A Salute to Teachers and the Last Cow in Friday Harbor

SJI Historical Museum is back with their History Column for September…

Walter and Juanita Nichols – Contributed photo

September is traditionally when we devote the history column to something related to “back to school days.” We have featured students, schoolhouses, and teachers of many different eras. Since this is such an unusual year for all our students and teachers, we thought it appropriate to add the element of the cow. You will see shortly how that fits in with a salute to teachers. Some of you will already remember how.

Pictured above is one of Friday Harbor’s more well-known teachers, Walter R. Nichols, with his wife Juanita Barry, also a teacher. Walter was born in Kansas in 1883 and came out west to Washington as a child with his family, graduating from teacher’s college in Bellingham before coming to San Juan Island.

This was in 1907 when he was hired as principal of Friday Harbor Public School. Walter was just 24 years old then, at the beginning of a long career in education. He spent a year teaching in Alaska for the 1909-1910 school year, returning to Washington upon the completion of that contract. Walter and Juanita were married in 1912, and their family would grow with the addition of three children: Floyd, Wenonah, and Elizabeth. Walter continued his own education through the University of California, Stanford University, and the University of Washington for his Masters.

Walter taught at Friday Harbor’s first high school and retired from teaching in 1939. He became a rural mail carrier on the island, was active in the Grange, Odd Fellows, and the American Legion. In 1961, he was elected to the first board of the newly formed San Juan Historical Society. He was also appointed San Juan County Superintendent of Schools, serving until 1967.

And the cow? After Juanita passed away in 1956, Walter married another teacher by the name of Grace Waikle. They are remembered by many for having one of the last cows within the town limits of Friday Harbor. We would like to think this could have been the last cow. This was at the Nichols property on Spring Street, with a house that still stands. Many of us islanders have been inside. It now houses Friday Harbor Dentistry.                                         

Walter died in 1969 and Grace followed in 1974. The “Walter Nichols Continuing Scholarship Fund” was established upon Walter’s passing by the San Juan P.T.A. for Friday Harbor High School graduates enrolled in college, technical school, or vocational training. We don’t know what Walter would think of this year’s virtual classrooms, but we are certain he would tip his hat to the dedication of today’s teachers, students, and parents to make it work. If you have a memory of Walter, Juanita, or Grace, please leave a comment.

Posted on September 2, 2020 at 5:30 am by

Categories: History, People, Schools


  1. I remember Walter being the mail carrier as I was growing on Beaverton Valley Road!

    Comment by Bob Guard on September 2, 2020 at 8:09 am
  2. I was hoping you would chime in. Thanks, Bob!

    Comment by Robin Jacobson on September 2, 2020 at 9:22 am
  3. I am Walter Nichols granddaughter and I am wondering if would be please E mail me a copy of the article.

    Comment by Launa jones on September 2, 2020 at 4:37 pm
  4. Email has been sent. Thanks for making the connection!

    Comment by Peggy Sue McRae on September 2, 2020 at 6:49 pm
  5. Thank you, Peggy Sue. And hello, Launa. I’m one of the history column writers from the San Juan Historical Museum. I’ve wanted to write about your grandfather for a long time. His obituary was a major source for details. Please let us know if there was anything incorrect there.

    Comment by Robin Jacobson on September 2, 2020 at 7:11 pm
  6. Is Nichols Street named this Nichols family?

    Comment by Sherri Daly on September 2, 2020 at 8:35 pm
  7. I thought that Uncle John Nash had the last milk cow in Friday Harbor.
    He and Aunt Edna Hemphill lived in the house (not on the corner) now is part of the Spring St International School.
    Guard N Sundstrom

    Comment by Guard sundstrom on September 2, 2020 at 8:51 pm
  8. Thank you, Guard. We will add this cow to the story. We have another cow, once owned by Bill Chevalier on Guard Street, that has been mentioned. So we have cows in the running, it seems! These are great additions to the story.

    Comment by Robin Jacobson on September 3, 2020 at 9:35 am
  9. For Sherri Daly, Nichols Street is named for the other Nichols family. No relation to Walter Nichols. Idele LaPlante Nichols (1855-1928) was an early property owner and commercial developer of Friday Harbor’s downtown core. It is quite notable for a woman of her era. Thanks for a good question.

    Comment by Robin Jacobson on September 3, 2020 at 9:48 am
  10. My mom, Jackie Douglas Hubbard, says she remembers Mr. Nichols taught Civics class when she was in school, about 1938. She says it was a very interesting class. She remembers Mr. Nichols as a dapper, gray-haired man who wore a gray suit.

    Comment by Shaun Hubbard on September 7, 2020 at 10:09 am
  11. Please thank your mom for adding to the story, Shaun. Civics sounds like a class that Walter Nichols would love to teach. Details like these are sometimes hard to come by!

    Comment by Robin Jacobson on September 7, 2020 at 1:00 pm
  12. Was Walter Nichols ( We would have called him Mr Nichols) on the Cemetary Board for the Valley Cemetary? About 1963

    Comment by Guard sundstrom on September 7, 2020 at 5:54 pm
  13. Guard, we have not seen a reference to Walter Nichols being on the cemetery district board, but it does sound like something he would do. Research for the column showed he was very civic minded all his adult life and involved in many community organizations. Maybe someone else knows about this one and will comment.

    Comment by Robin Jacobson on September 8, 2020 at 12:01 pm

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