By Gerard Nolan
Phyllis Dietrich left an indelible mark, not only in the Abingtons, but in places as far-flung as the North African nation of Morocco.
Described by family and friends as outgoing, energetic, generous and courageous, Dietrich, who died May 24, crammed what seemed like several lifetimes into her 85 years.
A resident of Clarks Green since the 1950s, Dietrich engaged with the local community, volunteering with several church and civic organizations. She didn’t stop there, though.
Her travels spanned a large swath of the globe to places such as China, the Amazon jungle, Russia, Peru, Israel, Egypt and a flight over the Arctic Circle. She visited 6 out of 7 continents, every U.S. state and just about every nation in Europe.
“Take the whole map and photocopy it and there you go,” her son Richard Dietrich, the youngest of Dietrich’s five children, said of his mother’s travels. “She started out small, but it just grew,” he said.
Domestically, she preferred to travel by car when she could, taking road trips throughout the U.S. and Canada.
“That’s the way to do things,” he said, explaining that taking in the breathtaking vistas through a car window was essential for his mother.
With each state or nation that she visited, Dietrich would try to find a decorative bell to take back with her. The bells decorated her home, testaments to her widespread journeys.
During her travels, she negotiated the rapids of the Colorado River, trekked through the Amazon rainforest and rode elephants and camels.
Dietrich’s friend and neighbor Martha McAndrew was always impressed with her friend’s fearlessness.
She relayed a story about the time Dietrich’s children took away her ladder, afraid that she might fall and become injured. Undeterred, Dietrich climbed onto her roof to string up the lights.
“You just couldn’t stop her,” McAndrew said. “She was unstoppable. She had total energy at all times.”
McAndrew recounted numerous other times when Dietrich would display the boldness that became one of her trademarks.
She wasn’t afraid of bears, for example. One morning she saw a brown bear lumbering through her neighborhood. She went inside to grab a camera, but the bear moved on before she could snap a photo.
A few years later, a pit bull attacked a neighbor and Dietrich rushed to the neighbor’s aid while the attack was in progress. And a few weeks after the 9/11 terror attacks, Dietrich didn’t let fear of terrorism thwart her plans to visit China.
“There’s loads of guys that would not do half of what she did,” McAndrew said. “She was adventurous, she’d do anything.”
Dietrich had her first experience with airplanes when she was five and flew in a plane, McAndrew said, noting that that was in the 1930s, when air travel was still in its infancy. Flying as a child sparked a lifelong fascination.
During WWII, she wanted to join the civil air patrol, the civilian arm of the U.S. Air Force, so she could deliver warplanes after they were manufactured. She was rejected because of less than perfect vision. At 70, she skydived out of an airplane for the first time, the culmination of a lifelong dream.
Perhaps one of her bravest moments was when she joined the Peace Corps at 59 and moved to the North African country of Morocco for two years to assist in the development of a sign language system for the children there. The project lasted two years, but she forged a lifelong bond with the nation and its people. Each summer she would visit and return home with a group of Moroccan children in tow.
“She took them all over the place, I didn’t realize this,” her youngest son said.
She took the children to various points of interest in America, including Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon, he added.
Her globetrotting to remote destinations tells only part of her story. She never lost sight of her hometown, Clarks Green, and the region at large.
She raised five children, daughters Diane, Donna and Carol; and sons, Robert and Richard. At 36 she attended college at Marywood University, then Marywood College, and graduated with a degree in special education with an emphasis on helping speech and hearing-impaired students. She began her teaching career at 42, working for NEIU as a special education teacher. Each summer she attended camps for hearing-impaired children.
Dietrich taught Sunday school at Clarks Green United Methodist Church for 55 years. And she volunteered at several nursing homes, as well as the Griffin Pond Animal Shelter, where she adopted all of her pets. She also worked with the animal shelter to bring animals to local nursing homes for pet therapy.
She helped organize a bake sale for a church she did not attend, the United Methodist Church in Chinchilla, because her own church did not sponsor a bake sale.
“She’d haul all the supplies and bake all of the cookies and sell them for the benefit of another church,” McAndrew said.
She was also a member of Colonial Dames of the XVII Century, a group of women who trace their lineage back to the American colonists. She was a founding member of a Clarks Green neighborhood group called Friends Interested in the Neighborhood Environment, F.I.N.E., which works to promote relations among neighbors and hosts an annual picnic.
Dietrich put a premium on education, attending The University of Scranton for a master’s degree after she retired. She was always marshaling people in the neighborhood to attend classes and educational seminars, McAndrew said. And she was the first to welcome a new neighbor to the neighborhood.
She was very outgoing and people loved her, her son said.
“She was always welcomed wherever she went.”
This article originally appeared July 25 in The Abington Journal. Original post: http://theabingtonjournal.com/stories/She-was-unstoppable,180733