Phyllis E. Quanbeck
December 7, 1927 - June 28, 2017
On June 28, 2017 around 7:30 in the morning, Phyllis E. Quanbeck slipped peacefully into the arms of Jesus. Although it was not something she yearned for neither was she afraid of that moment, Phyllis lived her life as a challenge to meet head on.
Phyllis, or Mrs. Q or just “Q” as she was known to hundreds of students and colleagues, never backed down from anything she sought to do. It was a part of her Minnesota soul, her prairie childhood and the challenge of a body that had not quite finished getting ready for birth.
Phyllis was born on December 7, 1927 in the rural village of Doran, Minnesota. Unbeknownst to her parents, Lloyd and Margaret Erickson, her left hip socket was not completely developed at the time of her birth, a condition known as hip dysplasia. It was only when she started to walk and run that it was discovered. Two major operations followed with probably the most traumatic in her early teen years when, because her depression-poor farmer parents could not afford to pay for the operation, she became a ward of the State of Minnesota. The operation that bolted a steel plate onto her hip and created false socket for her leg was performed efficiently and without compassion in the state hospital. She was in a mostly full-body cast for weeks and weeks and the recovery was slow, hard work. She was left with a pronounced limp from a leg that was much shorter than the other – a circumstance that in fact became something of a trademark.
She did not let this slow her down in any way and it was probably the defining challenge of her life. She even became a cheerleader for her school.
She attended the University of Minnesota and Augsburg College in Minneapolis, where she received her degree. She also met John Quanbeck, her first husband and father of her children, Jon and Kari while there. John was the third son in a family of five sons and a daughter of the Rev. John Quanbeck who was for a time the pastor of the rural country Lutheran church that Phyllis’ family attended. So, she knew the Quanbeck boys pretty well by the time she was in school with them but for some reason fell for John anyway. Phyllis eventually received her Master’s in Education from Western Oregon University.
Because of her hip, doctors did not recommend she have children. Of course, that was a red flag for Phyllis and she became determined to do just that. While teaching school in the little town of Madelia, Minnesota, she became pregnant with the boy who would become Jon, even demonstrating stage-falls at the time to her students. Remarkably, three years later, again against the wishes of doctors who said it would threaten her life, she gave birth to daughter, Kari. In 1962 the family was extended as they adopted Carma, a six-year-old Native American girl they came to know at their church in Havre, Montana.
The years that followed saw the family move several times finally settling in Montana, first in Havre for three years and then in Bozeman for six more. It was in Montana that Q really came into her own as a teacher and drama director. Working with practically no funds and no in-school classes, at both Havre and Bozeman high schools she built award winning drama programs that were tops in the state and the envy of many schools with broader programmatic support.
When she and John moved to Salem, Oregon in 1968, Phyllis continued her work in drama at South Salem High School, becoming a master teacher, mentor, warrior for theatre arts education, role model, Ramona Reynolds Humanitarian Award winner, and YWCA Woman of the Year. She extended her directorial reach into community theater at the Pentacle and created the award-winning summer program Children’s Educational Theatre. Even eventual retirement from full-time teaching in 1993 was not an end of work, only the beginning of another phase. She went to work helping the State Department of Education on the Certificates of Individual Mastery project. She reenergized the Children’s Theatre Foundation to raise money for other theatre education projects in Salem including the Ulmer-Collins yearly theater enrichment project. Her passion extended to chancel drama for the churches she attended. From plays at St. Mark’s Lutheran to the “Word Alive” program at Our Savior’s Lutheran (both in Salem), the intent to educate – and trouble – motivated her.
The soul focus of Phyllis’ life was education. She was never one to let a “teaching moment” go by unused. From her immediate family to her extended family to her students and beyond, it was all about, “How do I help people see what I see in them?” She could be at the same moment, frustrating and inspiring to be around. It was all about the barriers, the ones between people, the barriers to learning, and finally the barriers we put up for ourselves.
Her “family” extended to the many semi-adopted who would live with the Q’s for time while dealing with issues that took them out of their own homes. It also included all those students who were mentored and spent long hours talking in the kitchen or living room whether it was in Havre, Bozeman, or Salem. But it was not only those who longed for the conversations that were so rich around the Quanbeck table, it was often filled with those just wanting to learn. The laughs, the cries, and the deep discussions were a hallmark of that time of sharing, a tradition that extended to her home in Salem.
Another lifelong passion for Phyllis was the American Field Service (AFS), an organization that placed students abroad for a year and brought foreign students to stay with local families and attend the local school. Many of them became good friends, coming back for visits, and inviting her into their homes when she and John were abroad. Ian Harrison, from Sydney, Australia, an AFS student who stayed in the Quanbeck home in 1967-68, became a second son. Now Justice Ian Harrison, Supreme Court, New South Wales, Australia, he will be delivering a eulogy at her memorial.
Phyllis’ daughter Kari, died in 1977 at the age of 24. Though a devastating blow to the family, it was yet another hill to climb for Q, and her faith in God helped her through. In 1997 John died while on a trip to Minnesota just more a month shy of their 49th Anniversary. In 2000 Phyllis married Leroy Jacklitch, a friend from her high school days with whom she reconnected in 1998. Though Leroy died in 2002, Phyllis had already become a part of their Ottertail Lake, Minnesota family where she and Jack spent their summers.
Phyllis is survived by so many who she would consider to be her children that they could not be named here. But, among those in the immediate extended family are son Jon (JT) Quanbeck (Susan), daughter Carma Corcoran, Ph.D. (Don), AFS son Ian Harrison (Julie), nephew Dan Quanbeck (Cece), granddaughters Kisa Quanbeck and Kari Beller (Rodney), grandniece, Kristin Rodriguez (Nate), and great-grandson Jaron Beller. Among those just as dear to her as family are Edith Badenoch (friend of more than 50 years) and her daughter, Jean, and Linnell Rantapaa, who is as much an adopted daughter as is possible without paperwork.
Because of the importance of education in her life, a memorial fund in support of theatre arts education in Salem will be available for gifts in her honor. A Celebration of Life will be held at the South Salem High School Rose Auditorium on Sunday, July 30 at 2:00 pm.
“Act well your part, there all the honor lies.” Alexander Pope.