm or do craft work until it was time to start food preparation again.” Restaurant work won out because the money was better and the schedule more regular.
Many years passed, and Mary endured her full share of personal tragedies before she met and married Neil Burgess, a trained surveyor. Tempered steel is strongest, and Neil appreciated that strength in her as their lives evolved at the base of Mt. Index. For the first time, she had a home on the west side of the Cascade Mountains. The soggy climate and moisture-laden cold that creeps into one’s bones in the mountains did not dampen her enthusiasm for trying something new. The newlyweds bought three lots on the South Fork of the Skykomish River and proceeded to build a home from rough-sawn lumber they cut and milled themselves on the site. At the time there were only two families living full-time in the area; others came for weekend stays in their mountain cabins.
Access was by unpaved road that required constant maintenance. Gradually, the Burgesses became maintainers of the road, acquiring equipment as needed. If a job needed doing, Mary Burgess wanted to help. Thus she learned her first hard lessons in handling heavy equipment. One time while dumping a load of wet gravel, the back truck-gate refused to open. She had already learned that to spread gravel evenly, the truck must be in forward motion as the gate opens. As she moved out, raising the bed and expecting a flow of gravel from the back, the gate stuck, trapping thousands of pounds of gravel at the rear and tipping the whole truck on its hind end.

“It sure looked like a long way down to the road from my perch up in that cab,” she remembers with a laugh. “I had to climb out and sort of slide down the side to the back wheel before I could jump down. Then we shoveled and shoveled to lighten the load, but eventually Neil had to pull that truck down with a chain hooked on to the grader.”

Lessons are learned quickly when fear becomes a factor. There was a time when the airbrakes failed as she drove the truck down a steep hill. She says, “Somehow I managed to stay in control and just kept shifting into lower gears until I could coast out onto Alder Flats.” Mary observes that when you lose your brakes, the vehicle seems to lurch forward even though the speed remains the same. In a truck of several tons that is a frightening feeling.

As the area became more settled, Neil Burgess was much in demand as a surveyor. Since that is definitely a two-person job and part-time help hard to come by, Mary offered to work with him. For years she watched the art of surveying change from the chain and transit method to modern laser equipment, and tramped many a section line to go ahead with the target while her husband made his calculations. It is not an easy job on rough terrain in dense underbrush, which has to be cleared to provide a “line of sight.” When she started there were no women that she knew of doing that sort of work. Now she says, “You see more and more of them. I guess I started a trend.”
The Burgesses were always amused when starting their surveys at a documented monument in a town. Invariably, someone would ask, “Are you surveying this town again?” In fact they were not surveying the town at all. One has to start at a documented marker in order to legally arrive at the survey area, which may be quite a way from that marked point. Mary says, “People don’t realize that they can’t just tell you where they think their property corner is. They expect you to go from that to find the other corners, but it’s totally illegal.”
The Burgesses were always amused when starting their surveys at a documented monument in a town. Invariably, someone would ask, “Are you surveying this town again?” In fact they were not surveying the town at all. One has to start at a documented marker in order to legally arrive at the survey area, which may be quite a way from that marked point. Mary says, “People don’t realize that they can’t just tell you where they think their property corner is. They expect you to go from that to find the other corners, but it’s totally illegal.”

In her rare spare time, Mary reads ancient and western history extensively and paints with oils and acrylics. While the dream home had to be put on hold to deal with her husband’s increasing health problems, she pursued medical knowledge to help solve some of those problems and get them “back on track.” With the passing of her husband in 2006, she has moved to the east coast where she continues to share her special skills with family and new friends. In the end, many are benefiting from her relentless pursuit of knowledge and perfection.

“Photo courtesy of the Burgess family album” 1988.
Sources: Edited from an article first published in The Third Age Newspaper, February, 1993; interview with Mary Burgess, December, 1992
© 1992 Louise Lindgren All Rights Reserved. WLP Story # 11

Phyllis Royce

Independent and Determined to Stay that Way

By Teri Baker

As a young girl Phyllis Royce made up her mind to become independent. And she did just that. “I didn’t think I couldn’t do things so I just went ahead and did them,” she says. “I like women who get out and do things.”

