Soundings: ‘Keep on keeping on as long as you can’

jdodge@theolympian.comFebruary 6, 2014 

Carolyn Dobbs, a pioneer faculty member at The Evergreen State College, died Monday at home after a determined, three-year fight with brain cancer.

During the illness, Dobbs and her husband, fellow former TESC professor Russ Fox, continued to live life to the fullest extent possible, exploring all treatment options, traveling, spending precious time with family and friends, and sharing their journey with insightful, inspiring posts by Fox on the Care Pages website.

A passionate teacher, Dobbs, 71, came to Evergreen in 1971 and quickly became involved at school and in the community. She helped create the TESC Organic Farm, as well as the Cooper Point Association neighborhood group, where she put her academic skills in land-use planning to good use.

A nature enthusiast, Dobbs hiked, climbed, skied and volunteered in the state’s national parks with a particular love of Mount Rainier National Park. Her most treasured wildlife species were the powerful grizzly bear — she had an uncanny knack for spotting bears in the wild — and the secretive, gritty wolverine.

“Our national parks and wilderness areas — and the wildlife they protect — were Carolyn’s church,” Fox noted in a message he posted to the Care Pages website announcing his wife’s death. “Mount Rainier was her cathedral.”

Her 40-year career at Evergreen included team-teaching with a number of colleagues, including Oscar Soule, who saw Dobbs at her Mud Bay area home on Super Bowl Sunday, the day before she died.

“She was an amazing teacher, and I would say still was during her illness,” Soule told me.

I visited with Dobbs and Fox in the summer of 2012. They helped me prepare a wonderful hiking itinerary for a trip I was about to take with friends to Glacier National Park.

At that time, she offered this advice to others who find themselves living with terminal cancer:

“The important thing is to live the life you’ve chosen to the fullest extent possible with friends, family and critters,” she said. “You can’t worry about it — you just have to keep on keeping on as long as you can.”

And that’s exactly what she did.


I’ve driven past the building thousands of times, either on my daily commute to work or on my way to downtown Olympia from my East Olympia home.

I’m not alone: Some 12,000 cars travel State Street daily and join me in passing the gray building with crimson trim at the corner of Fir and State streets. A small sign on the side of the building offers a clue to what’s inside. It says: Olympia Plan Center.

Only recently did those words come to mean anything to me. It took a call from longtime Lacey-based developer John Donaldson to learn the story inside the building.

Most of us know Donaldson as the tall – think 1960s Saint Martin’s College basketball player — senior vice president and director of Capital Development Co., serving as the capable sidekick to company founder and president Bob Blume, otherwise known as the father of Lacey. It was Blume, Donaldson and their team that built the South Sound Center in Lacey in the 1960s. It was one of the first covered shopping malls in the state.

CDC went on to develop and/or own commercial real estate in 38 states. Donaldson stayed with the company after Blume died at 79 in 2007, but finally “retired” in early 2012.

Well, he didn’t completely retire. Turns out that he and his wife, Kay, have owned the Olympia Plan Center since the early 1970s.

The Olympia Plan Center is a member-based, privately owned company that serves as a repository for architectural plans for construction projects, recent bid results and building permits issued by local jurisdictions.

It’s a place contractors and subcontractors can come to look at blueprints to prepare bids on construction projects. In the pre-Internet days, as many as 20 to 25 contractors would stop by every day, spread the construction plans out on a wide table and make their calculations on a bid. These days, most of the Olympia Plan Center members do their homework online.

“We went to more of an online approach during the Great Recession,” Donaldson said. “The transition just sort of happened.”

There’s another transition underway at the Olympia Plan Center. The Donaldsons recently sold the business to the Southwest Washington Contractors Association, a Vancouver, Wash., business with a similar mission. However, the SWCA operates as a nonprofit and provides a variety of member services, including health care and 401(k) plans, educational workshops and first aid training.

The combined plan centers serve much of Washington and Oregon and have 1,810 construction projects, including 327 public projects in their data base, SWCA executive director Gary Bock said.

Donaldson gave me a pass on not knowing what the heck the Olympia Plan Center was, or is.

“We’ve pretty much flown under the radar,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many times people have walked in here off the street, thinking it was a family planning center.”

John Dodge: 360-754-5444

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