Way back in the fall of 1970, before several of our Councilmembers were even born, I was a high school senior in my hometown of Enumclaw. I’d enrolled in the Humanities course taught by Mr. Worthington. He provided a good introduction to higher education.
During our section on ancient Greece, Mr. Worthington suggested that much of Greek philosophy dealt with answering four basic questions:
Who am I?
Where did I come from?
Where am I going?
What is the meaning of life?
He advised that we needn’t write these questions down as we’d be answering them for the rest of our lives. That this particular high school lecture stuck with me is no doubt part of the reason I’m standing before you today – thankful for this award to which I was nominated by Councilmember Dunn, and appreciative of our shared passion for exploring and preserving the historical past.
Studying history is always about asking questions. How did this award come to be named for Martin Luther King? Why am I standing before a council of nine rather than three or 13? When was this Courthouse built? Who owned the land beneath it before 1851?
Did you know that if you go back just 20 generations in your family tree, about 600 years, there will be over one million couples whose actions led to your creation? And if you add the 19 generations in between, your mom and dad, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, and so on, the total is 2.1 million humans who unwittingly conspired to see you born.
Ponder that for a moment – an unscripted series of fate and chance, dates and rejections, marriages and divorces, unplanned births and sibling deaths. Yet through it all, those 2.1 million people survived to procreate and punch their DNA ticket to the next generation. How many saints and scoundrels, peasants or princes do we count among our ancestors? Where indeed did we come from?
Malcolm Muggeridge, an English journalist once claimed that “All new news is old news happening to new people.” The teacher in Ecclesiastes put it more simply, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” What both were trying to say is that it’s all happened before. But, what makes current news so fascinating in our lives is that it’s happening to us!
And George Orwell observed that, “Every generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before, and wiser than the one that comes after.” So it is a remarkable time we find ourselves in with Artificial Intelligence threatening to supplant the human brain, while some speak as if they represent the wisest generation humanity’s ever known.
This is why I view the past with a healthy dose of humility. As John Stewart sang, recalling forgotten generations in his song, Mother Country, “They were just a bunch of people doing the best they could.” Maybe that’s who we are.
So, I go forward with thankfulness – for the parents who loved me, the aunts and uncles who guided me, the friends with whom I played, the teachers who taught and inspired, the mentors who encouraged, the jobs that tested me, and for those who corrected my errors. And to my wife, Jennifer for the gift of children, as we now count ourselves among those 2.1 million ancestors who came before our three sons.
And I’m thankful for a previous Council who had the wisdom to rename our county after Martin Luther King, and relegate Rufus to the historical footnote that befalls most vice presidents. And a heartfelt thanks to this body for your support to historical preservation, archive retention, the Association of King County Historical Organizations, local museums, and the 4 Culture funding that benefits them all.
In his new biography of Martin Luther King, Jonathan Eig speaks of King’s Radical Christianity upon which his dream was built. So I end with a quote from our county’s namesake, that might be the answer to the queries those ancient Greeks were looking for. Here’s how King put it, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is this: ‘What are you doing for others?’”
Below is the video of my June 13 speech before the King County Council:
And next is a short broadcast produced by Kimberly Hill and Brian Starr for King County TV, as I showcase Black Diamond, Sherrie Evans, and the rich history preserved at its museum.
And finally, links to an Enumclaw Courier-Herald news story and the column, When Coal Was King:
I didn’t get my first real six-string. And Enumclaw’s five-and-dime was the last place this teenager wanted to be. The allure of candy cigarettes and cheap toys had long since passed. They may have been the best days of Bryan Adams’ life, but for me the Summer of ’69 was a middling byway on a slow road to adulthood.
Summer started off with a bang! Literally! A Fourth of July bag of fireworks exploded on the front hood of my parent’s Ford LTD after an errant firecracker found its way in. The following Monday, the Ltd with tarnished hood traveled three blocks to Enumclaw City Hall for my driver’s test. Scoring 100 on the written and 96 in the car, I went home two days after my 16th birthday with a license to drive.
The summer of ’69 sounds so moving in retrospect – astronauts on the moon, hippies at Woodstock, Charles Manson in L.A, Kennedy on Chappaquiddick. That wasn’t my summer. Mine was frankly boring. I didn’t have a full-time job. Well, I actually had two part-time jobs: Office boy at Palmer Coking Coal manning the telephone and scale earning the princely sum of $5 for my five-hour shift. The second gig, as high school sports reporter for the Courier-Herald, I inherited from my brother, Barry.
In the slow months of July and August, that second job meant little more than tracking down the two Franks of Enumclaw’s summer sports: Manowski and Osborn, for league scores and standings. That took all of a couple hours before Monday’s deadline. During the rest of the week, tedium oozed.
