Mary N. Koch
October 26, 1917 – May 19, 2014
Mary Narcissa Johnson
Koch, 96, died at home on
May 19, 2014. She was born
in 1917, three years before
ratification of the 19th Amendment
gave women the right to
vote. She grew up in a large
extended family who assumed
that women were as capable as
men. Her grandmother, Molly Gilliam Johnson, opened a real
estate office to support her family in 1903.
Mary Koch was a descendent of the pioneer Gilliam
family. They came west from Raleigh, North Carolina via
wagon train in 1852. Her great grandfather was a mounted
Oregon Volunteer in the Indian wars of 1855-l856.
A native Walla Wallan, she attended the old Baker
Grammar School and graduated from Walla Walla High
School in 1935. The following year she entered Whitman
College. In 1940 she graduated from Whitman with a
B.A. in Classics (Greek and Latin), a minor in French and
a teaching certificate.
After college she took a job teaching English, Latin
and beginning science at Ritzville High School. In 1943
she married Floyd Koch, a Ritzville farmer. As a wife
and mother of four she was active in St. Mark’s Episcopal
Church, 4-H clubs, Girl Scouts and a children’s reading
program at the Ritzville Public Library.
In 1959, the family moved to Walla Walla where Mrs.
Koch taught Latin, French and Principles of Foreign Language
at Pioneer Junior High School for two years. She
then taught Latin, French and Humanities at Walla Walla
High School. Her Latin students held annual Roman
banquets in the school cafeteria, replete with togas, laurel
garlands and grape juice. Her French students held annual
French banquets and put on Punch and Judy puppet shows
In 1967, she received a Washington State Teachers
grant to study the evidence of Roman civilization in England.
The same year she received a Fulbright Scholarship
to study at the American Academy in Rome. She accepted
the Fulbright and went to Italy. A few years later she
received a National Defense Education Act grant to study
French at the University of Washington.
After retiring from teaching in 1978, she pursued her
interest in the preservation of historic buildings. Mrs.
Koch served on the Board responsible for the restoration
of the Kirkman House and creation of the Kirkman House
Museum from 1980 to 1990, and served as Board president
in 1988 and 1989. In the late 1970s she served on
the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation Board of
In the 1980s, she joined a group to save Green Park
Grade School, a rare example of Dutch Baroque architecture.
She later helped save Whitman College’s Conservatory
of Music (then named McDowell Hall) from being
torn down. Until recently, Mrs. Koch conducted architectural
walking tours for tourists and Whitman College
In 2001, Mrs. Koch received the Sally Rodgers Lifelong
Achievement Award, given by the Whitman College
Alumni Association for “living a life that exemplifies the
Mrs. Koch was a member of St. Paul’s Episcopal
Church, Walla Walla Symphony, the Walla Walla chapter
of the Archaeological Institute of America, Walla Walla
Art Club, and the chapter A.D.P.E.O.
Mrs. Koch was preceded in death by her husband
Floyd Koch and her older brother John Johnson of Sacramento,
California. She is survived by children and sonsin-
law: Cecily Wright of Missoula, Montana; Gretchen
and Mike de Grasse of Walla Walla; Keith Koch of Missoula,
Montana; and Mary and Jon Campbell of Walla
Walla. She is also survived by four grandchildren, four
great grandchildren and nephew Richard Johnson, Tulare,
A celebration of her life will be held for friends and
family from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, June 28, 2014
at her home.
The family suggests that anyone interested in making
a donation in her memory please make checks payable to
the Blue Mountain Community Foundation for the Mary
N. Koch Memorial Scholarship Fund, BMCF, PO Box
603, Walla Walla, WA 99362.
Family and friends are welcome to write memories
and sign the online guestbook at www.mountainviewcolonialdewitt.
The above photo was taken in front of Billings Hall,