Phyllis Ferne Burgess, lifelong resident of Tower-Soudan, dies March 15

Phyllis F. (Driscoll) Burgess,

Phyllis F. (Driscoll) Burgess,


On July 25, 1925 God sent an angel to earth in Soudan, Minnesota. On March 15, 2022 God called her back to be with Him. Phyllis was the daughter of Michael and Ferne (Williams) Driscoll. She graduated from Tower-Soudan High School in 1943 and began her working career at The State Bank of Tower. She married Jim Burgess on December 7, 1946. Following their marriage, she joined Jim at The Tower News where she ultimately became the editor. Through her many years at the paper, she became an integral part of our communities. She was widely known throughout the Range for her journalistic expertise. While she was normally a very humble person, she was proud of the fact that she once put out an entire paper by herself, a feat that had never been done before or since. She was a dedicated member of St. James Presbyterian Church, Tower, where she accompanied the choir and congregational singing for over 50 years until the pandemic hit. She was also an Elder there for many years. She was the third-generation daughter of the early Soudan pioneers.

She had memberships in the  Minnesota Newspaper Half Century Club, Tower-Soudan Historical Society, Mesabi Humane Society, and St. James Presbyterian Church as well as being a supporter of Old Settlers for many years.

Phyllis is survived by her daughter Patricia “Pat” Krieg and her husband, Paul, of Duluth; brothers: Del Driscoll of Roy, UT and Terry Driscoll and his wife, Jeannie, of Tower; brother-in-law Mike Michael of Soudan; grandson Brian Krieg of Duluth of Duluth; granddaughter Stephanie Krieg of St Paul; great-grandsons Gabriel Krieg and Avery Close of Duluth; first cousin MaryBeth Reller and her husband, Al, as well numerous nieces and nephews and cousins and her beloved cat, Jasmine.

Phyllis was preceded in death by her parents; her husband Franklin James “Jim” Burgess; her mother-in-law Enice Burgess; brothers Dean Clayton Driscoll, Michael Frederick Driscoll, Dennis “Kelly” Driscoll; a sister Priscilla Joan Mickle; sisters-in-law Georgianna Driscoll, Cheryl Driscoll and Eileen “Polly” Larson; brother-in-law Robert “Bob” Larson; nephews Michael Frederick Driscoll Jr., and Dean Driscoll; nieces Shannon Lee (Driscoll) Williams, and Judy Sterland; and son-in-law, Arthur Lamken.

The Funeral Service will be held at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 2, 2022 at the St. James Presbyterian Church in Tower. Visitation will begin one hour prior to the service at the church. Interment will be at a later date in Lakeview Cemetery, Tower.

Phyllis was a devoted wife and mother. Above all, Phyllis loved her family and that love was felt by every member both near and far. Through her writing and reporting Phyllis won the hearts of Tower-Soudan and Lake Vermilion. Her notebook and pen were always handy, even in the grocery store. She is among the people who made our communities what they came to be. She reported: “News about the nicest people in the world, our own.” Everyone who met Phyllis was left knowing just how special she truly was. She deeply cared about each and every member of her newspaper family. She eagerly awaited the arrival of each summer resident. She had an amazing memory for names and as well as the town where each person lived while not in their summer residence. She looked for the good in every person she met.

She was fearlessly loyal to her family and loved each and every one of them unconditionally. They returned that love in many ways. Her brother-in-law, Mike made it possible for her to remain in her beloved cabin until her death. He cooked meals, cut, split and stacked wood, then brought it onto her porch so she did not have to go to the woodshed.  She especially like his BLT’s, saying no one could make them like he could.  She used wood as her primary source of heat, right to the end. Her first cousin MaryBeth Reller and her husband, Al, brought her special treats and checked on her regularly. After Pam’s mother, Priscilla died, Pam considered her a second mom. Pam said she was the kindness, sweetest person she had ever met. “She would give you the shirt off her back.” When she was still working Terry and Jeannie would watch to make sure she got to work. Tim Mickle and John Swanson plowed and were her general handymen, while her niece Erin Peitso or MaryBeth and Al made sure she had a place to go for holidays if she was unable to get to Duluth to spend the day with Pat and Paul. When it snowed, Mike and Phyllis would race to see who could get her sidewalk and deck shoveled first. Phyllis had the home field advantage but Mike got up much earlier so it was a race each storm. For many years after Jim’s passing, her brother Del would faithfully call her every Sunday night. Many local residents also watched out for her and checked on her often.

