LAKE STEVENS — Recently widowed yet far from weary, Lois Prater was 76 and feeling restless in her Lake Stevens home.
It was 1988. Her three daughters were long grown and gone and she had time to reflect on the next chapter of her life.
Perhaps, she told herself, she could fulfill a childhood calling and become a missionary.
It was a long-dormant dream that had begun when she was 6 or 7 and living in Olympia. Her father, an Assemblies of God pastor, opened his home to Lillian Trasher, a Christian missionary who had founded an orphanage in Egypt. Thrasher enthralled the child with her stories of helping the needy and serving God in a faraway land.
Prater lived long enough to follow in Trasher’s footsteps. Undaunted by age, the elements and the poverty that surrounded her, she founded an orphanage in the remote Philippines town of Orion in the Central Luzon region of Bataan. At the age of 89, and only after the King’s Garden Children’s Home was well established, did Prater come home to stay. She died Jan. 10 at the age of 100.
Bonnie Swinney, of Snohomish, is Prater’s daughter. She recounts her mother’s adventures and her determination with a mixture of pride and awe.
She shares a photo of Prater, well into her 80s, with a baby on her hip. In another, she’s in the middle of more than a dozen children and cradling babies in both of her arms. During much of her time in Orion, she was the lone American in town, a curiosity for youngsters who had never seen blue eyes before.
The children called her “Lola,” a Tagalog word for grandmother.
When Prater first ventured to the Philippines, she did not know exactly what she wanted to do. For a while, she aided missionaries who were already there. Prater, who graduated from a California bible college, started preaching at the age of 19 in the early 1930s and continued to so in the Philippines 60 years later.
She often told Swinney about the plight of malnourished children she’d see in the streets and how she wondered what she could do for them.
At the time, Prater lived simply in the windowless room of a house owned by a church. The ceiling sagged and she could hear rats scamper across the floor as she rested at night beneath mosquito netting.
In 1991, a man appeared at the front door of the home. He was destitute and desperate. With six children to feed and having lost his job, he offered to sell Prater his baby for the equivalent of $40.
“I had a deep desire to help them, but at age 78 I had believed that I was too old to start an orphanage,” Prater once wrote. “But this man changed my mind.”
She gave him money and helped him find work.
She returned to Lake Stevens and sold her home and most of her belongings and headed back to the Philippines to embark on what would become a tireless pursuit.
She drew up plans, hired an architect, waded into eddies of government bureaucracy, bought and helped clear more than 12 acres of land, raised construction money and recruited staff. In 1994, the King’s Garden Children’s Home opened. Today, it continues to feed, clothe and school children with nowhere else to go.
“She was a very persistent woman and it was tenacity that got her where she went,” Swinney said. “She had tremendous faith. To me, she’s the most amazing woman who ever lived. I have no clue how she did it.”
Prater’s goal was to make the children’s home as self-sustaining as possible. Coconuts, mangos, bamboo and pineapples grow on the land at the jungle’s edge. What is not used on site is sold. Chickens are raised and a vegetable garden is tended.
Living off the land was not enough to cover all the costs, however.
Prater also sought donors, often through visits to churches.
“The money has never come in large amounts, but people have given from the bottom of their hearts,” she wrote. “It is not the wealthy that do most of the giving, but the people who give sacrificially.”
Her obituary appeared in The Herald Jan. 20. It was a modest five paragraphs that teased to a century of meaningful life.
Prater didn’t want people spending money on flowers for her memorial. Instead, she asked that any donations go to the children’s home through the Lake Stevens Assembly of God church.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; firstname.lastname@example.org.