Phil Dietrich is known in the Alberni Valley as a loving person and a hard-working man. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

Phil Dietrich is known in the Alberni Valley as a loving person and a hard-working man. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

VALLEY SENIORS: A second chance comes with enough memories for two

The Dietrich family makes its mark on Abbeyfield House in Port Alberni



I met Phil Dietrich several years ago as a volunteer. At the time, the Abbeyfield building was in the early stages of becoming a home for independent seniors. Dietrich, known to many as a hard worker with a natural friendly disposition, was on the front line along with his wife Marlene—always busy doing various repairs and improvements to the building.

The late Terry Whyte had worked long and hard to make this future Independent Living home a reality in our community. Soon after, he learned that city council had given the OK to make the Extended Care Unit attached to the old hospital a home for seniors that is owned and operated by the Port Alberni Abbeyfield Society.

Making the building available and suitable to accommodate the needs of seniors was indeed a challenge for Whyte, the board of directors and the dozens of volunteers willing to give their time to get the building ready for future residents. They relied on the invaluable support, experience and desire of people like Phil Dietrich to do the job, and thanks to their effort, Abbeyfield managed to open at full capacity in 2002.

At that time, Phil became an important part of the operation. He continued volunteering for the next two decades as a maintenance man by doing all sorts of needed improvements.

Phil and Marlene got together in the fall of 1976, meeting in a grocery store. At that time, Marlene was working for Coulson Prescott Logging and Phil was an employee of the paper mill.

READ MORE: Marlene Dietrich: an active life helping others

Second marriages for both, their lives have been enriched with the children, family members and friends each brought to their union.

“We now live each day as it comes with joy and gratitude,” said Marlene.

Unfortunately, Phil is experiencing memory loss and it is hard for him to recall details of his life. Marlene has filled in the blanks for this interview.

Phil’s family includes three children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Marlene, who includes her foster families, has six children, nine grandchildren, 26 great grandchildren, and will become a great-great-grandmother in July. Quite a family!

Together they began buying houses and renovating them during the economic downturn of the early ‘80s when real estate was cheaper. Over the years, they renovated and rented out twelve houses.

“He taught me some wiring, plumbing, carpenter work and clean-up when I joined him after work,” said Marlene. “We enjoyed working together—sometimes I felt like a surgical nurse, handing him tools.”

Phil is also a member of the New Democratic Party, working in every federal and provincial election as the “Sign Man” since 1969. Marlene also became involved in NDP politics in many capacities.

The Dietrich home in Cherry Creek has been a hub for many throughout the years. Christmas breakfasts and New Year’s dinners were celebrated every year. Breakfast is a “come when you can” event, and one year they had 56 people for pancakes with strawberries and whipped cream, homemade smoked sausage, ham and the famous McKinnon eggnog recipe. New Year’s dinners included 25 pounds of mashed potatoes, two turkeys (one smoked) and the Phillips family Granny Tosh’s Christmas pudding with coins in it, said Marlene.

An interesting note is that the house on Cherryvale Lane, owned by Marlene, was built by her late first husband’s grandfather, William Abbot Phillips, in 1912, and it has been in the same family ever since—now seven generations. It has grown over the years with renovations and additions on the four-acre homestead.

Camping with the grandchildren became a summer event in a small fifth wheel and an old tent trailer as a bedroom, taking cousins for their trips around the Island and reading aloud the Harry Potter books.

Marlene has been an active volunteer in the Alberni Valley—at first secretary, then president and now treasurer of the Abbeyfield Society since its inception. She is a member of seven boards, including the AV Historical Society as a volunteer in the archives.

She says she brings the community back to Phil, “as we sit with a glass of wine at 4 pm and catch up on all the news.”

At the closing of this interview, she said, “It is hard to believe that Phil and I have been together over 40 years. Time has gone by so quickly. He is a loving and demonstrative husband and father who believes family is everything. Unfailingly appreciative, complimentary and considerate, he is a wonderful partner, companion, and an example to both of our families. Everyone remarks on his wonderful smile.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here


Phil Dietrich with his wife of more than 40 years, Marlene. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

Phil Dietrich with his wife of more than 40 years, Marlene. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

Just Posted

Port Alberni city hall. (NEWS FILE PHOTO)
Port Alberni adopts tax increase below 4% for 2021

Financial plan looks for balance between residents, industry

Police cordoned off the block of Fifth Avenue from Burde Street to Bute Street in front of the Phoenix House sobering centre in the early-morning hours of Sunday, April 4, 2021. (FACEBOOK PHOTO)
Port Alberni stabbing suspect arrested in Nanaimo

Man was also in possession of fentanyl: RCMP

Paper Excellence took over Catalyst Paper operations in B.C. in 2018. (Paper Excellence photo)
Port Alberni postpones organics collection to September 2021

Collection carts will be stored at Port Alberni Port Authority terminal

B.C. Centre for Disease Control maps showing new COVID-19 cases by local health area for the week of April 4-10. (BCCDC image)
Parksville-Qualicum passes Nanaimo in new COVID-19 cases

Greater Victoria had more new cases than any other Island area: B.C. Centre for Disease Control

(Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts on Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for what the COVID-19 public health orders are,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Russ Ball (left) and some of the team show off the specimen after they were able to remove it Friday. Photo supplied
Courtenay fossil hunter finds ancient turtle on local river

The specimen will now make its home at the Royal BC Museum

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

B.C. homeowners are being urged to take steps to prepare for the possibility of a flood by moving equipment and other assets to higher ground. (J.R. Rardon)
‘Entire province faces risk’: B.C. citizens urged to prepare for above-average spring flooding

Larger-than-normal melting snowpack poses a threat to the province as warmer weather touches down

Vancouver-based Doubleview Gold Corp. is developing claims in an area north of Telegraph Creek that occupies an important place in Tahltan oral histories, said Chad Norman Day, president of the Tahltan Central Government. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO)
B.C. Indigenous nation opposes mineral exploration in culturally sensitive area

There’s “no way” the Tahltan would ever support a mine there, says Chad Norman Day, president of its central government

Stz’uminus Elder George Harris, Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone, and Stz’uminus Chief Roxanne Harris opened the ceremony. (Cole Schisler photo)
Symbolic red dresses rehung along B.C. highway after vandals tore them down

Leaders from Stz’uminus First Nation and the Town of Ladysmith hung new dresses on Sat. April 17

A Western toadlet crosses the centre line of Elk View Road in Chilliwack on Aug. 26, 2010. A tunnel underneath the road has since been installed to help them migrate cross the road. Saturday, April 24 is Save the Frogs Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Progress File)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 18 to 24

Save the Frogs Day, Love Your Thighs Day and Scream Day are all coming up this week

Local carpenter Tyler Bohn embarked on a quest to create the East Sooke Treehouse, after seeing people build similar structures on a Discovery Channel show. (East Sooke Treehouse Facebook photo)
PHOTOS: B.C. carpenter builds fort inspired by TV’s ‘Treehouse Masters’

The whimsical structure features a wooden walking path, a loft, kitchen – and is now listed on Airbnb

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read