I do remember going to the drive-in movies once at the recently opened Big ‘E” in Enumclaw and another time at Auburn’s Valley 6. We rode in Wayne’s car. I didn’t really see many buddies as most had jobs or played summer baseball, a sport I’d left two years prior. A very special thing did happen – one night Dad and I walked to the Roxy to see the film: “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.” It was likely the only time I went to a movie, just Dad and me.
That summer our family’s traditional vacation of one week in Grayland, and a second at Beacon Point on Hoods Canal ended. The old-fashion cottage resort at Beacon Point shuttered and our joint vacations with the Cerne family were no more. Those trips were the highlight of every summer since I could remember. Barry graduated in June and headed to Alaska seeking his fortune. He returned soon enough finding out, that even in Alaska jobs don’t grow on trees.
Jeanmarie shipped out to Wilsall, Montana with her good friend, Cindy Johnson to help at her aunt’s cattle ranch. Jeanmarie’s stay was cut short when Cindy’s grandpa died suddenly. So the four remaining Kombols packed up and drove to Yellowstone retrieving Jean, coupled with a short tour of the park. It seemed anticlimactic compared to our summer vacations of yesteryear. The times they-were-a-changing.
I clearly remember the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 24th. I remember not watching it. It was an overcast day. I bandied about the neighborhood, over at Jim Olson’s home, then here and there. In the living room, Dad and Henry D. Gillespie, our Australian foreign exchange student sat transfixed on the sofa absorbed for hours.
Popping in that evening, I glanced at the TV then headed back outside. I wasn’t slightly interested and had no appreciation for the magnitude of that moment – to me it seemed little more than a grainy television experience that went on for hours. It turned out that Neil Armstrong’s one small step was viewed by more than 500 million across the globe. In retrospect, my lack of interest was one giant failure to leap.
Nationally, the Manson cult murders were a minor headline in the Seattle P.I., the newspaper I studiously read each morning. Kennedy’s Chappaquiddick high-jinx was a much bigger story, which I earnestly followed. I’d become a news junkie, with alternating subscriptions to Time magazine and U.S. News & World Report. But, my perusal of the news was cursory – Woodstock in mid-August? It didn’t register for me. It wasn’t until the following year when Steve McCarty and I saw the movie that I even grasped what a music festival was.
What did register was a peevish, late-night, television personality named Bob Corcoran. He hosted a channel 13 talk show. Corcoran was the prototype for a mad-as-hell-and-not-going-to-take-it-anymore character, later seen in “Network.” Half his audience was bored teenagers listening to drunken adults who called in to converse with Bob. When teens placed a call – you could always tell – they’d make rude remarks, before the inevitable kill button and dial tone. Between callers, Corcoran offered screeds on controversial issues, then ceaselessly promoted Tacoma’s B & I Circus store.
That summer, our family friends, the Hamiltons were staying with us, having just moved back from London. Their oldest son, Scott was a year older and we took over Barry’s bedroom in his absence. There Scott and I watched Corcoran, howling at the inanities Bob spewed forth each night. We giggled mindlessly at the mere mention of his name. His show was so bad it made perfect sarcastic sense to our teenage-addled brains. We even tried calling his show once but hung up after waiting on hold too long.
Corcoran later parlayed his quirky television stardom into politics by running for Congress in 1972. His shtick was rabble-rousing, stick-it-in-their-face, populist rant, but in the primary, he was soundly defeated by Julia Butler Hansen. How I ended up with the Elect Bob Corcoran to Congress ruler, I’ve long since forgotten.*
Night after night we tuned into Bob and played chess. I’d taken up the sport during my just-ended sophomore year after reading an article in the Hornet student newspaper announcing formation of a new chess club. My game improved quickly, landing me one of the top five boards.
Scott Hamilton was a decent chess player who desperately wanted to win. Late each night, we played game after game, again and again – 49 straight losses before Scott finally won. But playing chess was just a way to pass time. Our real goal was to laugh at Bob Corcoran.
Amazingly, those memories are the most poignant of my summer of ’69. The summer I turned 16, during one of the most dynamic times of the Sixties, when all the world’s charms lay before me – staying up late to watch a goofball TV talk show host and playing chess were my highlights.
All the same, everything turned out fine. Returning to high school as a junior, my driver’s license landed me behind the steering wheel of the family’s second car, a 1965 Renault. Our winning chess team became an important cog in my developing personality. That semester I took an Economics class from Wes Hanson that ultimately directed my life (B.A., Econ, U.W., 1975). Second semester I joined the Hornet staff and learned how to write.