She loved to travel. There were several family trips to Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding states during the 1950s and 60s as well as other trips to various states. It was difficult to travel since, back then, they had to publish a paper every week to remain a “legal paper.” This meant that they would publish two papers in one week and have the post office hold the second edition until the following week. While Jim’s job remained relatively the same, Phyllis had to write and type up two weeks’ worth of articles in one week.

She and Pat went to Mackinac Island a few times, leaving once the paper was “to bed” on a Thursday. She would drive through the night, catch a few hours of sleep and then spend part of Friday and all of Saturday exploring the island. Then she would drive back on Sunday and be at her typewriter on Monday morning.

Her most memorable trip was to Ireland with Jim. Her Irish roots ran deep and she loved every minute of the trip. Although she was afraid of heights, she climbed up rickety stairs on the outside walls of castles, stood on the edge of mountains and seaside cliffs and even kissed the Blarney Stone. They stayed a B&Bs and she went out of her way to talk to the owners and make friends wherever they went.  She corresponded with several of them for many years once she and Jim returned to America. One of the last pieces of mail that she received before she died was a St. Patrick’s Day card from Catherine Reilly of Westport, County Mayo, Ireland. In the card Catherine spoke of their 40-year friendship and said she would call Phyllis soon.  I know she looked forward to their chats as well as all the letters and cards through the years. She often talked about their visits around the peat fire in the parlor, talking long into the night after Jim had gone to bed.

Phyllis wrote a weekly column for the paper, starting in 1955 which meant she wrote over 3000 columns until her retirement in 2020, at the age of 95.  She also published a book in 2009. entitled, “Chaos and Grit” which contained fifty of her most popular columns. She was nominated for the Northeastern Minnesota Book Award in Memoir and Creative Nonfiction and received an honorable mention at a ceremony on May 16, 2010, presented by the UMD Library and Friends of the Duluth Public Library.

She wrote several columns about the closing of the Soudan Mine on December 15, 1962. She was given a tour of the mine and was shown how the miners extracted the iron ore. The mine is now a State Park with staircases to go from level to level and bright lighting. However, when she toured the mine there were no stairways or bright lights, only very “rickety” ladders between levels and headlamps on the hardhats to light the way. The Minnesota State Park department asked her if they could reprint the columns into a pamphlet to sell for the tourists. Of course, she said yes, but in her normal, humble fashion, refused to take any money, saying it was a part of the history of the area. The pamphlet was titled, “Laddering Down”.

Phyllis dearly loved all animals. She fed the birds, which also meant she fed the squirrels, raccoons, deer and even the occasional bear. She adored her dogs and spoiled them rotten every chance she got. Her last pet was her beloved cat, Jasmine. She was always frightened that Jasmine would get out of the cabin and run away. She was late more than once for work or choir practice because she could not leave until she was sure Jasmine was still inside. Jasmine has found a new home with special friends of Pat and Paul. She is settling in quite nicely and was heard purring on her first night in her new home. She will be pampered and loved for the rest of her years.

Above all else, she loved the Lord and spent hours in prayer for others. She was a true prayer warrior! No matter what she wrote about in “Chaos and Grit,” she always ended with Scripture and her obituary shall end the same way.

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.  Psalm 116:15

Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. John 11:25-26

His Lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord. Matthew 25:23

May we add, very well done indeed!