Kim Steeber spent a recent spring weekend placing the ashes of her mother, Ellen Fay, with her father’s remains in Gig Harbor. It was a sweet way to say goodbye to someone who made an impact on everyone around her.
“She was well-loved," Steeber said. "She loved to meet people, she always had a smile and was always ready to make people feel welcomed.”
Fay, who moved to Gig Harbor in 1950 with her husband, Robert, started her career as a secretary with the Peninsula School District in 1969. She rose through the ranks to become the personnel director for the district before retiring in 1984. Fay died Feb. 1 in Lake Oswego, Oregon, at the age of 96.
“Her role evolved and changed,” Steeber said. “She would interview staff and screen hires. She was a major part of the hiring process.”
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Fay was more than a Peninsula School District employee. She served as a role model, grandmother and mentor to her family, friends and peers at the school district. Steeber said she never realized how much people loved her mother until her mother retired and Steeber attended her retirement party.
“She was toasted and lightly roasted,” Steeber said. “People were excited for her, painted pictures for her, brought her gifts. It was quite a surprise for me, to see that side of your mother and see how well respected she was.”
Fay was considered the “grandmother” of the district, since she took a personal interest in her employees.
“She had a bulletin board filled with pictures of her employees' kids and grandkids,” Steeber said. “I don't know if I could ever be that nice or that sweet.”
When Fay was honored with an inter-district award in her name, it wasn’t expected to be a long-standing tradition within Peninsula.
“We thought it will live for a few years and then as people cycle out, I figured it would go by the wayside,” Steeber said. “But people are still getting the Ellen Fay Award for Academic Excellence. I am very proud of her for making that much of an impact.”
Superintendent Executive Assistant Marilyn Wilson said the award is given to those in the district who are nominated by their co-workers for excellence in academic work and kindness.
“We usually give out five to seven awards a year,” Wilson said. “Everyone recognized that Peninsula School District employees are outstanding and special. They are top quality people who are models of excellent staff.”
The name of the Ellen Fay Award exemplifies “honor and warmth” in their role, Wilson said.
Steeber said her mother’s sweet personality and love for children extended beyond her work at the district, but also as her personal role of grandma.
“She was born to be a grandmother,” Steeber said.
Fay lived through rough times in her life but felt the most joy when spending time with her daughter’s children. Steeber said her father passed away from a major heart attack in 1979, while sitting on the couch with his wife.
“She had to live through that,” Steeber said. “I always admired her for being able to move on in life and still do the things she needed to do. She survived. Then my brother, my only other sibling, passed away in 1998. She was caregiver for him. So she saw her husband and one of her children pass. I always admired her strength and faith.”
Steeber said she didn’t have her own children until her 40s.
“All of her friends had grandchildren long before she did,” Steeber said. “But it was the role she was born to live, to be the grandmother to my boys.”
Fay texted her grandsons every day, and Steeber said they have kept those messages and read them often to feel connected to their grandmother.
Steeber, who lives in Oregon, traveled with her husband to Gig Harbor to bury her mother’s ashes with her father at Haven of Rest Cemetery. Memorials in Fay's honor may be directed to Providence Hospice or Meals on Wheels.
“It’s good to know she is with him again,” Steeber said.
Recent Ellen Fay Award recipients
- Barrie McDougall, Evergreen Elementary, March
- Jodi McDougall, Purdy Elementary, March
- Kristen Chu, Harbor Heights Elementary, January
- Hannah Jay, Purdy Elementary, March 2017
- Lillian Page, Vaughn Elementary, April 2017
- Phillys Slater, Minter Creek Elementary, June 2017
- Ann Cook, Purdy Elementary, October 2016
- Kathryn (Katie) Crabtree, Peninsula High School, March 2016
- David Pierce, Kopachuck Middle School, May 2016
- Kim George, Vaughn Preschool, May 2015
- Therese Souers, Evergreen Elementary, March 2015
- Peg Loe, Henderson Bay High School, February 2014
- Claudia Thompson, Learning & Teaching, June 2014
- Hoa Weale, Kopachuck Middle School, January 2014
- Brenda Abel, Minter Elementary, April 2013
- Craig Rigglesford, Gig Harbor High School, March 2013
- Jim Rudsit, Purdy Elementary, June 2013
- Patti Wilson, Vaughn Elementary, Feb. 2013