Another favorite, English lit was taught jointly by Miss Thompson and Mrs. Galvin. Novels like “Catcher in the Rye” and “A Separate Peace” jolted a new sense of existential feelings through my all-to-logical heart. “1984” and “Lord of the Flies” called into question what that heart was made of. We read “Romeo & Juliet” out loud in class. Franco Zeffirelli’s movie version had recently captured the nation’s attention, so our whole class attended a special showing one night at the Roxy.
Life accelerated. The following summer, I worked 12-hour days selling popsicles, fudgesicles, and ice cream sandwiches. High school life gave way to feelings of liberation and control.
Looking back on things, that summer of ‘69 was a quirky way station on the road through life – no longer a boy, but not yet a man.
* One day a few weeks before writing this essay, I ruffled through my desk drawer and grabbed for a straight edge. Out came a Bob Corcoran for Congress ruler. I have little idea how it landed there. It came decades past from a Corcoran campaign booth brimming with swag at the Puyallup Fair. Only serendipity can explain how that ruler appeared while writing this essay.
A photo album Pauline assembled during high school years yielded two of her poems. Her first was brash and bawdy while the second reflective and self-assured. “Boyfriends” likely dates to her junior year (1944) judging by who’s mentioned in the poem and her album photos that year.
The second, “This world that we’re livin’ in” dates to after graduation – but it’s hard to say exactly when. I’ve included the type-written poems plus select photos to illustrate her high school friendships.
This is my poetic tribute to the best Mom I ever had, Pauline Lucile (Morris) Kombol (1927–2011). Happy Mother’s Day from your historian son, Bill Kombol – May 8, 2022.
We girls and our boyfriends,
We have quite a time.
But for the ones we like best,
We wouldn’t give a dime.
I chase after everyone I know I can’t get,
But what do you care, it’s no skin off your tit.
Well, JoAnn likes muscles, Erna like chins,
But some like boys with plenty of sins.
And I’ve got one, you all know who,
It’s Howie I’m speaking about to you.
Valera likes to have about six on the string,
And her heart tells her it’s just a fling.
Now Beve likes Renton, and you know why,
Just mention Tony’s name, and listen to her sigh.
But this thing called love, has broken many hearts,
Yet it has only caused others to let a big fart.
What would you do, if there weren’t any boys?
Well, we wouldn’t be so sad and there’d be many more joys.
But as times goes on and variety is the spice,
You’ll probably be at the church getting showered with rice.
I can picture it now, Erna and her hubby,
She’ll love his chin even if he isn’t chubby.
And here comes JoAnnie showing her muscle,
With her butt held in by a big wire bustle.
And look! There’s Lois, the big old fat,
She hasn’t left the church, ‘cause that’s just where she sat.
She’s an old maid and will never get married,
She couldn’t get Howie, so now she’ll be buried.
Next comes Beve, with her big toothy smile,
There’s pompadour Tony at the end of the aisle.
And there stands Valera, all wide eyed and mad,
She couldn’t get married and am I glad.
She and Miss Calahan are figuring out a way,
That they can marry two guys and be happy that day.
But it isn’t possible and she should know,
And I’m afraid if she ever tried it, to jail she’d go.
It’s ten years later and what do you think,
Here comes a bunch of wopes and of garlic they stink.
If you saw their chins and looked at their nose,
You’d know right away they’re Erna Merlino’s.
Here’s a little boar with his hair piled high,
One look at him and you’d know who he was and why.
I said to him, “Where’s your daddy, Tony?”
He said, “Oh, home eating crackers and baloney.”
But now we will pass, through Renton right now,
And there’s a dame, sittin’ milkin’ a cow.
We look at her face and guess who it is,
It’s our own JoAnn milking a cow named Liz.
I asked her what had happened to all her husband’s money,
She gave me a dirty look and said, “Don’t be funny.”
As I started home, I stopped at the lake,
I wanted to see Howie, so I pulled on the brake.
I went to the door and rang the bell,
I heard Howie yell, “I’m out here in the well.”
In the well I thought, now’s my chance,
To corner him into the wedding dance.
I finally married him after this long time,
And after 80 long years
I’m a bride at 89!!!!!
Appearing in the poem:
Erna – Erna Jean Williams
Beve – likely Beverly Boland, but possibly Beve Rocca
JoAnn – JoAnn (Ewell) Clearwater
Howie – Howard Johanson
Valera – Valera Pedersen
Lois – Lois (Buck) Hamilton
Miss Calahan –De Lona Calahan, Tiger Tales Yearbook staff advisor
Tony – presumably Tony Merlino of Renton
This world that we’re livin’ in
Is awful nice and sweet–
You get a thorn with every rose
But ain’t the roses sweet.
