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Enumclaw High School Days (1920s-1940s) by Jim Merritt
HistoryLink.org Essay 8739
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This reminiscence of Enumclaw High School was written by Jim Merritt (1920-2000). Merritt grew up in Enumclaw, which is located in southeast King County. He was the son of Frank and Emily (Morris) Merritt. His father was a mine foreman at the Morris Brothers Coal Mining Co., Inc. and Palmer Coking Coal Co., Inc. His mother was the fourth child born to George and Mary Ann (Williams) Morris, who emigrated from Wales to the Washington coal fields during the 1880s. Bill Kombol, manager of the Palmer Coking Coal Co. and first cousin once removed to Jim Merritt, assembled and edited this story from Jim Merritt’s original booklet.
Enumclaw High School
Enumclaw High School in the 1920s through 1940s was tied in closely with the J. J. Smith Grade School. A good number of the town’s citizens had attended first grade under the tutelage of Miss LeRoy and many were later taught by longtime elementary teachers Marita Davis and Teresa Quocheck.
The large grounds in the front of the building provided a lot of space for running and games during recess periods. And the “play shed” (a large covered shed open on one of its long sides) to the rear and side of the school provided a play area for rainy days.
A spacious field behind the grade school and play shed provided enough area for the high school’s playing field and a baseball diamond. Spectators were originally “roped off” from the playing area but, later, a small grandstand and some temporary bleachers provided seating for the student body, band, visiting fans and townspeople.
Local and competing teams used the high school facilities for dressing and showers and had to run the two or three short city blocks between the two schools before and after each game.
For a few years the facilities were used by a city-sponsored football team, “The Silver Barons.” Enumclaw’s numerous sports-minded fans were wholehearted supporters whenever and wherever their teams played.
Basketball was played in the high school gymnasium. Track meets were held in the field behind the high school. The tennis courts adjoined the high school, as well. When, in the 1920s, baseball was a major sport among the league’s schools, its games were played in a diamond adjacent to the football field. Later, as an intramural sport, it was played on a couple of diamonds behind the high school.
On weekends and throughout each summer local youngsters, especially those whose neighborhoods were in the two school area, played their “pick-up” or “sandlot” football games in the grounds in front of the grade school, their basketball games in the grade school play shed, and their baseball games on the field behind the high school. They would roller skate -- often playing hockey -- on the tennis courts, until they would get kicked off by some adult who was protective of the courts’ surfaces.
The Enumclaw High School with a junior high wing attached was the home of the “Enumclaw Tigers” sports teams.
A separate adjacent building housed the gymnasium as well as the shop and Industrial Arts Department on its lower level. Up until the mid 1930s the gym building was truly an all-purpose area. All basketball games, assemblies, theater productions, Health and PE Classes, school carnivals, noon-hour “sock hops,” tolo dances, and most of the Senior Balls, Junior Proms, Sophomore Hops, and other galas all took place in the gymnasium.
The athletes for whatever kind of contest and from both the home and visitors’ teams used the changing rooms and showers located under the gym.
Coach “Chuck” Smith, Leland Ashim, and Catherine Maginnis were the “pioneers” among faculty members and were much revered by numerous former students. W. Warner Thomas, Maurice H. Pearson, DeLona F. Callahan, Walter E. Jensen, and Agnes D. Horn were the faculty constants in the mid 1930s through 1940s.
Mr. Beach, Henry DeYoung, Vernet C. Lee, C. Milburn Boundy, William C. Tucker, Myron H. Finch and Frank G. Forstrom were all school administrators at various times throughout the period.
During the 1930s Jim White and Ed Slott were the custodians who often befriended and looked after the students in the process of keeping the buildings and grounds in good shape. Mr. Hamburg saw to it that the buses were kept in running order and the bus garages were well maintained. Rose Durgin assured that the cafeteria was a cheerful, comfortable place.
Prior to 1930 the J. J. Smith School accommodated grades one through eight. In the early 1930s the junior high wing was added to the high school and, in the mid-1930s, the new gymnasium and auditorium were added to the main school building. Before that time all basketball games, assemblies, theater productions, Health and P.E. classes, and school dances took place in the old all-purpose gym building.
The new auditorium with a good-sized, adaptable stage and orchestra pit, and permanent, comfortable seating on both the main floor and balcony became the ideal setting for plays, operettas, assemblies, and visiting live-theater productions.
With the new gymnasium addition giving new impetus to the health and athletic programs and the new auditorium adding to the scope of theatrical and musical opportunities, the numerous other activities, which were open to all students according to their interests and skills, continued and expanded.
At various times throughout the 1920s through 1940s most of these programs were offered:
Although the organized activities might well provide a good base for high school recollections, it is often the case that unstructured, spontaneous occurrences and events form the sharpest memories. From a sensory standpoint, who doesn’t recall the faint odors of chalk dust; cedar floor sweepings; science laboratory fumes; photography darkroom chemicals; the combination of shower and changing room sweat, sneakers, and soap; hot dishes in the cooking class or cafeteria; fresh sawdust in the woodworking shop; the paste and paint in constructing stage scenery; fresh ink smell of new Hi-Mercury; gardenia corsages at formal school dances; antiseptics in the nurse’s office; fresh spring flowers on teachers’ desks; and “new book” smells when a different textbook is introduced?
- The production of the “Tiger Tales” yearbook / annual provided an opportunity for all students to get involved in every aspect of producing the school’s yearbook.
- Seniors could elect to be in a special class that put together the school’s newspaper, the Hi-Mercury.
