Phyllis von Doenhoff, 95, passed peacefully at home in Niagara Falls on April 27, 2016. Nee Phyllis Jean Guernsey, she was born August 27, 1920 to a family of attorneys in Fostoria, Ohio.
Valedictorian of her high school class, she graduated magna cum laude from Oberlin College in 1942. Her honors research involved developing a more efficient method for extracting the then-new drug penicillin from mold, in order to increase its wartime availability. Upon graduation Phyllis accepted a job as a chemist with the Carborundum Company in Niagara Falls. She met Carl von Doenhoff at the handwashing trough there and agreed to be his date for Buffalo Philharmonic concerts. A violinist, she also played flute, mandolin, and piano; she partnered with this chemical engineer/violinist/violist/pianist, and on October 23, 1943 at the Red Coach Inn they began a marriage that was to last 70 years.
After raising her family she returned to the work force as a fourth grade teacher at Ferry Avenue School, and later as an administrative assistant with the Hooker Chemical Company. For several years she led Girl Scout Troop #153. In the 1950s and 1960s she was a Civil Defense volunteer. For years she organized the craft booth at the annual church bazaar. She and Carl co-founded the handbell choirs at Riverside Presbyterian Church and directed them for forty years. She was a violinist with the Niagara Falls Philharmonic Orchestra in the 1940s, and with the Amherst Symphony Orchestra in the 1980s and 1990s. She was well known locally for her international doll collection and often presented talks on the dolls to local organizations. She was a volunteer at Memorial Medical Center.
Phyllis will be remembered for her accomplishments and her community service ethic; for her bad puns and her lively, offbeat, quirky sense of humor; for her love of dogs; and most of all for her devotion to family. She is predeceased by Carl, by her son David, and by her brother James. She is survived by three children, Barbara (Robert) Stickney of Dansville, Dr. Laura von Doenhoff Morrissey of Rochester, and Roger (Jayne) von Doenhoff of Seattle, as well as nieces and nephews, six grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. She and Carl were both wonderfully served in their final years by Michelle, Marla, Gina, Heather, Stephanie, and Susan, and to them the family owes a debt of gratitude.
A memorial service is planned for Sunday July 3 at 2 PM at Riverside Presbyterian Church, 815-84th Street, Niagara Falls, NY 14304, Rev Laura Norris-Buisch officiating. The family asks that memorial gifts be directed to the church, to Niagara Hospice, 4675 Sunset Drive, Lockport, NY 14094, or to the University at Buffalo Foundation - Anatomical Gift Program (PO Box 900, Buffalo, NY 14226-0900), where Phyllis is a donor.
Published on April 30, 2016