I’ve shut the door on yesterday,
Its sorrows and mistakes:
I’ve looked within its gloomy walls
Past failures and mistakes.
And now I throw the key away
To seek another room,
And furnish it with hope and smiles
And every spring–time bloom.
You have to live with yourself, you know,
All your whole life through.
Wherever you stay, or wherever you go, You will always companion you.
So–it’s just as well to make of yourself
The person you’d like to be,
And spend each day in the pleasantest way,
With the finest of company.
By Pauline Lucile Morris
Post Script:Morris – Stergion – Puttman – Kombol
Our moms were BFF before there was such a thing. We’ve been 5-year reunion friends since graduation. Their names were Shirley Stergion and Ponnie Morris until they married Jim Puttman and Jack Kombol.
Her name is Lynne always misspelled Lynn and I was called Billy the name she still calls me. They were Tigers from the Class of ’45. We were Hornets from the Class of ’71. Their 1944 picture was taken on the front lawn Enumclaw High School on Porter Street. Our 1968 Ka-Teh-Kan yearbook photo was taken inside the gym of the same building – by then Enumclaw Junior High.
They have both passed to the world beyond ours: Shirley in 2019 and Pauline in 2011. We reached the 9th grade Hall of Fame with our funniest laughs. Lynne became a stand-up comedienne helping people laugh. Bill studied Economics which is no laughing matter.
But wherever our lives have rambled, we share the bond our mothers shared – Enumclaw. Some say it translates as a ‘place of evil spirits’ while others claim it’s a ‘thundering noise.’
Whatsoever Enumclaw may be – where so ever Enumclaw may reside – long may her spirit dwell.
Seated in the front pew of Maple Valley Presbyterian Church on a Sunday in late November, I listened to a sermon delivered by Pastor David Diehl. It was a good one. His words were drawn from many sources but grounded in simple lessons. The Thanksgiving message was focused on the wonder of life’s blessings and how each of us has been enriched by others.
As the sermon drew to a close, he laid down a challenge – think of a person who’s touched your life, in a small way or large, then write a letter of gratitude to let them know you remember. Perhaps to a parent, or uncle, aunt, teacher, boss, friend, or some hero who has no idea you still care. Every good action demands a deadline. Pastor David suggested this week or better yet why not today?
Meditating upon the homily, I considered my life’s journey in search of a juncture when someone’s action set me on the path I followed. Several candidates no longer walked the earth, never knowing how they helped me in a time on need. It felt sad for it was no longer possible to say, “thank you.” There’s nothing like feelings of guilt as inspiration to be a better person.
A week later, I’d done little more than imagine the letter that could be written. Good intentions though admirable, produce few results. A wise uncle regularly reminded, “The longest journey begins with the first step.”
My school boy days came to mind. There were plenty of kind and thoughtful teachers at the four Enumclaw schools I’d attended. Many were influential. But which of many made a significant impact on my life? A decision was made, my letter would be to Mr. Hanson, who taught a one-semester class in economics at Enumclaw High School. It took some time to compose what I wanted to say but finally mailed it a week before Christmas.
I didn’t hear back from Mr. Hanson. Unbeknownst to me his health was failing. A few months later news reached me that Wesley A. Hanson lay dead at age 75. While golfing with one of his sons, Mike told me how my letter found a treasured place in his desk during the last months of his life. He’d read it time and again. It was a bittersweet revelation.
So, here is my sermon – far shorter than Pastor Diehl’s and lacking in eloquence. Write a letter to someone precious in your life. Let them know you’re thankful and still think of them. For this is what Thanksgiving is all about – giving thanks. Here’s what I wrote:
December 18, 2006
Dear Mr. Hanson:
It was the autumn of 1969. The previous summer witnessed the moon landing of Apollo 11, the Tate-LaBianca murders by the Charlie Manson family, Woodstock, and my 16th birthday. I could now drive. Soon the fall semester of my junior year arrived and among my classes were English, advanced Algebra, Chemistry, Spanish 3/4, Typing, and a new offering – Economics.
The class was taught by a certain Wes Hanson, the father of a friend of my brother. Word had it that Mr. Hanson convinced the educational powers that be, allowing him to teach an informative one semester class to supplement the usual world history and contemporary problem classes. Late in my sophomore year, I signed up for Economics on the conviction that it would be a college preparatory class.