- Aspiring politicos could run for positions on the Board of Control as Student Body officers, or as officers in Junior and Senior High Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs.
- Top students accepted election to the Torch Honor Society, and aspiring actors joined the Thespian Society.
- Various musicians could vie for acceptance in the Pep Band, the Jazz Band, and Senior or Junior High orchestras. Vocalists joined the Senior or Junior High Glee Clubs and smaller singing groups, variously known as the Nonettes, the Tigerettes, the Bengaleers, and special quartets. All had an opportunity to “show their stuff” in the annual operetta.
- Many were encouraged to join the Cheer Leading staff as well as to become members of the Cafeteria Crew, the Office Crew, the Stage Crew, the Librarian Crew, and the Traffic Squad Officers and Court.
- Particularized interests steered students into becoming active in the Photography Club, the “Ham” Radio Club, Future Farmers, the Women’s Rifle Club, Camp Fire Girls, Pre-Nursing Club, the Knitting Club, the Chess Club, the Checkers Club, and the Parliamentary Club.
- All who attained “School Letters” through various sports and other letter-related activities were automatically members of the Boys’ and Girls’ “E” Clubs (“E” was for Enumclaw).
- For the sports-minded among the student body there were the major sports of football, basketball, and track at the school varsity and intramural levels.
- In addition there were boys’ and girls’ teams involved in golf, tennis, volleyball, badminton, handball, shuffleboard, table tennis, tumbling, and archery.
What student is likely to forget the unique sounds of the master regulator clock in the school office; the bells signaling the start of school and times for class changes; the rush of students in the halls between classes; the “silence” of the study hall; the rousing notes of the school band at all the games; the organized cheers of the student body; the echoed sounds of a basketball game; applause for entertainers at the end of a play or operetta; static, short-wave stations and Morse code for Ham radio operators; the clacking of a dozen or more typewriters during a typing speed drill; the starting gun at track meets; the ping of rackets and balls on the tennis courts; school songs being sung at assemblies, rallies and games; and, finally, the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” being played for the graduation procession?
Who doesn’t occasionally bring to mind the time spent in study hall? It was the class period that mixed together various classmen who might never, otherwise, be taking courses together. It provided opportunities to get a hint of what romances might be budding or, in some cases, fading. It was a good place to determine who belonged to which cliques. Girls could strut across the room, chest forward, to exhibit newly acquired endowments. Boys might postpone walking across the room because of an unexpected spontaneous arousal. The room was a veritable post office of personal note passing -- and intercepting. Reporters from Tiger Tales and Hi-Mercury could pick up ideas for entries in their “gossip columns.” And, of course, students might even choose to get assistance with a class assignment from the study hall monitor -- or just plain study on their own.
Rivalry with particular schools -- Buckley consistently, and often Renton -- were, on occasion, highly emotional. Mild forms of “anonymous” vandalisms would sometimes occur when a school’s letters and colors might be found to have been mysteriously painted on their rival’s entry doors on the morning of a big game. Big rallies were often whomped up on the night before “the big one’ with good-sized bonfires around which students and other enthusiasts could “snakedance.” shout their favorite school yells, and sing all the school’s fight songs.
The smaller senior classes of the earlier years had an annual “Senior Sneak” day. A faculty advisor, some parents, and the class determined a secret rendezvous out of town at which all would meet and then proceed with a planned day of fun. The junior class was challenged to try to find them and join their activities. The practice was discontinued as classes became too large.
Other customs would come and go. Occasionally special groups would agree to dress alike or wear special costumes on a certain day. Mother and daughter banquets were copied with father and son banquets. Sometimes days were set aside for certain classes to visit various industries giving first-hand awareness of business operations. Some classes held special picnics at nearby resorts.
Whatever those special events and experiences were, they will have added special accents to reminiscences of the time spent in a remarkable old school!
This story is dedicated
To the memory of
Grace (Merritt) Biwer (1907-1992)
Who initiated annual Enumclaw High School reunions,
Carl “Charlie” Gustav Falk (1920-1997)
Who assured their continuance
Enumclaw High School Alma Mater
HAIL TO OUR SCHOOL, SO FAIR
WE ALL OUR TROUBLES SHARE
ALWAYS WE’LL FIGHT WITH OUR MIGHT
FOR THE THINGS WE KNOW TO BE RIGHT
AND THOUGH WE PART
MAY WE MEET AGAIN
OUR ENUMCLAW HIGH SCHOOL FRIENDS
IF YOU’RE FOR US
WE’LL SING THE CHORUS
OVER ONCE AGAIN!
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Merritt Family: Seated (l to r), Bill Merritt, Emily (Morris) Merritt, Frank Merritt, Jim Merritt (in Navy uniform);
Standing (l to r): Emily (Merritt) Porter, Georgia (Merritt) Hanlin, Marian (Merritt) Dahl, Grace (Merritt) Biwer, Enumclaw, 1945
Courtesy Bill Kombol
(Detail) Frank Merritt (with shovel) and George Morris, Spiketon Coal Mine, east Pierce County, 1910s
Courtesy Palmer Coking Coal Company
School buses and school employees, Enumclaw, ca. 1915
Courtesy UW Special Collections (Image No. PH Coll 334)
Junior High School and High School, Enumclaw, August 10, 1934
Courtesy UW Special Collections (Neg. No. UW20755z)
Athletic field and grandstand, Enumclaw, February 13, 1934
Courtesy UW Special Collections (Image No. UW20956z)