Carolyn Wiley: A Star is Recognized

An advocate for art, education and the environment receives a 2022 Rotary Star Award recognizing decades of volunteer work for local causes.


Longtime KP booster Carolyn Wiley of Longbranch was honored with a Rotary Star Award Feb. 3 at the 11th annual dinner ceremony presented by the local Gig Harbor Rotary Clubs.

Each Gig Harbor Rotary Club — North, Morning and Midday — selected a nominee. Three non-Rotarians exemplifying the club motto of service above self were recognized, including Wiley, nominated by the North Club; former state representative Patricia Lantz (D-26th), nominated by the Morning Club; and Robert Vollbracht, co-chair of the Gig Harbor-Key Peninsula Housing-Homeless Coalition, nominated by the Midday Club.

In addition to the award, a $1,000 contribution was made to the Rotary Foundation in the names of the winners, making them Paul Harris Fellows. Other fellows include Winston Churchill, Walt Disney, Franklin Roosevelt and Jonas Salk. Additional money raised at the dinner was divided among the winners and donated to the charity of their choice.

Wiley was recognized for her many contributions to the KP community.

“I rack up a lot of volunteer hours because I have a tendency to stand too close to people with good ideas,” she said.

She is also a frequent contributor to the Key Peninsula News, where her column “Devil’s Head Diary” has earned five consecutive statewide Washington Newspaper Publishers Association awards in as many years.

Her own story is one of strong family ties and independent women, a love of art and education, and an ability to raise money for worthy causes.

Born and raised in Texas, Wiley moved every few years. “Dad built government projects,” she said. “Transit in California, a water system in El Paso, an arsenal on the Texas-Arkansas border, a hospital in New Orleans.” In each new place her mother insisted they explore everything. It later dawned on Wiley that frequent moves could have been traumatic, “but kids don’t know what they don’t know,” she said. “We moved as a unit.”

Her father died when Wiley was in seventh grade and her brother in high school. Two months later her mother went back to school to complete her degree. She got her teaching certificate, then a master’s degree, and served as president of the Dallas Teachers Union. “She was a remarkable person in her own right,” Wiley said.

Wiley never considered any other place than the University of Texas for college. It was there she met David, her husband of 62 years. They married, she taught for one year in Austin, and then they moved to the Seattle area in 1962, where David worked for Boeing. Her early years were dominated by young motherhood and art.

Boeing loaned David to NASA for work on the Apollo lunar module, and the family moved back to Texas. After their third daughter was born, Carolyn took painting and printmaking classes, and hung art at local shows for a local group.

The family jumped at the chance to return to the Pacific Northwest in 1972. They moved to Kent, where Carolyn taught preschool and at a senior center, then kindergarteners and older grade schoolers, and earned a master’s degree as a reading specialist and administrator.

She was also active in the Washington State Arts Alliance and the Kent Community Foundation, and joined the Kent Arts Commission, an experience that would prove transformational.

“I discovered that I was better at writing grants than being an artist,” she said.

Carolyn began fundraising for the Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks, designed by Herbert Bayer, an Austrian Bauhaus artist and architect who fled Germany in 1937. As a volunteer she was instrumental in raising $95,000 before the city hired staff and supplied an office to complete the fundraising as the construction costs grew.

Designated as Kent’s first historic landmark in 2008, the creation of sculpted earth, pathways, water and lawns functions together as public park, storm water retention facility and landscape artwork.

Carolyn continued to write grants to fund other projects: programs for developmentally delayed adults; a classroom salmon project and equipment for a TV studio; a grade school steel drum program.

“It is fun to get money to do things you want to do,” she said.

The Wileys moved to the Key Peninsula in 1997. Carolyn applied for a principal position at Evergreen Elementary School, and although she did not get the job, she and David looked at houses in the area and one in Longbranch captured her imagination.

“After that, every time we looked at another house, I wanted to change it so it would look like this (Longbranch) house,” she said. “The kitchen looks out over the water. The living room looks out over the water. The bedroom looks out over the water.”

When Carolyn ultimately decided she was ready to retire, the Longbranch house came back on the market and their fate was sealed.

She dove into the community. She joined a book group at the Key Center library and helped write a grant to remodel the reading room. She joined the Longbranch Improvement Club and worked on membership and events, helped establish the Halloween Trunk or Treat party, and expanded Kids and Christmas to provide toys to all the children living in the Evergreen catchment area. She joined the Key Peninsula Farm Council and established the Fiber Arts Fair as part of the Farm Tour. She joined the staff of the Key Peninsula News and teaches Tai Chi sword fighting at the Gig Harbor YMCA.

When she received her Rotary Star Award, Carolyn announced “I do not want to be the little old lady who stands in the way of progress, so I am limiting some of my activities. Henceforth I will only be volunteering at the KP News, the Longbranch Improvement Club and the Longbranch Foundation, and I will continue to teach Tai Chi sword fighting.” The audience broke out into laughter and applause.