The next four and one-half months proved most enlightening. Mr. Hanson taught in his very likable style peppering instruction with stories from his days dealing with farm products in the great American plains. Each Friday was a 25 question test in true / false or multiple choice formats. Each Monday, the test results were returned and my paper was usually found to have 24 or 25 correct answers. By the end of the semester, not only had I earned an A, but also an enduring respect for the subject and the man who taught us. It would prove to be a lifetime love.
Over the next several years, I read newspapers and magazines, closely following the economic issues of the day, from Milton Friedman’s proposed negative income tax for replacing welfare, to the heady days of August 1971 when President Nixon took the U.S. off the gold standard and imposed wage and price controls.
During summers after my junior and senior years, I had a job selling Popsicles and ice cream bars from a three-wheel Cushman scooter in the suburban neighborhoods of east hill Kent. From my cousin, Dan Silvestri (who owned the business), I learned that long hours of selling ice cream and a sliding 20-24% commission scale would net me $25 to $30 per day. Working almost every day of the week has merit, because you never have time to spend your earnings, especially living at home during high school summers.
With my bulging bank account of a couple thousand dollars earned during two summers selling ice cream; a daily job filling the coal stoker at my dad’s downtown Enumclaw building; writing weekly newspaper stories for the Courier-Herald; and working at Palmer Coking Coal on Saturdays, I headed off to the University of Washington in September 1971.
I took typical introductory classes, not quite sure what to study. I liked the idea of making money and had my one semester background in high school economics to prove it. I also had a cousin in the Popsicle business who told me stories of his own ups and downs in the stock market.
So, as any prudent (impudent?) 18-year-old would, one day I rode a bus from the University district to downtown Seattle then marched into the local Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner and Smith office. There I opened an account with one-half the earnings from my various high school jobs. Four months earlier, Merrill Lynch became the first New York Stock Exchange brokerage firm to offer its shares to the public. It was the name I knew.
My cousin Dan provided me with a ‘tip’ so I bought 100 shares of Pan Am stock for about $10 per share. Each day, I dutifully read the stock tables in the Seattle Times or P-I. My heart jumped or sank with every 1/8th or 1/4th point movement. Several months later with Pan Am safely in the mid $14s, I sold and pocketed a nice three hundred dollar profit after commissions. I was hooked. Making $300 in the stock market was a lot easier than working 12-hour days selling Popsicles.
It was the spring quarter of my first year of college. Among the several survey courses one took as a freshman, I selected Introduction to Economics. It was taught to 600 dozing students in a huge auditorium that college administrators called a classroom. It was a standard course for many (hence the size of the class) and a requirement for a number of majors, mainly business.
Thanks to my half semester in Mr. Hanson’s class, I excelled in Econ 200. So, of course I took Econ 201 (Microeconomics), the second of the two-part introduction to what’s often termed ‘the dismal science.’ Again, I did well.
My pragmatic nature calculated if I found a subject easy, that should be the subject for me. I continued with classes in economics and sure enough by next year was majoring in Econ. During one of those classes, students were given cut-rate subscriptions to the Wall Street Journal. It’s the newspaper I read to this day. To make a long story short, I studied hard, did well, and graduated with a B.A. in Economics, magna cum laude.
Some philosophers and historians believe an individual is little more than a floating cork in an ocean of tides and currents too strong to resist. They call this determinism. Others contend each individual is capable of free will and even small events in a person’s life can have profound affects, not only on one person, but upon history. Though acknowledging the former, I’ve found life much more interesting by subscribing to the latter. I believe one small event – taking a semester course in economics from a high school teacher I highly respect – had a profound influence on my life.
Another high school subject that proved fundamental was Mr. Worthington’s humanities class. There we learned that ancient Greeks thought four questions worth asking: “Who am I?” “Where did I come from?” “Where am I going?” and “What is the meaning of life? I’ve spent most time on the second question.
In trying to answer “Where I came from,” I’ve written a letter to a person who may not know how big of impact his high school class had on one student. Mr. Hanson – you are that person; your high school course was that impact; and I was that student.
Now, I can’t claim one student, taking a class and going to college to major in economics is going to change the course of human history. But what I can tell you is how very grateful I am to you for that class you taught 37 years ago. And for the energy and enthusiasm you put into a subject you loved. And for the difference you’ve made in my life.
Though, I admit that my preoccupation with all things ‘economic’ wasn’t always my smartest choice. It too often diverted my attention from more important things in life. Perhaps I took too long to fall in love. But when I did, it was with the right girl, at the right time, and our marriage has brought forth three delightful boys who are the apples of my eye. No one would suggest I owe this all to you.
But, I want to say thank you for one very small thing you did, a very long time ago. Because you might not have otherwise realized how you made such a very large impact on this person’s life.
You are one of my heroes . . . and you probably didn’t even know it!