While Issaquah’s first woman mayor was referred to disparagingly as a “lady mayor,” she set a precedent for other women who would run for — and attain — the office of mayor.
This story originally appeared in the Issaquah Reporter on December 18, 2009.
By Jean Cerar
Walt Seil was an Issaquah native, as was his father, Edward “Nogs” Seil, before him.
When Walt recorded his memories for the Issaquah History Museums Oral History Video Project, he especially relished telling stories about his dad’s time as the town marshal.
That was during the 1950s and it was a different era. The sign by the railroad crossing on East Sunset announced that the town’s population was 812. Everyone knew everyone else and Marshal Seil provided community policing before the term had been invented.
Ed Seil was a logger and a city water department employee before he was tapped for law enforcement.
Here are some of Walt’s stories about him.
“When they had to have a new marshal, they asked Dad to be the marshal, so he accepted the job. He didn’t know anything about police work at the time, but he could fight and he handled drunks, so that’s what they wanted. There were two grocery stores and five beer parlors in Issaquah at that time. Issaquah was a pretty rough town.
I’ll tell you something. I was coming home from work one night – I was working graveyard shift at the creosote plant [in Seattle] – and I was coming up Sunset. The [Grand Central] hotel was on the left, and the beer parlor and restaurant.
And my dad had a man up against the wall. And there was a woman behind him with a purse, beating my dad with the back of her purse – smacking him – while he was holding this guy against the wall, fighting him, see. And there was another couple there besides.
So I thought, Gee, he’s in trouble. So I stopped the car, got out and went over and asked him, ‘Do you need some help, Dad?’
He says, ‘No. But who’s that car up there in the middle of the street?’
He says, ‘Get it off the goddamn street!’
Then another time, his dad – my grandpa – who lived down by the creamery (Darigold plant) in Issaquah in a house Dad built for him, caused an incident. My grandpa was close to 90 years old, and always liked to come up and sit in the beer parlor and have a few beers.
Well, there was a woman sitting next to him. And be bought her a beer, see. And then another guy come in and sits on the other side of her. He’s going to buy her a beer, and it made Grandpa mad, see. Ninety years old and he’s going to fight this guy because he’s interfering!
So they called my dad in. He took Grandpa by the neck and walked him outside and he says, ‘I’m going to put you in jail until you sober up.’
My dad did not lock the door; he just put him in there. So Grandpa, he laid down on the bed. We got back on the sidewalk and Dad said, ‘You watch.’
Pretty soon, Grandpa sticks his head out the door, looks around, comes out, looks down the railroad track and then down the railroad track he goes to home!
One night I was down at Dad’s and somebody called him and says, ‘Across the street there’s a big noise going on.’ So Dad says, ‘C’mon, go with me.’ We got in the car and went up there. And here on the outside of the door is a naked woman, pounding on the door! Her husband had locked her out.
Dad got out of the car, went over and took his coat and put it on this woman. Then he knocked on the door and told the guy who he was and the guy opened the door, see. He took her in, and Dad gave him the riot act. Then he turned around; he didn’t put the guy in jail or nothing.
We had lots of things going on at that time.
Dad did a good job. Everybody liked him. And everybody knew not to cross him. He had a quick temper. He got along great.
He always carried a gun, but he never used it.”
Walt Seil died in October 2008 at age 88. He was a long-time supporter of the Issaquah History Museums and a great resource for information about the old days. He was always cheerful and kind to new museum volunteers.
The last time I saw Walt, I was docenting at the Depot. He pulled up in front on his snazzy red power chair and sat staring at the building.
I went out to greet him and asked what he was up to. “Oh, I’m just out looking around the old town,” he said wistfully.
I went back inside and swallowed a lump in my throat, afraid I had witnessed a farewell tour.
Not long afterwards, Walt was gone.
This article originally appeared in the Issaquah Reporter on October 30, 2009
By Barbara de Michele
In Native American culture, the raven is a mystical symbol of change.
If you patronize the Issaquah Public Library, you may have noticed a set of three ravens — one on a bench facing Front Street, one “flying” into the library over the entrance, and the third near the children’s section, clasping a set of keys in its talons.
Looking closer, you may have even noticed that the library’s three ravens memorialize Kateri Brow.
Who was this remarkable woman, what role did she play in Issaquah history, and why the three ravens?
Kateri Brow (pronounced Bro) served as superintendent of the Issaquah School District from January, 1987 until her death in 1992.
A little like our current President Obama, Brow faced significant challenges when she took the helm of our local district.
Financially devastated, the district was in severe financial straits.
Unprecedented community growth was pushing the district to hire teachers and build schools for 500 to 1,000 new students per year.
And, in the mid-80’s, the state of Washington embarked on a school reform effort that was turning traditional curriculum topsy-turvy.
Given these circumstances, the school board turned to a most unusual choice to lead the district.
Kateri Brow was a short (about 5’ tall), squat, round-chested woman with a booming voice and a booming laugh.
Born and raised in Neah Bay, Brow was proud of her Native American heritage. She wore her hair long and straight, reminiscent of the hippie era in which she came of age, and she favored flowing shirts over slacks.
In some respects she was a hippie, with her love of acoustic guitar, photography and her forested home on Beaver Lake.
But the Issaquah educators and parents who revered Brow also knew of her shrewd intellect and wry sense of humor, her ability to lead people through difficult decisions, and her integrity.
A Seattle University graduate, Brow arrived in Issaquah in 1971 as a Maple Hills Elementary special education teacher.
Once, in an address before the Issaquah Women Professionals organization, Brow explained her decision to build a career within a single district.
