School — And Life — Was A Lot Tougher For Issaquah High’s First Graduate
October 27, 1982
by Joe Peterson
Special to the Press
The Baptist church, now an office building on Rainier Avenue, was.packed. Mabel Ek, 17, was clad in a newlymade dress, knitted gloves. and shoes ordered from Portland. This was clearly a special occasion. After all, only 500 people lived in Issaquah and they had come on horseback, foot, or in buggies virtually en mass to catch a glimpse of Mable, Olive Gibson and Mary Gibson. These young women, together since kindergarten, had come of age. And in its own way, the town had too, for Issaquah had its first high school graduating class – three young women
Issaquah High’s first graduates: (from left) Mary Gibson, Olive Gibson and Mabel Ek (Brady). Photo courtesy of Mabel Brady.
This class of 1911 was the first in the school that had begun in 1908, an eight-room, two story building located where Issaquah Junior High is today. Mable, now 89, is quick to put it all in perspective as she looks back to the event 71 years ago.
“We didn’t know we were pioneers, we just went to school to learn, we didn’t have playdays.” Mabel marvels at the current homecoming activities and worries some that kids today may take for granted “all that is done for them.” Her school life was decidedly different from what she observes today.
Living on a five-acre farm behind Darigold, Mable and her five brothers and four sisters were kept busy by her Swedish parents even before the school day began. A slate in the kitchen listed chores to be completed before leaving for the walk through town to schoolhouse hill. After passing through the schoolyard turnstile (designed to keep cattle and other roaming animals out) she went up the stairs to her classroom.
When Mabel wasn’t fetching coal for the school’s potbelly stove, Latin, German and botany required her full attention. School curriculum was rigorous and to this day she can recall the names of her best teachers. Mabel notes that her thirst for knowledge was satisfied by one dictionary which served the entire school and a library stocked by an accumulation of donated books from the community.
Thirsts of another kind were quenched from one common cup attached near a faucet on the bottom floor. What might appear to be a public health official’s nightmare didn’t seem to hurt Issaquah kids. As Mabel points out, “Some of us are still here to tell the story.”
While resources may have been thin, resourcefulness was not. Debates were held, boys competed in sports, and plays were performed. Mabel remembers going out of town several times to perform “The Merchant of Venice” in surrounding communities and the unique mode of transportation they used to get there.
“We took a hand car at the Issaquah railroad depot and went to Redmond and Kirkland to put on that play!”
Mabel Ek Brady
Mabel still keeps her botany textbook and the memories of her assignments are still fresh.
“We had to find and classify 100 specimens from the valley here in a notebook – now that’s work!” Mabel thinks her appreciation of nature, “the common things of life,” stemmed from this assignment. “Material things aren’t important, I’m just sure of it. Botany made me think of all the wonderful things God has put in the forest for us to enjoy.”
Mabel’s graduating class motto has also made her think back over the years.
“We had a very good motto when we graduated, I often think about it. It was ‘Tonight we launch, where will we anchor?’ Well, I anchor right back here in Issaquah – I came back every year and try to support the school in every way I can.”
While it may be quite a different school from her experience that she returns to each year, Mabel Ek Brady is IHS’ link to its beginnings 71 years ago.