Always 'up': Angela Westley's life of giving

Every weekday morning, Angela Westley purposefully walks the five blocks from her home to Coe Elementary School on Queen Anne. Her cane and a recent heart problem don't slow her down much.

Mrs. Westley, as she is known at Coe, has been a volunteer tutor there for 28 years. She also helps out in the library. Students, teachers and principals have come and gone, but Angela is a fixture.

"She is absolutely indispensable," said Coe librarian Judy Strosahl. "We are so lucky to have her."

Born Dec. 13, 1918, in Hawley, Minn., Angela was the third of eight children in the Stull family. When she was very young the family moved to Fargo, N.D., where she grew up.

Her father was a truck driver for the Railway Express Agency. He got the job within an hour of arriving home from World War I, beating another man to it.

With eight children to care for, his wife had her hands full at home. Angela got along well with her mother; they did many things together, and mother influenced daughter greatly, "just by being herself," said Angela. "I still almost see her with me, giving me advice."

Near the family's home in Fargo was a place called Hungry Point, a woodsy area on the other side of a swamp. Angela ruined many a dress (no pants-wearing for girls in those days) traipsing though the prickly underbrush, picking juicy berries.

Her mother never said a word about the dresses. They simply sewed another one together and canned the berries.

After graduating from high school, Angela went to business college in Fargo, the same one her mother had attended. Angela learned accounting and stenography. Because it was the Depression, she was able to attend for only one year.

Angela had a series of temporary office jobs. Then her father died. An aunt in Seattle suggested Angela make a go of it in the Northwest. Angela's mother loaned her the money from her father's life insurance for the trip.

In Seattle, Angela pounded the boardwalk downtown looking for a job, without much luck. Then one day, when her aunt went to the beauty parlor, her luck changed.

"I guess some customers talk a lot in beauty parlors," Angela said (she wouldn't know). "My aunt overheard another customer saying that she was getting her hair done because she was applying for a stenography job later that day. She revealed the name of the company, even the time of her interview.

"My aunt raced home and told me about it. I went to the company before the other woman, and got the job."

Like father, like daughter. Her new employer was a representative of a manufacturer of electrical gadgets.

After living in Seattle for about four years, Angela learned that her younger sister Shirley had fallen ill with encephalitis, so she returned to North Dakota.

As Shirley's primary caregiver, Angela was the one who took her to the doctor. For a period of time Shirley had to be in Minneapolis for medical care. (She eventually recovered from her illness.)

While in Minneapolis, Angela volunteered as a teacher at a Methodist church school. It was there that she met her future husband, John Westley.

John also taught at the church school. During a teachers meeting, he and Angela whispered to each other like inattentive students and were scolded by the person running the session. Angela regards that as their first date.

The couple were married on Sept. 1, 1949. It was the happiest day of Angela's life, she said.

In 1953 their first child was born: John Mark. A year later the young family moved to Seattle and grew to include another son, Peter, and daughter Sarah. The boys attended Coe school.

Tragically, Sarah died when she was 11 years old. Perhaps it is in her daughter's memory that Angela so generously gives of herself to Coe.

John Sr. was a bookkeeper. He worked for several businesses during his career, notably the Seattle Health Department. That freed Angela to become a stay-at-home mother. But she earned money first by taking in several foster children over the years, then by running a daycare out of her home.

When her husband retired in 1974, he began volunteering as a tutor at Coe school. He found it so fulfilling that he urged Angela to join him. At first she was reluctant to do so, because she didn't want to trade a paying job for a nonpaying one. But gradually John convinced her. She had always wanted to be a teacher, and this was her chance.

John usually tutored boys; Angela, girls. She began by teaching what was then called "arithmetic" (she still hasn't figured out the New Math), but eventually she tutored every subject except science, never having taken it in school herself.

Her husband died in 1990. She carries on without him, at Coe and in the rest of her life. "I make do," Westley said. "I'm an up person."

She regrets that she never attended a university, "but I'm getting my college education now," she says. In the afternoons, after she walks home from Coe, she reads. Currently she is reading "Mazes," by Hugh Kenner, a collection of sometimes sarcastic essays on a wide range of subjects.

At home she also sews, does needlepoint and hooks rugs. She sewed all of her curtains out of sheets. The paisley curtains in her livingroom, neatly tied open, cast a pastel glow.

All of Westley's siblings, save one, are still alive. She believes she's lived so long because "God planned it that way." Also, she drinks a lot of milk, and always has.

She said she doesn't think the world has really changed in her lifetime. There are more modern convenience, "like jumbo jets," but nothing is intrinsically different from before. "Children don't have to learn more," Westley said, adding that she believes basic skills will suffice to launch kids in life.

That belief has kept her going to Coe school for 28 years. "People are appreciative," she said. "One mother was so grateful I taught her daughter to read that she gave me a thornless rose bush. It's still growing in my yard."

Westley's recent 85th birthday was announced at an assembly at Coe: "Students were wishing me happy birthday for a week!" At her age, and for all the time she has given to the school, she deserves such prolonged acclamation.

Freelance writer Teru Lundsten is a Queen Anne resident.[[In-content Ad]]