Patricia (Pat) passed away at Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup, WA on Jan 28th, 2023, at 3:09am. It was a quiet and peaceful ending to a storybook life of 92 years including a 66-year marriage to her beloved husband Ralph L Erwin Jr who left us in 2017.
At her side that early morning on Jan 28th were all four of her children: daughters Leslie Louise Ytsma, Linda Lee Reynolds, Laura Lorraine Osborn, and son Charles Nathanial Erwin. Also, at her side when she passed were three of Pat’s grandchildren and Linda’s husband Kelly. We thank Good Samaritan and their loving staff for allowing such a large gathering of family to be there at the end. Patricia’s memorial service will be at 2pm on March 11th at Wayside United Church of Christ in Federal Way. In lieu of flowers, we encourage folks to remember Patricia with a donation to the Federal Way Multi-Service Center or the Museum of Flight.
Besides Patricia and Ralph’s four children, they are survived by six grandchildren (Nicole Volkhardt, Karlee Renninger, Dylan Osborn, Alex Ytsma, Benjamin Ytsma and Willem Ytsma) and five great grandchildren (DJ, Camila, Hunter, Harmen and Woodes). Patricia’s sister Bernadine preceded her in death, but she is survived by her nieces Joanne Davis and Deborah Reynolds and her nephew James Davis; she loved them as she loved her sister.
Patricia was born in Seattle on June 24th, 1930, to Walter Nathaniel Bemis and Camilla Rodgberg Bemis. She lived and grew up in West Seattle. Walter Bemis was a steam engineer for the Seattle School District who would wake early to get the steam rising at his assigned school before the children arrived. Her mother was a homemaker who in an earlier life had run a store in Ballard where she had met her husband, Walter. Both of Patricia’s parents had lost a spouse and Camilla had a daughter Bernadine who became Patricia’s older sister.
When she was 14, Patricia saw the photo of a young Marine hanging up at Erwin’s Pharmacy. A year later she met Ralph (Ralph L Erwin Jr.) when he had finished his service and she boldly asked him out. When she told him she was 15, Ralph informed her she needed to be 16 for them to date. On her birthday she announced to him she was now 16 and they were off and running. It was not a straight line from that day to their marriage 5 years later. Ralph had to complete school at the University of Washington, Patricia attended Central Washington for a year paid for by Uncle Tony, but he passed away, and her schooling ended. Each was engaged to someone else during that time, but they found their way back to each other.
If you know Burien, then you know the Five Corners intersection. Ambaum Blvd heads south from that Burien intersection and in 1951 it was the main road to the Midway Racetrack. Ralph pulled over one May evening asked Pat, “Do you want to get married?” She replied, “Do you want to get married?” and Ralph said, “I asked you first.”
They proceeded on to the races where they told their friends who thought it was about time. They were married on August 31st, 1951, and headed to Yellowstone National Park for a Labor Day Honeymoon. Yellowstone visits late in the summer became a staple with Ralph and Patricia.
Ralph and Pat lived in Lakewood, WA to start while Ralph worked for Philco at Edwards AFB and then later at McChord. Patricia worked at Sears as an executive assistant, first in Tacoma and later at the Seattle Store. When Ralph got his job at Boeing in 1952, they moved back to West Seattle and on May 1st 1959 they moved into their custom built house on 2 1⁄2 acres in Federal Way where they both lived for the rest of their long and beautiful lives.
Their oldest Leslie was born April 2nd, 1957, while Patricia and Ralph were living in Seattle. Linda was born on June 21st, 1958, also in Seattle. Laura was born June 15th, 1961, and was the first of the kids to be born after they moved to Federal Way. Charles was born June 4th, 1967. Every year in June, Patricia and Ralph would celebrate their June bash; four birthdays including Pat’s and Father’s Day.
If you were living in Federal Way in the 60’s, 70’s or 80’s, then you may recognize the 1964 Ford Country Squire with the woodgrain trim. Ralph bought it for Patricia in 1965. It started out pulling their Aristocrat trailer with three then four kids across the West Coast on vacations like Disney Land or the Grand Canyon. But eventually it was just Pat’s car and was seen at PTA meetings, parked outside Adelaide Elementary when she worked the polls, driving around Girl Scouts, or parked in front of Wayside United Church of Christ were Patricia and family have worshiped since moving to Federal Way. Ask any of her kids and they will tell you stories of meeting people from their childhood who would ask “Does Pat still drive that Station Wagon with the wood sides?”
During this time Patricia was active on the PTA, winning the Golden Acorn award. She was the Precinct Committee (PC) woman for the Republican party and every election found her up the street at Adelaide helping to run the polls, count ballots and call in the results. Our neighbor was Marie Reed, and she was the PC for the Democrats. Marie and Pat were great friends and democracy flourished on our block. For a brief time, Patricia had a non-paying position with the King County council working to support women’s healthcare on native lands in the county. This was a time before native gaming opportunities and there was a lot of tension between the sovereign tribal nations and local governments.
In 1990, Ralph retired from Boeing and Patricia and Ralph started the next chapter of their life even though their son refused an offer to live elsewhere permanently. He was a useful house-sitter when they took a tour of Scotland and London or saw the Huskies play in the Rose Bowl or did their annual vacations to Curlew Lake State Park, Long Beach, WA or Yellowstone the day after Labor Day.
Getting old is hard. Ralph lost his kidneys and received a transplant. Patricia was diagnosed with complex partial seizures which they eventually got under full control. She had surgery on both knees, both ankles and her back in the fight against erosive arthritis.
In 2017, Patricia lost the love of her life after two months of home hospice. For five more years Patricia lived for her family, she loved her children, adored her grandchildren and was able to hold additional great-grandchildren in her arms. Every day she was sad because she missed her husband, but she was also filled with love from the family that adored her, and she could still find joy in the world. In 2022, she went to the Puyallup Fair, she travelled to Hoquiam to see her niece Joanne, she had many meals with her children and even rode her scooter across the Beverly Bridge to see the Columbia River in a new way.
Patricia loved trees. She loved lighthouses. She loved Mt. Rainier (“the mountain”). She loved the people who visited her and the nurses that took her pulse every hour. She loved her church and her community. Her favorite movie was “The African Queen” and her favorite TV involved learning something new. She loved all of her family and took joy in their lives. Most of all, she loved her Marine whose picture she saw on the wall at Erwin’s Pharmacy.