Phyllis, 74, of Marysville explains, “My mother never did anything but take a ride on a Sunday afternoon. She couldn’t drive, and everything had to go through my dad.” Phyllis had no patience with what she called her mother’s “just be helpless and pretty and whine for what you want” attitude. The girl was more like her father, a man who worked hard as a grocer and later as a delivery driver, tended the garden at home, and kept himself informed via the newspaper and radio. My brother was the good child,” she says with a laugh. “I was always in trouble, always building stuff, always in motion, roller skating, riding bikes, playing at the park. I was also curious and read six books a week.”

Phyllis lived in Bellingham until eighth grade, when the family moved to Blanchard. She worked part time in a mercantile store washing windows and wrapping cookies. “It was the third year into the war,” she says. “There were things you couldn’t get and other things that were rationed. Everybody just dealt with it.”

She married at 16 and went to Nebraska with her new husband, who had joined a major league baseball farm team. “He was on the road all the time. and I was stuck in a tiny, one-room apartment with nothing to do,” she recalls. “I said ‘forget that!’ and I moved back to Blanchard.”
Barely 17, she rented an old railroad depot, complete with outhouse, (she bathed next door at her parents’ house) for $11 a month. Single-handedly, she turned the two rooms into three by putting up a wall and making an archway. She acquired an ancient wood stove for cooking and central heating, turned discarded planks into cupboards complete with doors, and scrounged up some cast off furniture. Located at the base of Chuckanut Drive, the depot is now Blanchard Community Center.
Her husband returned after the baseball season and went to work in a mill. The couple lived at the depot for a year and a half, but with a child on the way, had to move to larger quarters. They bought a house in Bellingham for $2,000. Phyllis did the lion’s share of the home improvements herself. The sale of the house netted them enough to buy a new one for $4,000 two years later. Eventually, buying and selling houses would become a way of life for Phyllis.

The couple had a daughter, then a son, but little else in common. Phyllis divorced her husband after six years of marriage and moved with the children to Everett to start over. “I got a hundred dollars a month in support money,” she says. “We lived frugally, but we managed just fine. I had no employable skills. They didn’t want women who could build things, even though I could even use an electric saw, so I worked in restaurants on weekends.”

In 1955 she met Bob Royce, a Navy chief stationed at Whidbey Island, who was soon transferred to California. The two corresponded and married three years later. Phyllis stayed in the states when Bob was sent to Japan and other foreign places, but the two still managed to do some traveling together. On one trip they had been to England, Belgium and Germany when Bob’s leave ran out, so he left Phyllis in Munich and flew home. For five weeks she traveled by train all over Italy, Switzerland and Greece, staying at out of the way places, hopping a plane to check out a Mediterranean island, and soaking up sun, art and history to her heart’s content.

During the 14 years before Bob retired, Phyllis says her independent spirit rose up to help her hold her ground when her husband, used to giving orders, would “come back home and try to take over as if I hadn’t been doing just fine for months.” She adds with a smile, “He’s still a Navy chief at heart, but we’ve managed to stay married for 42 years.” After Bob’s retirement, the couple returned to Everett, and Phyllis, then 38, who had never graduated from high school, enrolled in a class at Everett Community College.

“Over the years I took art history, photography, design, things that were enriching my life,” she says. “I never thought I would do anything with it. I just started one class at a time for my own education and enjoyment and the next thing I knew I had an Associate of Arts degree.”

She entered the Central Washington College extension program, and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in law and justice, graduating at the age of 50 with a 3.8 grade point average. “If you want to go to school, no matter what age you are, do it!” Phyllis advises. “I just had a ball. It was so much fun going to school with police officers, jailers and so forth. They were just a kick. Wise guys, almost all of them, but I gave as good as I got. We were pals.”
Part of her class work involved the Volunteer for Credit program, which gave her on-the-job training in the parole office. “The first thing I learned was that probation and parole was a high stress occupation,” she says. “Caseloads were large and the paperwork was staggering. Arrest reports in some cases, especially crimes against children, were very graphic, sometimes more than I could handle. As interesting as it was, it didn’t take long to decide I would not want to choose that as a career.”

