Karen McAndrews Luft, a long-time Central Washington resident, beloved for her passion for life and for her dedication to family, friends, and to the community and its students, died on March 3, 2016, in Spokane. The cause of death was complications from metastatic melanoma. She was 65.
Karen McAndrews Luft was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the third child, and youngest daughter, of John and Margaret McAndrews, the former Margaret City. Her father had been a champion collegiate boxer at Pennsylvania State University in the 1930s. Both parents instilled in Karen and her siblings the values of dedication, independence, tenacity, grace and grit. Those qualities carried her from her childhood in Wyomissing, Pennsylviania, where she attended Holy Name High School, through her collegiate days at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (where she earned the first of her degrees; she went on to receive a Master’s in Education), to the Pacific Northwest, where she spent her entire adult life.
She came west to Walla Walla as a Vista volunteer (working in legal services) before moving to the state capital of Olympia, where she worked as a legislative liaison with the National Organization for Women (NOW).
From there, she hopped the Cascades to the Methow Valley’s Libby Creek Farm, where she joined a community of like-minded individuals committed to social justice and equality. While cementing her life-long love of the Methow Valley, she met wilderness guide and outfitter Wayne Luft when he drove up Libby Creek Farm’s driveway, claiming to be lost. They were married less than a year later. In 1981, Karen gave birth to daughter Mariah, her only child. The family raised Peruvian Paso horses at the Sweetgrass Paso Ranch, adventured in the high country, and enjoyed the valley’s intense natural beauty. Wayne Luft died in 2004.
From ranching, Karen settled into a third career in education. She counseled students over an expansive territory that included Brewster, Pateros, Bridgeport, Omak and Okanogan. In time, she became a full-time elementary-school counselor in Brewster before moving to Wenatchee and joining the staff at Mission View Elementary, where she served with distinction for seven years. She was admired and beloved by colleagues and the many students whom she guided with her wise and caring counsel.
She retired in 2013, and devoted her formidable energies and talents to maintaining her ranch in the Methow and her home in Wenatchee, to cultivating grapes that she hoped would bloom into prize-winning vintages, to pursuing her passion for planting potatoes practically anywhere (she boasted she could grow them in concrete), to pursuing social justice and healing the world, to nurturing her many loyal and deep friendships, and most of all, to her family.
Since 2009, and especially during her long illness, Karen had the love and support of her remarkably devoted partner John Thacker of Spokane, a retired educator and distinguished baseball coach at Ferris High School in Spokane.
Karen McAndrews Luft embraced life with a rare blend of independence, tenacity, loyalty and joy. She refused to let others define her and insisted on defining herself.
She is survived by her daughter Mariah, her partner John Thacker, her brothers Jack, Terrence and Timothy, sisters-in-law Marilyn McAndrews, Angeline Nanni, and Linda McAndrews, brother-in-law Daniel Brown, MD, and his wife Maribeth Quinn, her late-husband Wayne’s children, Rebecca Meadows and Patrick Luft, and numerous nieces and nephews. Her brother Kevin and sister Maureen Brown predeceased her.
Also surviving Karen McAndrews Luft are John’s children Ryan, Erin and Sean Thacker, and daughter-in-law Brooke Thacker.
A mass will be held at St. Mary’s Catholic Parish in Spokane Valley on March 19 at 2 p.m. A celebration of life will be held at Pybus Market in Wenatchee on April 16 at 7 p.m. In lieu of flowers, we ask that donations be sent to Mission View Elementary School.