A Salute to Teachers and the Last Cow in Friday Harbor
SJI Historical Museum is back with their History Column for September…
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.