As a student, Brow had carefully researched Washington school districts, looking for the right combination of a progressive community, creative educators, opportunities for professional growth, and a good place to live. Issaquah fit the bill, and she applied for a job which she readily received.
Issaquah would become the place where she would stake her life and career.
Brow made rapid progress from classroom teacher to Special Education Manager in 1973, to Director of Program Planning in 1977, to Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction in 1983.
During these years of professional growth, the Issaquah community increasingly embraced Brow as “one of our own.” Brow’s reputation and stature grew along with the status of her titles.
In late 1986, the Issaquah community received shocking news: the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s office was threatening to take over district operations because of a significant budget deficit.
At a packed meeting held at the Issaquah Valley Elementary School gymnasium on January 5, 1987 the board named Brow as Interim Superintendent, replacing James Swick.
Public confidence in the district hit an all-time low. Voters expressed skepticism over the district’s ability to handle levy and bond funds. Parents removed students and transferred them to other districts and private schools. Fifty-three classified workers and nearly 30 certificated teachers and administrators lost their jobs.
Brow moved quickly to restore confidence, visiting schools, classrooms, PTA and Chamber of Commerce meetings.
At one point she climbed aboard school buses and rode with students and drivers, asking for their input into solving Issaquah’s financial woes.
In a “stump speech” that became rather famous within the district, Brow went from school faculty to school faculty, extolling the virtues of saving every penny of taxpayer’s money.
“Pull the drawers out of your desks and see how many paperclips you can find,” she would tell the assembled teachers.
Her already-established credentials as a master teacher and administrator helped. A strong sense of teamwork began to pervade the district.
Internally, Brow re-structured the district’s finance office. Within a few short months, the board enacted budget controls and oversight measures still in place today. Subsequently, the district’s bond rating was renewed at the highest possible level.
Finally, Brow directed district curriculum leaders to establish a cyclical review system, ensuring that every area of student learning was subject to continuous quality improvement.
In the spring of 1987, the first test of Brow’s leadership loomed large: a levy and bond election. Significantly, voters approved the levy and bond, an amazing accomplishment for the neophyte superintendent.
On May 1, 1987 the board named Brow permanent superintendent, her title until her death from cancer in Nov., 1992.
In her short tenure, Brow received numerous awards and honors, as did the Issaquah School District. Most memorably, in 1988 she was named Washington State Superintendent of the Year.
Across every curriculum area, student test scores rose until Issaquah was at or near the top of all districts in the state.
Students were also recognized for excellence in sports, in the arts and drama. Issaquah became known as an innovator in technology, well ahead of other districts.
Encouraged by Brow, parents established the Issaquah Schools Foundation, an organization that has since raised millions for Issaquah schools and students.
Beyond Issaquah, Brow played a significant role in the development of standards that later shaped Washington State’s school reform movement.
Which brings us back to the Issaquah library’s three ravens, particularly the raven with the keys in its talons.
Brow told the story of how one of her own Neah Bay teachers had shown her a set of keys.
“Learning is like this set of keys,” the teacher said. “Every time you learn something new, you find a way to open another door.”
In Native American culture, the raven is a mystical symbol of change, sometimes whimsical but often profound.
Brow was such a change-maker, opening doors for herself and others throughout her life.
Vernon “Babe” Anderson was born in 1927 in Renton, WA to Albert A. Anderson and Ruth Johns Anderson. Babe was interviewed in 2008 by Maria McLeod as part of IHM’s oral history project. His extensive oral history covers his grandparent’s immigration to the United States and Issaquah, through his life growing up and remaining in Issaquah. Subjects covered include working at Issaquah Creamery, being drafted for both WWII and the Korean War, and his father’s various building projects including two houses that still remain as part of Gilman Village. The City of Issaquah acquired Vernon’s family’s land and buildings for part of the Confluence Park Project. Vernon requested recognition of his grandfather, Tolle Anderson, in the park project.
January 10, 1893–January 8, 1895
Peter Vroom Davis was born in New Jersey, to parents William Smith Davis and Phebe A. Morton. Although William Smith Davis was a farmer, he was descended from an old New Jersey family that included Peter D. Vroom, fifth governor of New Jersey. P.V. Davis had a long career as an attorney in Washington State. Davis moved to Issaquah with his first wife, Willmena, and was living there as of 1892 when the territorial census was taken. In addition to his wife, his brother Augustus W. Davis, and son Walter, age 3, were living with him. Davis became the major of Gilman at the tender age of 25 and served until 1895. His must have been divorced or widowed between 1892 and 1896, because he married Nettie Doxy of Issaquah in December 1896. Nettie’s father John served on the Town Council. By 1900 the couple was living in Seattle, where they remained until at least 1931. Peter Vroom Davis died in California in 1948.
In 2006, we launched a project to record and transcribe oral histories with more than twenty-five community members. At the end of the project, after staff members had an opportunity to review the transcripts, we realized the value of the information we’d gathered. We’re thrilled to begin sharing the contents of our oral history collection! There is a wealth of interesting stories and memories within the oral history collection – each oral history transcript contains dozens of pages of memories about a variety of people and topics.
This month our Memory Books are in the spotlight! During the year 2001, the Issaquah Historical Society collected memories from a number of long-time Issaquah residents, which we have gathered her for you peruse in their entirety.
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MUSEUM HOURS & LOCATION
Gilman Town Hall
165 SE Andrews Street
Issaquah Depot Museum
78 First Avenue NE
Issaquah Valley Trolley
78 First Avenue NE