Superintendents Who Built Puyallup
By Hans Zeiger
Mrs. Turner’s Restaurant, May 5, 2010
Thank you for having me. Charlie and Clarence are the ones to blame for the invitation.
I’ve been talking at the various service clubs in the area lately about great men and women in our local history. I was thinking about what aspect of our community’s history I could discuss this morning. I’ve been to this club enough times in the past to know that there are a few school administrators who show up here. That means that I have to be on my best behavior this morning—even if you’re not on your best behavior.
Puyallup is an education community, and many of you have had a big role in that. So I decided it might be worth talking about a couple of the great superintendents who built the Puyallup School District, E.B. Walker and Paul Hanawalt. These two men laid the groundwork for this school district to be one of the great districts in the State of Washington. They shared Indiana roots, a passion for kids, and a positive vision for the future.
Edmund Burton Walker was born the same week the Civil War began in April of 1861. He was born on a farm across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky on the Indiana side, near a little town called New Albany. Of course Kentucky was a slave state and Indiana was a free state. So as Edmund grew up in New Albany during the Civil War and Reconstruction, he was aware of the country’s deep divisions and inequalities.
He also would have come to know that education might have an equalizing effect. Horace Mann had talked about education as the great equalizer. Edmund attended a rural grade school, and then went on to the high school in New Albany. And there was a unique thing about that high school that must have shaped Edmund’s views of education powerfully, and that was that New Albany High School was the first public high school in the State of Indiana.
Edmund Walker received a good education there, and after graduating he worked his way through college at DePauw University north in Greencastle by taking summer school and correspondence courses. He received his teaching credentials and taught in New Albany for the next two decades. He spent most of his years there as principal at East Spring Street Elementary School. He married a former student named Nancy Jane Young in 1885.
By 1903, Walker’s brother had gone west to Tacoma where he started a hardware store. So Edmund and Nancy Jane and their three kids and Edmund’s parents decided that they would all go west too. That summer of 1903, they packed up their belongings, boarded a train, and almost didn’t make it out of the Midwest. The train nearly derailed as it passed out of Illinois where the Mississippi River was flooding and endangering the railway. The train stopped, and the conductor came through to organize the passengers according to weight in order to keep the train in balance.
In Tacoma, Walker figured out that he wasn’t cut out for the hardware business, so he left his brother to run the store while he went over to Central School to take the Washington State teaching exam. His score on the math section was perfect.
The Puyallup School District needed a principal at Spinning Elementary, and Walker showed up just in time for the start of the 1903 school year. Walker’s daughter Maude recalled moving to Puyallup in a profile of her father in 1975. She wrote, “Puyallup in 1903-’04 was a small community with many churches. During the summer there were many Indian hop-pickers and seasonal workers roaming the streets. Every member of families went out to berry fields and hop fields in those days. I have visions yet of picking hops and carefully emptying many small containers into the big hop box. Our church friends introduced us to harvesting crops and we met many friendly people there. I especially remember our lunches of applesauce and jelly sandwiches – a happy time even if the yellow jackets buzzed around us as they were hungry too!”
Walker only lasted one school year at Spinning before he was hired by the Auburn School District to be their superintendent. He worked there from 1904 to 1908, and then the Puyallup School District wanted him back, so E.B. and Nancy Jane Walker came back in 1908 and moved into a big house on Pioneer.
E.B. Walker had several principles that he tried to impart to Puyallup’s teachers. His daughter listed four of them:
1. Be firm but fair—always kind
2. Keep a keen sense of humor.
3. Look for the good in every pupil.
4. Guard against raising your voice when provoked.
E.B. Walker had three great achievements during his 12 years as Puyallup’s education leader. First, he opened Puyallup High School in 1910. The class of 1910 graduated from Puyallup Central School, and the class of 1911 was able to enjoy the impressive new building. It was built at a cost of less than $35,000, which would be about $800,000 in today’s dollars. That was 100 years ago.
Second, Walker became the leading advocate for a public library in Puyallup. He chaired the library board that began raising money for a library. There’s a photo on the first page of Lori Price and Ruth Anderson’s history of Puyallup of women loaded into cars to raise money for the library. And the idea for the fundraiser was that they would cruise town with the authorization to impose fines on miscreants. They raised $425 that day. Finally, Walker wrote the grant requests that led to the Carnegie Foundation’s major gift to establish Puyallup’s first library in 1912.
And Walker’s third great achievement was selecting the junior high model for the Puyallup School District. He opened the Puyallup Junior High on the high school campus in 1919.
Sadly, the same school year that Walker opened the junior high, he contracted cancer, and he stepped down as superintendent in 1920 and died the following year. As the community mourned his passing, a local banker named C.M. Case donated a silver cup to Puyallup High School in honor of E.B. Walker. To this day, the cup is presented to a graduating senior who has demonstrated qualities of character, citizenship, personality, and scholarship. Now, the Walker Cup is duplicated for Rogers and Emerald Ridge as well, and the district’s fourth high school, the alternative school, was named E.B. Walker High School. There’s also a plaque in memory of Walker outside the old junior high entrance on the high school. So the Walker legacy continues.
