Handmade beaded jewelry, barbecue-flavored meatloaf, knitted baby blankets and boureka pastries — these were just some of the ways in which Colleen Stuber showed her love for family and friends. Throughout her life, she loved to take care of people, and to share whatever she had. “She was a server by nature,” said her daughter, Sonja Garmanian, “always ready to lend a helping hand to anyone in need.”
A lifelong resident of the Seattle area, Stuber was born Colleen Kola Almo in Bremerton and graduated from Bremerton High School. At the time of her April 21 death from the novel coronavirus, at age 81, she was a resident of the Peters Creek Retirement & Assisted Living community in Redmond. Stuber had lived there for seven years and, her daughter said, adored the staff and residents, considering them her second family.
“She was kind of the mother hen here,” said Daryl Eisenhauer, a friend and fellow resident at Peters Creek. “She was always interested in everybody, in how they were doing … a real warm, loving person.”
A woman who exuded positivity, Stuber spent her life joyfully caring for her family and for the many people she met along her adventurous career path. At heart, her daughter said, Stuber was an entrepreneur: As a divorced young mother in the mid-’70s, she transformed her love of cooking into a West Seattle restaurant, Hungry Man’s Café.
“She got a financial backer and did all the cooking and baking herself,” said Garmanian, recalling childhood memories of twirling on the stools at the cafe counter. It was, she said, an “old-fashioned, family-ish” kind of place — “really warm and inviting. People felt like they were coming to her home and eating in her living room.” Stuber knew her customers on a first-name basis and happily served them comfort-food favorites: her famous meatloaf, ice-cream-laden pies with crust made from scratch. Portions were enormous; nobody ever left hungry.
Eventually, running the restaurant single-handedly became too much, and Stuber turned her considerable energy to other work. In the early ’80s, she became certified as a home health care aide, working with patients on hospice. “She loved the elderly and loved taking care of people when they were sick,” Garmanian said. “It takes a special person to have a gift like that.” Stuber, who had a deep religious faith, took care of her patients “like family, until they passed away. She was their angel who delivered them to God after she was done taking care of them.”
Though Stuber loved the work, eventually physical limitations necessitated another career change. Drawn by her love of feeding people, she found work as a food demonstrator at grocery stores (becoming, her daughter said, a top salesperson for the brands she represented) and as an assistant cook at a seniors community, where she served three meals a day until her retirement.
“She truly had a passion for anything she did. I always admired that a lot about her,” said her grandson Jaeden Luke. He described his grandmother’s attitude as “whatever it is you’re doing, do it the very best you can, with a smile on your face.”
In her retirement, Stuber still loved to cook for her family — including three children, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild — though she was known as “Hurricane Nana” for the mess she’d leave behind in the kitchen. (“She would bring out every pot and pan and never clean it!” said Luke.) Ever creative, she enjoyed drawing, jewelry making and knitting baby blankets for all her grandchildren — even if the babies were purely theoretical. Giving things to people “made her so happy,” Garmanian said. “She derived her pleasure from that.”
And Stuber kept busy helping her loved ones manage their lives. Luke, a local musician, said that his grandmother was his unofficial “businesswoman,” coming to all of his gigs and making sure that he was being paid properly. “She would walk up to people who booked me and ask them if they could pay me more,” Luke said, laughing. At one point, he said, Stuber went to a venue’s Facebook page after Luke had played a concert there and posted, “Great job sweetie! How much did they pay you?”
Hers was a life cut short too suddenly: Eisenhauer said sadly that Stuber had a bucket-list wish of going up in a hot-air balloon (appropriate for a woman who would end conversations with “I love you to the moon and back”), and that he had hoped to do that with her later this year. But it was one filled with boundless good cheer and love. Garmanian summed up her mother’s life philosophy with a lyric from an old Nat King Cole song.
“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return”