Life Story: Phyllis Royce helped chronicle stories of earlier times

Phyllis Royce was a listener and a collector. She spent many hours interviewing older people, finding extraordinary histories in seemingly ordinary lives.

She was instrumental in the publication of “Riverside Remembers,” a 1987 book chronicling old stories from the north Everett neighborhood. Her work also appears in “Voices from Everett’s First Century,” published in 1994 by the Snohomish County Museum and Historical Association.

When women involved in local heritage launched the Women’s Legacy Project of Snohomish County in the late 1980s, Royce became a tireless helper.

“History to her was the story of individual people,” said Margaret Riddle, who worked on the Women’s Legacy Project and retired last year as a historian at the Everett Public Library.

Although her work was often behind the scenes, Royce made huge contributions, Riddle said. She not only conducted oral-history interviews, she compiled a database of local women’s stories published in books and news articles.

Phyllis Adkins Royce died June 4. Born in Bellingham on July 3, 1929, she would soon have marked her 80th birthday. She lived with her husband, Robert Royce, in Marysville, but the couple had lived for years in Everett.

Royce also is survived by her son, Steve Stransky of Everett; her daughter, Cheryl Brumfield of Klamath Falls, Ore.; her brother, Dean Adkins of Mount Vernon; and two grandchildren.

Despite a long struggle with cancer, Royce “was so upbeat. She was always beautiful,” Riddle said of her friend.

Royce possessed qualities that made her shine as an interviewer. “It was just an empathy, sitting down with somebody and talking to them about their life,” Riddle said.

In addition to her heritage work, Royce owned rental homes in Everett. “She was always working on the upkeep,” Riddle said. And interest in old houses compelled Royce to photograph historic homes on Everett’s Rucker and Hoyt avenues and add the images to the Everett library’s collection, Riddle said.

It’s fitting that Royce’s own story is included in the online Women’s Legacy Project collection. Teri Baker’s 2003 article about Royce’s life ( originally appeared in the monthly Third Age News, now called Senior Focus, published by Senior Services of Snohomish County.

Based on an interview with Royce, Baker wrote of the Bellingham native marrying at 16 and following her husband to Nebraska, where he played for a major league baseball farm team. With him on the road, she returned to Blanchard, near Bellingham, and on her own refurbished an old railroad depot, where the young couple would later live. The old depot near Chuckanut Drive eventually became the Blanchard Community Center.

After a divorce, she moved to Everett with their two children. In 1955, according to Baker’s article, she met Bob Royce, a Navy chief on Whidbey Island. They were married several years later.

At 38, Baker wrote, Royce began taking classes at Everett Community College, although she hadn’t completed high school. She earned a bachelor’s degree in law and justice through a Central Washington State College extension program, “graduating at the age of 50 with a 3.8 grade point average,” Baker wrote.

Bob Royce said his wife worked as a correctional officer at the Snohomish County Jail as part of the work-release program. After retirement, she devoted much time to the Snohomish County Museum, which used to have a downtown Everett storefront.

“She was just interested in history,” Bob Royce said. His wife, he said, was an avid collector of stamps and pottery.

Sandy Schumacher, who worked on the Women’s Legacy Project, saw in Royce a talent for helping the elderly bring memories of ancestors to life. “It was something that just drove her,” she said. By indexing information on local women from various publications, Schumacher said, Royce made stories available “that would otherwise have been buried.”

Ann Duecy Norman was among founders of the Women’s Legacy Project, along with Riddle and Louise Lindgren. When they began gathering first-person accounts, it was “to show how women lived, where they lived and what they accomplished,” Norman said. “Phyllis was a driving force in that. She was an amazing woman.”

She aimed to do more than talk.

“She was very talkative, and not shy about voicing her opinions,” Schumacher said. “She didn’t want to get together and be social. She wanted to get together and work.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460,

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