When Jessie Ritch became acquainted with Virginia Kostol she knew straight off that theirs would not be an ordinary friendship.
This, Ritch sensed, was a relationship she would always treasure.
“Virginia was one of those people who, when you first form a friendship, you just know how special that person is going to be in your life,” Ritch said on Thursday, Dec. 17. “She was just such a joy to be around. We hit it off right away.”
Their bond stayed strong until the very end.
Ritch said she played cards with Virginia on Sunday, Dec. 13, and spoke with her on the phone about 4:30 that afternoon.
Virginia, who has lived in Baker City since 1953 and over the decades amassed a long record of community service, died that night in the North Baker City home where she lived for all those years.
She was 94.
Ritch, 80, said her sadness at losing her friend was tempered by the knowledge that Virginia’s daughter, Cris, had arrived two days earlier for a visit.
“I just feel so thankful that Cris was there,” Ritch said.
Virginia moved to Baker City with her husband, Carl Kostol, a physician. The couple had married in 1949. Carl died in March 2018 at age 95.
Ritch, who attended school in Baker City, lived in Richland for 17 years and in Central Oregon for many years before returning to Baker City in 2006. She said she knew of Virginia long before they actually met.
Virginia was involved in a variety of activities in Baker City, including organizing American Red Cross blood drives, and serving on the Baker School Board, the Education Service District board and with the Baker County Historical Society and The Salvation Army auxiliary.
Virginia also organized the St. Elizabeth Hospital Auxiliary’s annual bazaar, and she sewed Christmas stockings given to the babies born at the hospital during December.
The Baker County Chamber of Commerce honored Virginia as Legacy Woman of the Year for 2012.
Virginia’s record of selfless service defines her character, Ritch said.
“She treated everyone as an equal,” Ritch said. “She never, ever looked down on anyone.”
Ritch said she met Virginia in 2007 while attending a fitness class at the Baker City Senior Center. Virginia, then in her early 80s, was a fitness group leader there for many years.
Ritch said she was immediately drawn to Virginia’s personality.
“She had a great sense of humor, and she laughed a lot,” Ritch said.
Ritch said her friendship with Virginia strengthened when Ritch became treasurer of the Baker County Historical Society, the organization Virginia had been involved with for many years.
Over time, Ritch said she learned more about the extent of Virginia’s activities and talents — things Virginia herself never boasted of.
“She was a fantastic mathematician,” Ritch said.
Virginia, who earned a bachelor of science degree in Home Economics and Education at the University of Washington, also received a fifth-year certificate in Education and taught at Hoquiam High School in western Washington and at Parkrose Junior High School in Portland while Carl was finishing his internship and residency.
Virginia grew up at Hoquiam and was valedictorian of her high school class, graduating in 1943.
Ritch said she learned just a few years ago that Virginia also worked as a seamstress for a local interior decorator.
“She was a beautiful seamstress,” Ritch said.
Ritch said Virginia often spoke happily about the trips she and Carl took, and about their shared love of skiing and golfing.
“They were an inspiration to be around,” Ritch said of the Kostols.
Colleen Brooks of Baker City, who played cards with Virginia at the golf course, said Virginia was “a great person.”
“I really thought very highly of her,” Brooks said.
Suzan Ellis Jones, who worked with Virginia for about 40 years on the Baker County Republican Central Committee, said one of Virginia’s most notable characteristics was that she was “innately kind.”
“That was Virginia’s nature, she was always cheerful, smiling,” Jones said.
Jones said that when she and her husband, Keith, joined the GOP in the late 1970s, both Virginia and Carl were key members of the party in Baker County.
“They were kind of our mentors,” said Jones, who is the current chairman of the Baker County Republicans.
Virginia served as secretary for the central committee for many years.
“She was the glue that held the committee together for a long, long time,” Jones said.
Jones said she and her husband had a relationship with both Kostols that extended beyond their mutual involvement in Republican politics.
Jones said the Kostols were supportive when Keith’s father, Gilbert, died in 2011, and when Jones’ mother, Bebe Racey, passed away in 2017. Gilbert attended school with Carl’s father, Lars.
“They’ve just always been there,” Jones said of the Kostols. “This is so sad. I wasn’t expecting this.”
Jones said Virginia not only relished being involved in many activities, but she was a “stickler for the rules” and always completely competent.
“She was going to get the job done, and if Virginia was involved it would be done right,” Jones said.
Jones said she and Keith tried to visit Virginia occasionally at her Baker City home after Carl died in 2018.
But the pandemic got in the way this past year.
“I regret that,” Jones said.
She’ll also miss delivering the annual bounty of huckleberry jelly, a longtime tradition.
“They loved huckleberry jelly,” Jones said of the Kostols. “I always gave them jelly at Christmas. I guess I won’t be doing that this year.”
Roger LeMaster will also miss his frequent visits with Virginia.
LeMaster and his wife, Diane, have lived next door to the Kostol home for 18 years.
“She was a great neighbor, her and Carl both,” Roger LeMaster said.
He said the Kostols were friends as well as neighbors.
LeMaster said he usually would visit with the couple on Thursday afternoons — a tradition he continued with Virginia after Carl died.
LeMaster said he spent about an hour talking with Virginia on Thursday, Dec. 10.
He said he tried to check in on Virginia frequently to make sure she was doing fine, and to share a laugh with her.
“We always had a good laugh,” LeMaster said. “That’s Virginia.”
Ritch said the weekend card games with Virginia and other friends were a highlight for more than a decade.
Virginia’s age simply wasn’t a factor, Ritch said.
She continued to drive herself around town, Ritch said.
LeMaster said Virginia’s house and yard were always “immaculate.”
And her card-playing skills, Ritch said, never diminished, even on the final day of her life.
“She never missed a trick on Sunday,” Ritch said.
Ritch said it seems to her perfectly appropriate that in Virginia’s last hours she was the same energetic companion, the same special friend, she had always been.
“She just lived a beautiful life.”