Still, during her junior year, Phyllis returned to the parole office as a volunteer coordinator in the Pre-sentence Investigation Division. Much of her work involved searching through prosecutors’ files. Her research skills have made her a valuable asset in her current volunteer work with Snohomish County Women’s Legacy Project, which she helped start and for which she has put together a remarkable file of information at the Everett Library Northwest Room.

After graduation, Phyllis was hired by Snohomish County Sheriff’s Department as a correctional officer in the Work Release Program in the county jail. She came to believe the supposedly first-time offenders convicted of non-violent crimes in her charge posed a danger to the community. One turned out to be the infamous Everett Rapist.

Phyllis was sent to the Correctional Officers Academy in Seattle, where she graduated third in a class of 36. Not bad for probably the oldest person in the class. Less than two years into her career as a corrections officer her father died. She quit so she could go to Bellingham to help her mother who was still so dependent she did not even know how to write a check.

Although Phyllis did not return to work in the justice system, she was not idle. She and Bob continued to invest in real estate. She says, “We bought cheap, fixed up and sold for a modest profit.” Today, they own two older houses in Everett that have been turned into apartments. Phyllis still does tile work, repairs cabinets, and can tear out a wall if she needs to. Her husband, who handles the plumbing chores, says Phyllis knows more about carpentry than most men do.

“I like to keep busy,” she remarks. “I don’t like power saws; just give me a hand saw any day. I don’t mind hard work. I’m physically able to do a lot and I always got tired of waiting for the guys to do things.” Part of her hard work went into building the Royce’s home, where they did pretty much everything but the frame and the roof themselves.

Phyllis also volunteers. She has contributed well-researched articles to Riverside Remembers, a history of part of early Everett, and to Voices of Everett’s First Century. “I didn’t know if I could do it, so I just did,” she says. “I liked it. I enjoy talking to old people and get really interested in what they have to say.” She has interviewed more than 100 people and is still at it with the legacy project.
Her interest is obvious as she talks about her collections of obituaries and other articles culled from local newspapers over the years and her work with Snohomish County Museum, where she was president for 11 years. Because she owns property in Everett, she was asked to be on the city’s historical commission, where she also served as president.

To learn more about antiques, Phyllis also volunteers at major regional antique shows. And somehow, Phyllis still manages to find time to read. “There are a jillion books at my house,” she says. “I never go anywhere without a book.” She also cares for five cats of her own, plus six adult cats and seven kittens that were dumped on the dead-end road near her house to be eaten by coyotes or to slowly starve to death. “They’re expensive to feed and care for,” she says, “but I can’t see a cat starve.”

A hard worker with the energy level of people 20 years her junior, Phyllis is in pretty good shape, although she has had her share of physical challenges. She has battled cancer three times, the first beginning with a wart in her nose. Two years later she developed throat cancer and underwent radiation that left her throat so scarred she has difficulty eating. Five years ago, the cancer returned to her nose and skin had to be grafted from her shoulder to cover the removal of the tumor. “It doesn’t show much because I just use makeup,” she says, adding that she got through the ordeal because she was “working with the museum at the time and didn’t have time to worry.”
There is little that stops Phyllis. She still travels when she can, alone or with her husband, and speaks fondly of past trips to Mexico, Spain, the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador and Egypt, the place she always dreamed of going. “I found out Egypt was a magical place, but hotter than heck,” she says. “I think I’ll try some cooler places.” She plans to continue traveling, working on houses and volunteering. She is a “woman who does things.”

It would never occur to her to be otherwise.

Source: Interview with Phyllis Royce

© 2003 Theresa (Teri) A. Baker 2003 All Rights Reserved ; WLP Story Number 5