The Matriarch of Put-in-Bay was born before Prohibition closed bars and effectively killed off nearly all of this island’s dozen or so wineries. Katherine Magdalene Phillips was born July 22, 1915 – the same year the Perry Monument first opened to the public, the first stone was placed for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. and women won the right to vote – in Denmark. Her dad, Theodore Phillips, was a conductor on one of the streetcars that carried tourists down Catawba Avenue from the harbor to the majestic 625-guest room Victory Hotel. Her mother, Lena Phillips, was born on Pelee Island. Put-in-Bay cows provided unpasteurized milk. Horses worked in the vineyards, and horses were used to haul blocks of ice commercially from the lake in winter. In her childhood, big steamships brought thousands of well-dressed tourists from Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland and Sandusky on day trips, which often included visits to the monument, caves and a family picnic in the park. When she was four years old, she saw the billowing smoke of the biggest fire in the island’s history as the storied Victory Hotel burned to the ground on Aug. 14, 1919. The same year Prohibition – forbidding the manufacture, sale and transport of intoxicating liquors – became the law of the land. During Prohibition she remembers her father becoming increasingly impatient with the loud shouting, singing and partying on more than 100 yachts moored in the harbor for the start of the annual yacht races. (Alcohol was NOT outlawed across the lake.) The noise was keeping the entire lake front awake on this particular night. Her dad took matters into his own hands. Waiting until the yacht racers had finally bedded down, he set off two sticks of dynamite off Gibraltar Island. The enormous explosion shattered the slumber of the partiers, who quickly took to their dinghies to look for wreckage of a yacht – on the assumption one had just exploded. The harbor quieted down after that. Life wasn’t easy for Katie. Her first bike had neither hand brakes nor coaster brakes. In an emergency “I had to jump off.” As a child she was seen doing the family wash on a washboard. In those days she literally FOUGHT with her older sister, Juanita. They hit each other with their fists and wrestled on the ground. Juanita was very manipulative and got out of doing her share of the chores, Katie says. What did they fight about? “Oh Lord, I don’t know. Stupid stuff probably.” Katie was a feisty, strong-willed, very opinionated, energetic tomboy with dark brown, wind blown hair just a little longer than boys wore. Only her hair and energy have noticeably changed over the intervening 80 years. As a youngster, she lived on Gibraltar Island, where her father was the caretaker. She rowed herself across the harbor to school. “I did NOT like school. I didn’t like the routine. You HAD to be there and DO this and DO that. I ran late a few times, but I never missed a day,” she says. She had problems with spelling. “I could have taken the E out of the alphabet. Some Dang (cq) words had E’s and they shouldn’t have, and then I’d put ‘em in words where they shouldn’t be.” Katie was one of three in her graduating class from Put-in-Bay. “There should have been four, but he goofed off and had to go back another year.” She is proud to be an island graduate and faithfully attended alumni doings until she concluded, “it is too much of a hassle with my oxygen tank.” Upon graduation, she started nurse’s training at Toledo Hospital, but didn’t finish due to conflicts with “a floor nurse who couldn’t handle her job.” In her youth, the fledgling Miller Boat Line initially ran fishing charters and a water taxi service. “Pop Miller didn’t think cars would pay. He said they’d make more money running fishing parties… eventually he had to admit he was wrong.” Pop Miller lived with his wife Laurie on the waterfront where the Miller Ferry office is today. “Laurie didn’t miss a trick. She’d get out on the front porch and yell,” if something was amiss. Katie met Chester Dress, her husband to be, at the Colonial bowling alley. “We met in the spring and we were married after the season at the Lutheran Church in Danbury, to tell you the truth.” They had two sons, Duane and Dennis, and now there are eight grandchildren and sixteen great-grandchildren. She is also the aunt of such island luminaries as Ted and Mack McCann (thanks to sister Juanita.) Over the years she has: set up pins and tended bar at the old Colonial; polished the brass at the Monument; managed the village laundry; worked at both of Chick Linker’s restaurants; acted and worked behind the scenes with little theater; been in charge of the mail run for many years; served as a very popular Girl Scout leader and won acclaim as a “featherer” of fish eggs at the hatchery. For decades she smoked a couple packs of Camels every day. Filtered? “Oh heavens no.” She quit smoking instantly when she was diagnosed with emphysema. Early on, she trained island bartenders to present her with her regular drink upon arrival. Those who asked were told it was “vodka and 7.” It was really just 7 Up. “I never really liked the taste of booze.” Chester, a big man, started his own trucking business on the island, delivering freight to and from the docks until ferries began hauling trucks already loaded with freight. He later worked for the Miller Boat line as dockmaster at the Lime Kiln. Meanwhile Katie tended her vegetable gardens and helped bottle feed (with a doll’s baby bottle) a baby raccoon son Dennis had rescued. She also sold beautiful Santa Claus, angel and other Christmas tree ornaments made out of egg cartons and cardboard. In later years, Katie and Chester would take motor trips to the east coast to visit relatives, explore the Outer Banks of North Carolina and once they watched astronauts blast off from Florida. She remembers chiding Chester, who always used schedule. The couple had just been scolded for not reading the ferry schedule. They missed the last ferry of the day off the Outer Banks. Today, at age 94, Katie still prepares her own meals and does her laundry. After finishing her annual physical last fall, she carefully booked her next one for a year later. Diagnosed with macular degeneration five years ago, she loves books on tape. She’s always been a listener. The Lux Radio Theater and Fibber McGee and Molly were among her early favorites. The latter “would always end with the sound of the closet door closing and you could hear stuff crashing.” With the advent of TV, she enjoyed “Bonanza” and “Little House on the Prairie.” Her son, Duane, was killed at 47 in a plane crash while on a medical rescue mission to Kelleys Island on Dec. 9, 1983. Three years later, on Dec. 26, she lost her husband. However, she doesn’t dwell on their deaths. As the number of grand- and great-grandchildren grew, Katie became known as “Gram,” their abbreviation of grandmother. As Put-in-Bay’s oldest inhabitant, does “Gram” have any advice for the rest of us? “No. People know what they want and will do it their way. So why should I waste my time and theirs telling them advice? “When people ask for advice, they don’t really want any, they just want someone to agree with them. You are on your own. If you get into trouble, it is your fault.” Sonya Dress, who married Katie’s son Duane 52 years ago, says Katie is a wonderful mother-in-law. “She never asked why we didn’t do it another way or told us ‘this is what you should do.’ ” However, Katie won’t tolerate any shenanigans from young’uns. “She is a stern task master. If she said jump, all her grand kids would jump. She isn’t a touchy, feely sit-on-grandma’s lap sort of grandma, but the kids all love her—and her trays of fresh-baked cookies,” Sonya explains with a smile. Does Katie make New Year’s resolutions? “WHAT?” she demanded, theatrically, turning her head sharply to face this inquiring reporter. Then she paused for effect. “I never bother. I wouldn’t keep them,” she confided.