One of Walker’s hires for the new junior high was a young man who had grown up in Tacoma, graduated from the College of Puget Sound just before World War I and then joined the Navy. When he returned from the war, he put in an application to Walker. So E.B. Walker hired Paul Hanawalt in the fall of 1919 to teach math in the junior high.
Hanawalt worked for the Puyallup School District for the next 41 years. Hanawalt had an extraordinary personality. He was always positive, always cheerful, and what people remember the most is that he was always whistling. Ruth Brackman Martinson, student body president at PHS in 1941-1942 and then the school’s secretary, told me that Hanawalt was “always loving and kindly. He could whistle like birds—he could make them sound like the bird was right in the room. That was what enthralled kids.”
Paul Hanawalt was born in 1896 in Greencastle, Indiana, the same place where E.B. Walker had gone for his college education. Hanawalt moved to Tacoma as a child when his father was hired as professor of math at the College of Puget Sound. Hanawalt graduated from Stadium High School. Then at CPS, he played basketball, was elected class president, and met his wife Alice. They would have a son Frank and a daughter Ruth. Frank passed away recently, but I had the privilege of interviewing him a couple years ago. He was a great educator in his own right, principal of Garfield High School, philanthropic leader, and civil rights activist in Seattle.
Paul Hanawalt quickly rose from Junior High principal to High School principal during the 1920s. He coached track and basketball.
When Hanawalt took the superintendent’s office in 1930, the school district budget was in trouble. His first task was to resolve the district’s serious warrant debt. In 1932, he cut teacher salaries by 5 percent in order to keep the district in balance and avoid layoffs. “He was successful,” his son Frank told me. None of the teachers “ever got a check that had problems. He had a good business mind as well as being an outstanding educator.”
By the mid-1930s, Hanawalt pursued federal funding for school construction, which he used in the construction of the new Maplewood Elementary, his first major project. A number of other milestones occurred over the course of Hanawalt’s long tenure. The Puyallup Heights School merged with the District in 1944, Firgrove merged in 1946, and Waller Road was consolidated in 1950. Hanawalt introduced driver’s ed courses to the school district in 1946. He led the drive for a $185,000 bond measure to expand Meeker and Maplewood in 1947. He oversaw the construction of Karshner Elementary in 1952, East Junior High in 1956, and the consolidation of Woodland School in 1956.
In all of this, kids came first. Hanawalt had faith in his students and faith in the community. He patiently encouraged kids to work hard in school and succeed. “The ceiling is unlimited,” he often said in his speeches around town. He was a big proponent of character education.
Hanawalt had high moral standards for himself and his teachers. My Grandpa tells me that according to the superintendent’s rules, “you didn’t buy liquor or beer in the local stores, and you didn’t go to the taverns.” Somebody once brought a case of Pabst to his office, and when he was moving offices years later, they found the beer unopened. Hanawalt also disapproved of teachers smoking cigarettes. Furthermore, he told the district faculty that “you need to live in the community.”
Hanawalt worked with a number of school board members over his long service, but the ones who served longest and most notably are Fred DeBon (1939-1947), Charles Aylen (1931-1942), and Eileen Kalles (1952-1965).
During the difficult years of the Depression and the War, Hanawalt was a man with a social conscience. He made at least one public gesture of support for Japanese-American students who were evacuated to the Puyallup Fairgrounds in the spring of 1942.
Hanawalt went to the relocation authorities and requested a brief leave for several Japanese-American students of Puyallup High School who were to graduate with the Class of 1942. His request was approved. On graduation day in June, the superintendent drove to the gates of the Fairgrounds, where he picked up Rosie Takemura and Yukio Takeuchi and took them to the high school auditorium to walk with their class.
When the exercises had finished, Rosie and Yukio made their way back out to Mr. Hanawalt’s car, which he would drive back to the Fairgrounds. But first, he made a detour up Pioneer and stopped at Martin’s Confectionary. There, he treated the new Viking alums to Mr. Martin’s homemade ice cream. We should not forget such moments in the history of our community.
Several years later, my own family story would intersect with the legend of Paul Hanawalt. Hanawalt hired my Grandpa Ed to teach Fifth Grade at Maplewood Elementary in 1952. My grandpa had a choice among three school districts, and he chose Puyallup, I’m sure in no small part because of Hanawalt’s leadership. In 1958, my great grandparents moved to Puyallup as well, and great grandpa Ernest taught science at West Junior High while great grandpa Leata taught kindergarten at Meeker.
Hanawalt had fun with his staff. My grandpa tells the story of the annual faculty picnic softball game in which Hanawalt was thrown a softball—or the cover of a softball filled with flour. “Boy did he lay into that thing.”
Of course, as you know, Paul Hanawalt was a Kiwanian, and he had a 33-year perfect attendance record. He was also involved with the American Legion, Chamber, and served for a time as chairman of the State Teachers Retirement System.
Hanawalt’s name is preserved on the gymnasium of Puyallup High School, appropriate since he was an enthusiast for Puyallup athletics. In his three decades as superintendent, he was a reliable presence in the stands of Viking Field and the bleachers of the high school gym. So Hanawalt’s legacy lives on.
Paul Hanawalt and E.B. Walker—these two men exemplify something about our community that is noble, and that has endured through over a century and a half as thousands of students have come through this school district. There is a certain greatness about those who give their lives to the education of the young. E.B. Walker and Paul Hanawalt were great men.