Phyllis Cole

Phyllis Cole


Long time residents of Vashon will remember Phyllis Cole from Doc Osborne’s office where she worked in the late 60s and 70s as a receptionist and general assistant. She moved to Vashon in 1949 and lived there 51 years until 2000 when she moved to

California to be near her eldest daughter Galen Cranz (VHS’62).

Phyllis was born in Hinsdale, Montana, on January 19, 1922, the only child of Genevieve Whitaker (nee Aslanian) and Fred Whitaker, an American soldier. Genevieve had brought her family with her from Istanbul, escaping the last Armenian genocide of 1923. Raised in Seattle, Phyllis studied ballet at the Cornish school. She met her first husband Richard (Dick) Cranz at Lincoln High School and a year after her graduation in 1940 they married in 1941.

Children. Galen was their first born in 1944 in Seattle, followed by Thea in 1947 in Los Angeles, where they lived with Genevieve for 3 years before returning to Vashon. They built a house in Cedarhurst on land Genevieve had purchased. Phyllis used her artistry and many skills in gardening, cooking, canning, sewing, and decorating through the marriage and beyond. Those years involved social visits with Lil, Bill, and “Ma” Froelich on the north end of the island and with Wanda Cadman and her family on the south end. Summers involved trips to Burton beach. Hunter was born in 1953. Phyllis viewed her children as her greatest achievement.

Remarriage. She separated from Dick in1953. She partnered with Lyle Galtz until 1956 when Ken Cole courted her. She and Ken, who worked KING

radio transmitter, married in February 1957. They bought a house in Bethel Park in 1958. After her daughters left for college, Phyllis worked for Dr. Osborne, where she became close friends with Shirlee

Fraser. Years later Phyllis also worked for Mary

Swanson, who designed artistic t-shirts. For two years in the 70s she and Ken owned the Island Theatre movie business, and Phyllis commissioned a mural on the west wall of a strip of film by high school student, now artist Nancy Cole-Auguste (see illustration). Phyllis proudly became a licensed private pilot in 1975. Ken and she owned a Taylorcraft tail dragger that she flew from Vashon’s small airstrip. She quoted a popular saying: “Flying is the 2nd greatest thrill known to man. Landing is the 1st.”

International Travel. In 1981 Phyllis travelled with Galen to Europe and Istanbul, Turkey in order to see where her mother Genevieve had grown up and attended the American School for Girls in Bursa. Thereafter Phyllis signed up on her own for tours to the Soviet Union, China, and Thailand. She also visited New York City. For her seventieth birthday Galen and Hunter sent Phyllis on a trip to Egypt with Egyptologist Anthony West.

Northern California. Ken developed dementia and was moved to nursing home care on Vashon in the late 1990s. Phyllis tried living on her own with young housemates, but her children worried about her during winter storms, so in the fall of 1999 Phyllis decided to move. In the spring of 2000 she flew to Oakland to look for housing in Rossmoor, where she found a comfortable and attractive apartment. She arrived October 3rd to her new home, where she lived for 12 years. At Rossmoor she took water aerobics classes regularly and was awarded certificates for perfect attendance. More international travel ensued in January of 2001 and 2002 to New Zealand with Galen. They attended Galen’s 40th Vashon High School class reunion in August of 2002, Phyllis’ last trip to the Northwest.

Assisted living. In 2012 she and her cat moved to assisted living in El Sobrante, CA, where she lived for the last three years of her life. She lost memory, but always retained her core personality. She had a clear sense of the difference between sincerity and falseness. Her assessment of situations as good or bad, acceptable or nonsensical stayed with her until the end. Galen was able to coach her through the process of dying. Around 5:15 pm on April 27, 2015, Phyllis took her last breath. On the day of her cremation, May 7, 2015, a memorial was held at Galen’s house in Oakland with friends and caregivers.

Legacy. Phyllis impressed many young people including Keith Church (VHS 61), Jerry Toto (VHS 71), Mike Browne (Burton), and Linda Schwartz (VHS 62) who viewed Phyllis as her “other mother.” Wendy Cadman, daughter of her friend Wanda Cadman, wrote to Phyllis in 2000 about the beautiful style with which Phyllis approached the arts of everyday living:

“Your influence during my early life has been keenly felt; I am so grateful for the connection I was afforded. Do you realize that you are one of the most exotic creatures I have ever encountered? Indeed, … your inborn elegance and sophistication punctuated those impressionable early years. I wanted to embody everything I observed: your artistic sensibilities, your appetite for the written word, your vocabulary, your extraordinary sense of style that enveloped everything about you.

You are responsible for my (everlasting) love of ballet. You introduced me to healthfully-prepared and unusual foods. If

inquires were made as to my choice of island real estate, I would tell them I’ve always coveted your home. Beginning with the passage down the lush and private drive. All of this will remain indelible, the bells on the kitchen door, the fortune cookie messages on the bathroom wall, the leaf panels incorporated into Galen’s bedroom shower, the classical music drifting through the house, the evergreen clematis hanging from the patio. Would you find it noteworthy that I have incorporated some of these (memories) into my own living space?”

Her legacy is the easy elegance with which she arranged the materials of everyday life, her populist politics, stylish and nutritious meals, concise and cogent language. All three of her children care about language, cook and eat with regard to nutrition and pleasure, appreciate art, and are emphatically liberal.

—Galen Cranz, 4 August 2017

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