All hail Camas Days’ ‘Queen Molly’

Former Washougal Mayor Molly Coston will lead 2022 Camas Days Senior Royal Court during annual 2-day festival in downtown Camas

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Washougal mayoral candidate Molly Coston (center) celebrates her election lead with Washougal City Councilwoman Joyce Lindsay (right) and Cathy Morton (left) at 54 40 Brewing on Nov. 8, 2017. (Kelly Moyer/Post-Record files)

For the past several years, Molly Coston was known as “Mayor Molly.” Now, she may be known as “Queen Molly.”

The Camas-Washougal chapter of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC) recently named Coston the queen of the 2022 Camas Days Senior Royal Court.

The Washougal City Council member and former mayor will be crowned at a dessert coronation reception at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 13, at The Outpost, 570 30th St., Washougal.

Coston also will ride in the Camas Days main parade on Saturday, July 23. The annual downtown Camas festival is back after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and will take place throughout downtown Camas on Friday and Saturday, July 22-23.

“I was asked by someone, ‘Would you accept the nomination? I’d like to nominate you for this honor.’ And I said, I said, ‘Yeah, of course I would. I think this would be an amazing honor,'” Coston said. “I was thinking that I would be one of the nominees, but certainly never named as queen. So when I got the call (from GFWC member) Susan Bennett, I was floored. I am very, very honored to receive the queen’s title, and I think this is going to be so much fun. I’m going to have a great time.”

In fact, Coston said she’s been having a great time at the annual Camas Days festival for the past two decades.

“Honestly, I really love the crowd of people,” she said. “The parade is very traditional, as are many things about Camas Days. And (I love) those summer fun events. The parade, the opportunity to mingle with people, that feeling of being a part of the community in the middle of the summer in a great place to live, I just like all of it.”

Washougal residents Chuck and Barbara Carpenter, the king and queen of the 2019 Camas Days festival, wrote a letter of recommendation for Coston, lauding her extensive volunteer experience for the Washougal Community Library, Hathaway Elementary School, the Columbia Gorge Refuge Stewards, St. Anne’s Church, Meals on Wheels, the Camas-Washougal Rotary, and the Washougal Arts and Culture Alliance (WACA).

“Molly has been a pillar of the Washougal-Camas community for many years, and is well-deserving of this honor,” the Carpenters wrote.

Coston served as a Washougal city councilwoman from 2005 to 2011 and was elected as mayor of Washougal in November 2017. She returned to a councilor role in 2021 after being elected to fill the remaining unexpired term of the council’s No. 5 position.

“I think that probably I’ve been kind of a citizen activist at heart my whole life,” she said. “When I moved to Washougal, I realized that this is a community where one person can really make a long-lasting difference. I’ve traveled and lived in places all over the world, often very big cities, and I just think it’s really important to become involved in the community and try to make it a better place to live on whatever scale, whether it’s within your family, your neighborhood, or the larger community.

“And I just get a lot of joy from engaging with the public. I’m so happy we’re out of the strict COVID regulations because I am really more of an extrovert. I (love) to get out and talk to people, engage with people, find common ground with people. That really is important to me, and it helps me to kind of understand some of the challenges that we have as a community and to try to find ways to overcome them.”

Coston is settling into her new role as president of WACA, a position that she accepted earlier this year. She feels great about the “dynamic group” of people that she’s working with and has already generated a long list of objectives that she’d like to help the organization achieve.

“We’d like to start doing docent-led art walks around the community, and so we’re working on that right now,” she said. “I’ve talked to Brad Richardson from the Clark County Historical Museum about training our group as leaders. (We would talk) about some of the older homes and sort of blend art and history together. Maybe we could be included next summer in some of the American Empress stops — I think that would be amazing.

“And we’re going to start doing some targeted fundraising because we have some aspirations on a piece of three-dimensional art for the new library that is going to be quite substantial in cost. And so we’re going to start to really increase our reach, our membership, and do some really targeted fundraising to raise money for some bigger pieces of art that will be enduring in the community.”

Coston’s personal and professional lives have been filled with varied opportunities and experiences which have helped her in her roles as a public official and community volunteer.

“She’s a very interesting woman with quite an interesting background,” Washougal City Manager David Scott told the Post-Record in 2020.

Coston was born in central New York and moved with her family to Tucson, Arizona, when she was 13 years old. She graduated from the University of Arizona with bachelor of science degrees in biology and organic chemistry, and then worked in the school’s biochemistry research department. She then served as a researcher/tester for the state of Arizona’s public health department before leaving the science field to become a business owner, operating a bar/restaurant, then a trucking company, both in Tucson.

But for the bulk of her career, she worked for Nortel Networks, a global telecommunications company. She started “at the bottom, as a tech,” and worked her way up to a senior project manager position, managing large telecommunication projects in Alaska, Micronesia (where she lived for two years) and the Pacific Northwest.

Coston and her husband, fellow Nortel employee Phil Harris, moved to Washougal in November 2000. Since then, the former Washougal mayor and current Camas Days queen has seen the relationship between the two cities evolve from a “sibling rivalry” into more of a true partnership, a change that she believes has benefited both communities.

“There is no doubt in my mind that it has gotten better,” she said. “When I first moved here, it was very obvious that we were two very distinct communities, and frankly, there wasn’t a lot of interchange. Camas was always the prom queen and Washougal was the gawky little sister. And we’re still like that a little bit. But what I’ve seen over the years is increased collaboration and cooperation. It’s very, very positive.

“And I see it not only in my role as an elected official — we collaborate with Camas all the time — but as a community member. We kind of look at ourselves more in many ways like east Clark County. We have assets in Washougal that Camas doesn’t have, and Camas has assets that we don’t have. I just see that sense of collaboration and goodwill increasing all the time as both communities really develop and become more engaged.”