Grads, it’s a busy month. You’re celebrating, signing yearbooks and moving tassels to the left sides of caps at commencement. Take time to cherish your friends. And I’ll tell you about one of mine.
Stephanie Baker — later Stephanie Griffith — was my locker partner for four years at Joel E. Ferris High School in Spokane. She’d been the new girl in sixth grade at Jefferson Elementary. We were playground pals, a friendship that grew at Sacajawea Junior High.
Her message in my seventh-grade “Sac” yearbook is of its time, 1967. It ends with “Luv, Steph” and “P.S. have a groovy summer. p.p.s.s. You’re a real nifty kid.”
That “nifty” sentiment was no afterthought. It was quintessential Steph, who could have the worst day yet exude sunny kindness. She didn’t gossip. She didn’t complain. She was beautiful, but with such lovely warmth no one could resent that beauty.
I grew up one of three kids. In another way, I was one of five — five best friends. At Ferris High School, in our red blazers and plaid skirts, we were drill team girls marching with the band at football games. Summer nights, we’d head to the West End Drive-In for $2-a-carload movies.
Our grades were good, and college came next. Three of us, Betty Lou Conyard, Kristy Hopkins and I, went to the University of Washington. Linda Jovanovich went to Washington State. And Steph majored in education at Eastern Washington University.
What happened to our tight friendship was life. We married, had children and grandchildren, careers and losses. We live far apart, Everett and the Seattle area to the Palouse. Every few years, we’ve set obligations aside to get together.
In April, four of us spent a wonderful weekend reconnecting in Spokane — all but Stephanie.
I had known she taught in the Monroe School District, but hadn’t been good about reaching out. Before our spring gathering, I sent an email to Maltby Elementary School. She taught kindergarten there for years. What I discovered was devastating.
Stephanie Anne Griffith, 64, died May 22, 2018, after being diagnosed with ocular melanoma, a cancer of the eye. She lived in Kirkland and is survived by Pat Griffith, her husband of 42 years, daughters Kelli Primavera and Meghan Seeger, and four grandchildren.
We spent our April weekend sharing memories of Steph. Now, from her colleagues, I’m learning she was just the kind of teacher and co-worker her old friends knew she would be.
Stephanie taught in the Monroe district for 35 years, retiring in 2016. She was at Salem Woods, Chain Lake and most recently Maltby Elementary.
“Everybody loved her at school,” said Ginny Bond, of Mill Creek, who’s retired after teaching kindergarten and first grade more than 30 years at Maltby Elementary School. “She made such a difference to the kids. There was not a better person on the face of the earth. She was like a sister to me.”
Theresa Shipe, a Matby Elementary kindergarten teacher, described Steph as an excellent mentor. “She loved children and they loved her,” Shipe said.
Debbie Hatcher, who’ll retire this month after 43 years at Maltby Elementary, had a classroom bond with Steph. She teaches fourth grade, while Steph taught kindergarten. “We were her big-buddy class. We’d go to her classroom once a week and do activities together,” she said.
“There’s a rock out on our playground, it’s huge,” Hatcher said. “Stephanie was the rock of Maltby. She was calm, always dependable, a good friend to everyone. She loved those kids, and would keep track of kids she had 20 years ago.”
Hatcher recalled that her co-worker loved reading, wore a pumpkin outfit every Halloween, and had a sanctuary in a boat her family moored at the Everett Marina.
Maltby Elementary first-grade teacher Alicia Mohler recalled that when she came to the school five years ago, “Stephanie welcomed me with open arms and a kind heart.”
“Her students raved about her, and they would enter my classroom in first grade wishing I would do everything just like Mrs. Griffith,” said Mohler. She was thrilled when Steph came back as a substitute to fill in during her maternity leave.
“She would text me to ask about my daughter, Brynlee, and always wanted to reassure me that everything was smooth sailing at school,” Mohler said. “She was a true, true friend.”
Yes she was, a true, real friend. I’m so sad we didn’t stay in better touch.
After our Spokane visit in April, the four of us who knew Steph as a girl shared memories and pictures of her through email. One photo is a reminder of a lunch we had in 2006. My friends visited me at The Herald that day when I couldn’t get away from work. A year ago, three of them attended a celebration of life for my youngest child.
Linda, the friend I’ve known since kindergarten, recently signed an email to the rest of us this way: “Love you guys forever and beyond.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; email@example.com.