April 10, 1946—Nov. 5, 2021
Thursday, December 9, 2021

Phyllis (Joan) Demuth, the only daughter of Herbert and Orleta (Swackhamer) Demuth was born in Medina, Ohio, raised with older brother Steven and younger brother Robert. As the consummate organizer and planner, she edited and published a family newspaper with her younger brother, organized family outings and celebrations. She joined Girl Scouts, achieved the rank of Curved Bar - the equivalent to BSA Eagle Scout, the rank achieved by both of her brothers.

As a swimmer she participated in local aquatics and was a member of the Kent State (Ohio) University Swimming Team. Cooking came easy to Phyllis and she loved to prepare elegant meals for family and friends. Her life-long love of sewing began early. She made A-line dresses for her niece Christine, experimented with embroidery, needle point and quilting.

Phyllis’s fiancé was lost MIA on a night USAF fighter mission in Vietnam. Phyllis moved to Anchorage, Alaska, with husband Bill Leavenworth, a USAF airman stationed at Elmendorf AFB. Phyllis worked at the Anchorage Red Cross as a First Aid instructor. They moved to London, England, where Bill represented the USAF on a 5-year exchange program and Phyllis volunteered at the London Red Cross. They divorced at the end of the London tour. Phyllis returned to Anchorage to reunite with many friends and to work at the Anchorage Red Cross. On weekends Phyllis flew out to construction camps on the 8000-mile Trans Alaska Pipeline to teach First Aid to workers.

Phyllis moved to Fairbanks in the early 1980s as the Red Cross representative to support military personnel at Ft. Wainwright and Eielson AFB, both near Fairbanks, and Ft. Greely near Delta Jct. She moved on to serve as executive director of United Way of Fairbanks. Jim and Phyllis were Chamber of Commerce members, representatives of their respective employers and became acquainted at weekly Chamber lunch meetings. Prior to Phyllis’s employment at United Way, Jim volunteered as a loaned executive to United Way for several campaigns.

Phyllis and Jim, a widowed dad of three adult children, had their first eyeball-to-eyeball conversation at a reception in the archives of the University of Alaska (UAF) Fairbanks Library. Jim was serving on a committee to raise $5 million dollars to fund a Library expansion. A fellow committee member had given Phyllis an invitation to the event. Their first date was an after-work 30 minute float plane trip out to Jim’s favorite pike fishing spot, followed by a beer at a local pilots bar after the flight back to Fairbanks. As it turned out, the fish weren’t biting that day but Jim and Phyllis eventually caught each other and married May 27, 1987.

After five consecutive successful over goal United Way campaigns, Phyllis resigned from the United Way job, enrolled at UAF to complete her undergraduate degree work at Kent State, graduated with a history degree, then earned a masters degree in Northern Studies, also at UAF.

Phyllis authored two books published by the UAF Press. The first book, “When the Geese Come,” documented the biography and journals of Moravian Missionary Ella Romig. Ella, a nurse, and her husband Herman, known as the “dogsled doctor,” served at Bethel in Southwest Alaska, 1898-1905. Phyllis’s second book, an enlargement of her Masters thesis titled “A Place of Belonging,” presented biographies of five founding women of Fairbanks. The book explores the motivations, resourcefulness and accomplishments of these women who settled in Fairbanks between 1903 and 1923. Phyllis wrote in the preface: “Inspired by my own recreational wilderness experiences living in a cabin on the Goodpaster River in the Big Delta region of Alaska’s Interior, my research about how women lived in the early days of Fairbanks was initiated by simple curiosity.” Phyllis and Jim built the remote cabin over a 5-year time span, a comfortable improvement over small poorly insulated buildings erected in the 1930s and 1950s. Over time we acquire “a sense of place.” Phyllis and Jim referred to their river cabin as “a place of sense.” Many of Phyllis’s art quilt projects got started under the light of a propane lamp.

Jim was born, raised in Billings, Mont. Phyllis and Jim moved from Fairbanks to Billings in 2012. Phyllis spotted a house for sale on the Stillwater River near Columbus. It was enjoyed as a weekend place, enjoyed so much that the Billings home was sold and the river house became home full time.

In 2016 Phyllis was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s dementia. Clues that signaled something more than natural aging were her loss of interest in writing and quilting. In February 2018, she moved into memory care at Highgate Senior Living in Billings. Phyllis passed peacefully in her sleep on the evening of Nov. 5, 2021.

Phyllis is survived by her husband Arthur James (Jim);, her brother Robert (Bob), spouse Jan and their son Michael; her niece Christine, spouse Scott and their children Brandon and Ashley; her nephew Steven and spouse Susan; Jim’s three children, Alwynn, James and Amanda; six grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

Many thanks and appreciation goes to the care partners at Highgate Senior Living in Billings for their constant competent and loving care of Phyllis. Stillwater Hospice caregivers added during the last year as Phyllis declined were very much appreciated for providing enhanced care.

A memorial service to honor Phyllis will be celebrated at the Columbus Community Congregational Church at 11 am on Dec. 18, 2021.