Mary Alice Kois: June 13, 1942 – Nov. 4, 2016

Mary Alice Kois

Mary Alice Kois

Mary Alice Kois, age 74, of Bush Point, died in her home on Nov. 4. At the time of her death, Mary Alice was vibrant, strong and full of life, love and the advice born of a life well — but not always easily — lived. Her sudden death continues to be a shock.

Mary Alice (Monson) Kois was born to Cecil and Alyce Monson in Wauwatosa, Wis., on June 13, 1942. She grew up in Wauwatosa and lived much of her adult life in Milwaukee. In 2002, she moved to Whidbey Island, where she helped her aging parents stay independent and in their home until their deaths at the ages of 94 and 103.

Mary Alice was a strong woman who forged her own path as an activist, single mother, special education teacher and “other mother” to anyone who needed a little extra mothering. She had a special gift for truly seeing and supporting the underdogs, with whom she felt aligned.

In 1964, Mary Alice and her then husband, John Kois, moved to San Francisco, where they participated in the “Human Be-In,” experienced up and coming musicians like Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead in small clubs, and fomented their politics, which they brought back to Milwaukee.

There, they began an underground newspaper – Kaleidoscope – an important space for alternative politics and culture during the 1960s, including the struggles for civil rights and against the American War in Vietnam. She has been described as a “den mother to the movement… like a compass, keeping things moving in the right direction.”

She served in that role in all aspects of her life. As a young single mother, she graduated from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee and began her career in special education. For most of her career, Mary Alice was devoted to the kids and community of Cass Street School, the local school for the ethnically diverse, urban poor neighborhood of the lower east side of Milwaukee.

In her last years, Mary Alice served as an advisor and much-loved volunteer mentor – and “Gra” to all – at the Calyx School, where students continue to work to “knock Gra’s socks off!” She was also one of many volunteers that make Whidbey Island Dance Theater’s Nutcracker a special community tradition.

She was the proud and devoted matriarch of a three-generation household that included her daughter, Lisa Kois, and granddaughter, Aaliyah Kois Jacob, as well as her friend and Lisa’s life partner, Dana Lyons. Mary Alice shared a special relationship with Aaliyah, including a love of nature, reading mysteries, dancing, and eating curry and black licorice.

Mary Alice is survived by her children Randi Kois (Jim) Hanvey of New York and Lisa Kois of Freeland; grandchildren Will and Jack Hanvey, and Aaliyah Kois Jacob; brother John (Lillian) Monson of Colorado and sister Martha (Vern) Olsen of Coupeville.

She was preceded in death by her parents, Cecil and Alyce Monson, of Whidbey Island.

Memorial gifts in Mary Alice’s name can be made to the Calyx School of Whidbey Island or to the Southern Poverty Law Center to support their ongoing fight against hate and intolerance.

Please visit Mary Alice’s page in the Book of Memories at to share memories and condolences. Arrangements entrusted to Wallin Funeral Home &Cremation, LLC, Oak Harbor.

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