MARYSVILLE – Ken Cage, a Korean War Navy veteran and founder of the Marysville Museum, died Wednesday after a battle with leukemia. He was 87.
Cage’s legacy is marked by his relentless commitment to get a new museum built for the city that he and his wife of 65 years, Ethel, call home.
Those who knew Cage described him as a civic leader with a keen knowledge of history, a stand-up volunteer and a team player who eagerly shared credit with others.
“He lived a life of community and public service that contributed to a better life for all those around him,” Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring said. “Ken will be greatly missed by all of us who had the great pleasure to know him.”
When a young Steve Edin stepped down as president of the Marysville Historical Society in 1999, it was Cage who succeeded him.
“His vision for the museum will keep Marysville history alive for generations to come,” Edin said. “Ken was a friend and mentor.”
The group’s youngest active member, Peter Condyles, called Cage a great leader. Cage found ways that Condyles could help, never equating his youth to inexperience and immaturity.
“I ended up being the designated ‘ladder climber,’ and if anything ever had to be picked up off the floor you could usually expect it to be my job, but Ken made me feel like those jobs were just as important as building the museum,” said Condyles, who now attends college.
He credited Cage for making him believe in a project that was bigger than any one person in town.
“I’m so thankful he was able to see it completed; he was so proud of not only the museum, but of everyone who helped and contributed to its completion,” Condyles said.
JoAnn Donohue added, “Ken, with the loving support of Ethel, was a driving force in our community. He was a dedicated veteran that gave to our country and remained active in the American Legion to the very end. … Ken is a remarkable example of how one person can make a difference.”
Cage grew up in Colorado. He was 5 when his father died, and he watched his mother struggle to raise five kids by herself. The county took over care for the family.
As a result, Cage said he went to 29 schools as he was bounced around the system. He was often bullied for being the new kid. When he fought back during a game of basketball in high school, he was banned from playing the sport.
That was during the Great Depression. Cage said it was tough, but it instilled character in him.
The day after he graduated, he went to work a cattle job with relatives in Colville, where he met his future wife. She later visited him at the hospital when he experienced a mishap siphoning gas for his truck.
When he recovered, he enlisted in the Navy and became a gunner’s mate. They kept in touch, and they married in 1953.
Cage went to college in Milwaukee, Wisc., to become a mechanical engineer. He was recruited by Boeing and moved out to the Seattle area. He worked on the Minuteman missile, as well as a secret Air Force missile called the Dinosaur, a forerunner to the space shuttles. He worked on a wind tunnel program as well.
The Cages then moved north, and he took a job with Black Clawson Co. in Everett for 13 years.
The couple raised a boy and a girl in Marysville. After working in banking for 10 years, Ethel volunteered at Liberty Elementary and Marysville Middle School. The school hired her on as a secretary and she stayed there for 23 years.
Cage got involved with the city. He served on the City Council and the planning commission. He also volunteered with the Masons, American Legion, Scottish Rite and National Sojourners.
Cage retired in 1994. At first, he spent most of his time fishing. But then he devoted himself to the museum effort. The society operated a small short-term museum in downtown for five years, until they raised enough money to build the new location near Jennings Park. The Marysville Noon Rotary Club donated $250,000 and now uses the building for weekly meetings. E&E Lumber donated much of the materials.
Cage stepped down as historical society president last November
Over the past year, Cage was being treated with an experimental drug at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance for leukemia.
Services are scheduled for Wednesday, March 20.
Steve Powell contributed to this story.
This story originally appeared in The Marysville Globe, a sibling paper of The Daily Herald.