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Sunday, November 26, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Obituary

Blanche Caffiere, teacher, librarian and author, dies at age 100

Seattle Times staff reporter

Blanche Caffiere's mother passed around her baby daughter for other passengers to hold on the long train ride that brought the family from Rockport, Ind., to Seattle in spring 1907, and she would later say that for her youngest child, no one ever remained a stranger for long.

That baby grew up to become a gifted storyteller, a woman who never lost her curiosity about people or her appreciation for the quirkiness of everyday life.

A schoolteacher and librarian for more than 50 years, Blanche Caffiere became an author in her 80s, first writing about her friendship with Betty MacDonald, writer of the 1945 bestseller "The Egg and I," and then penning stories about her life — including an anecdote about one of her most famous students, Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

More than 100 people attended Mrs. Caffiere's 100th birthday party last month on Vashon Island.

On Nov. 17 she suddenly became ill, and she died in her sleep Nov. 19 at the West Seattle retirement center where she'd lived for several years.

"The level of detail she retained of the ephemera of the past was just amazing," said Paula Becker, a staff historian for the local history Web site historylink.org, who became friends with Mrs. Caffiere six years ago.

"King Street Station had just been built when her family arrived in Seattle, and the Smith Tower was under construction. She saw Roosevelt Way being paved, and her father helped build the Green Lake reservoir. She saw it all, and she remembered it all," Becker said.

Born Oct. 22, 1906, Blanche Hamilton graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1924 — and she visited the recently renovated school three weeks before her death.

She was 15 when she met Betty Bard, later Betty MacDonald, and, over the years, she became close with MacDonald and her family.

"They both had the same sense of humor and did a lot of crazy stuff," said Mrs. Caffiere's daughter, Jill Andrews.

Mrs. Caffiere earned her teaching degree from what is now Western Washington University in Bellingham and spent her early career in the Nooksack Valley and Federal Way. In November 1932, she married Keith Hutchings but kept her wedding a secret until the end of the school year because married women weren't allowed to teach, her daughter said.

The couple moved to Portland in 1937, but when World War II broke out and her husband enlisted, Mrs. Caffiere moved with her two young children to Vashon Island, and she taught at Vashon Island Elementary School. After the war, the family returned to Portland, where she earned her master's degree in education at Lewis & Clark College.

Divorced in 1951, Mrs. Caffiere married her second husband, Cyril Caffiere, in 1958 in Seattle. By then she was a teacher, and later school librarian, at View Ridge Elementary School. There she met a young Bill Gates, letting him help out in the library. In a note Gates wrote for Mrs. Caffiere's 100th birthday, he told her she'd taught him the importance of reading, which inspired his first philanthropic effort to bring technology into school libraries, Andrews said.

Even after she retired from teaching and moved to a beach house on Vashon Island, she continued to work as a substitute teacher into her 70s, her daughter said.

Mrs. Caffiere, who took a memoir-writing class at a Vashon Island senior center, went on to write two books, "Much Laughter, a Few Tears" about her friendship with MacDonald, and "Rocking Chair Memories."

At her request, there will not be a funeral service. Mrs. Caffiere asked that her ashes be scattered in Quartermaster Harbor off Vashon Island because "she has a lot of friends out there," Andrews said.

In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Caffiere is survived by her son, Keith Hutchings of Seattle, six grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews. Memorials in her honor may be sent to the Vashon Community Care Center, 15333 Vashon Highway S.W., Vashon, WA 98070.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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