Let’s Talk About…. Tribute To My John



Today is my hubby, John Charles Phillips, 81st birthday. He, like many of us, never guessed he’d ever be “so old,” as he says. Here he is at his father’s grave (Charles Alexander Phillips, 1906-1961, Shelton, WA, on top) and his mother’s (Esther Mary Oswald, 1913-1998, Spokane.) 

I’ve had some good luck researching his family. For a time, he was an avid bagpipe player and so wanted me to find his Scottish ancestry. Alas, best I could do was Scots-Irish, the Phillips coming into Colonial America and migrating to Georgia after the Revolution when there was land to be had. Seaborn Phillips survived his wounds at Gettysburg in the Civil War and died in Texas (Texas paid pensions). 

His mother, Esther, was an English teacher at Shadle Park High School for years. Her mother was Mary Ethel Leverich,1886-1967. The Leverich and Berrien families have long, illustrious histories in early New York. Mary’s biggest adventure began in 1909 when she and her maiden aunt traveled from their home in Danville, Illinois, via train through Yellowstone to Seattle. She kept a diary; I have that diary! One entry mentions standing in the dinner line on the train and meeting “Mr. Oswald.” They married in 1911.

The Oswald side of John’s family originated in Luxembourg, with Nicholas coming in 1850 with wife and children to Ozaukee, Wisconsin (on Lake Michigan) and helping found the town of Belgium. 

Their son, John Peter Oswald, 1878-1946, worked for nearly three decades as a machinist for the Great Northern Railroad. John and Ethel first settled in Hillyard (where the railway yards were) but in 1912 when expecting their first child (Esther), and realizing that “the White Death” (tuberculosis) was rampant in the city, and Ethel insisted that they move out of town to a farm. Which they did……….. the farm is on Flint Road (West Plains) and is still in family hands. John and Ethel’s five children were born there……….

While John Peter worked in Hillyard for the railroad…. nearly 15 miles from the farm on (what was then) R.F.D. 4. The family story goes that Ethel would take John, in the buckboard, along the dusty, unpaved Hwy 2, down Sunset Hill, to the Interurban, where he’d ride the bus to Hillyard and stay until Friday afternoon, when Ethel would again come down the hill to fetch him. They did this until 1926 when John’s rich inventor brother bought them a car.

Esther, John’s mother, recalls growing up on the farm….. and walking to the Bowl & Pitcher to sit and write in her journal. (Picture the Casino to the B&P…. would your teen do that? And no way would you let her!!) She graduated from Lewis & Clark High School, and then Cheney Normal School (now EWU) and was teaching school in Newport, WA, by age 17. Before her marriage in 1941 to Chuck Phillips, she and a school-teacher girlfriend traveled the world on what she called “tramp steamers.” Another memory: when she was expecting John (fall, 1942) she feared having to quit teaching school (that was the rule then) but her principal, who had lost most of his male teachers to either the Bremerton shipyards or the war, told her to “just put on a smock.” Which she did. 

Aren’t family stories interesting? And each one is different! Why not write up YOUR story on your birthday, or your spouse’s story on their birthday? 

2 comments on “Let’s Talk About…. Tribute To My John

  1. Roxanne F. Lowe says:

    Happy birthday, John! What great stories!

  2. Linda Falk says:

    It is a small world, isn’t it? I remember Mrs Phillips well as my senior English teacher at Shadle. My other favorite English teacher in 8th grade at Salk turned out to be my second cousin!

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