Kateri Brow

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.

Top 10 Records in the Digital Collections from 2014

Last year was the first year we debuted our Top 10 records of the year. You can see that post here. So continuing in that tradition, here are the top 10 records of 2014.

10. Oral History Transcript of Dorothy Hailstone Beale
Dorothy Hailstone Beal (right) ca 1936
Accessed 52 times, this is the transcript of Dorothy Hailstone Beale oral history as interviewed by Maria McLeod on October 27, 2006. Topics covered include the KKK, the Depression, World War 2, and many other interesting topics.
9. Friend of Josephine Cornick, modeling her gym bloomers
This pictures was #2 on our list last year. Still a popular picture it seems as it was accessed 53 times; it’s from Josephine Cornick’s personal collection of pictures. Presumably Jo’s friend stands outside Issaquah High School in her gym pants.
8. Fifteen Mile Mine
This is a new one to the list – a photo of Fifteen Mile Mine taken at the entrance. In a tie with #8, this photo was accessed 53 times this year. This is the mine where George Weyerhaeuser was kept when he was kidnapped in the 1930s. No mining was actually done out of the Fifteen Mile Mine – instead it was a stock scam.
7. Oral History Transcript of Jake Jones Jr.
believed to be Jake Jones Jr. ca 1890
Accessed 56 times in 2014, this transcript of Jake Jones Jr. oral history contains fascinating and colorful stories touching on many, many topics of early Issaquah.
6. The 1938 Alpine Football Team
A perennial favorite of ours, this photo of the Alpine Football Team was accessed 63 times. View the full record (linked below) for another image with listing of names. Click here to view all records of ours relating to this scrappy semi-pro football team of Issaquah.
5. Oral History Transcript of Bill Evans
Bill Evans in uniform
This transcript of Bill Evans’ oral history was accessed 64 times in 2014. We’ve written about Bill Evans before – here, here, and here.
4. Letter from Fran Pope to Rita Perstac, Jan. 5, 1989
This letter was #4 last year as well as this year. This letter from Fran Pope jumped from 51 times accessed in 2013 to 135 times accessed in 2014. This letter is an important part of our Greater Issaquah Coalition Collection.
3. Labor Day Queen Arline Nikko with her Family
Arline Nikko and family ca 1953
Accessed 177 times, this photo shows Labor Day Queen Arline Nikko front and center holding hands with her future husband Floyd Hefferline. Far left is Matt Nikko; over Arline’s right shoulder are her twin uncles Larry and Toivo Nikko. See full record linked below for more information.
2. Janice Ott
Janice Ott ca 1970s
This photo was accessed 181 times in 2014. Janice Ott was a victim of serial killer Ted Bundy. She was abducted from Lake Sammamish State Park on July 14, 1974 along with Denise Naslund. Their remains were later found together on Taylor Mountain. Ott was a resident of Issaquah at the time of her death – she lived in a house on Front Street near the Issaquah Press Building.
1. Opening of New Vasa Hall in Upper Preston
ca 1950
This photo is very popular – it was #1 last year as well! Last year it was accessed a mere 64 times compared to this year’s 325 times! This photograph commemorates the opening of the new Vasa Hall in Upper Preston in 1950. Ernie Nyberg is just to the right of center in the back row. Buford Ambrose is the tallest in the back row. More information can be found in the full record linked below.

From the Digital Collections: Back to School!

With the end of August and summer comes back to school season. Here are some class pictures of Issaquah’s schools from the past 130 years.
Tibbetts’ School ca 1883
Full Record
Squak School ca 1890
Full Record
Issaquah’s First School Building ca 1898
Full Record
Issaquah Grade School ca 1923
Full Record
Issaquah 6th Grade Class ca 1934
Full Record
IHS Junior Class ca 1948
Full Record
Clark Elementary School ca 1966
Full Record

From the Digital Collections: Happy 4th of July!

Girls in Patriotic Garb on 4th of July
Full Record


“As more families moved to the area and began building a community together, celebrations became part of the social fabric. Pictured here circa 1915 are celebrants of the Fourth of July.”
– p42, #62 Arcadia book caption

See All July 4th Related Records

Touching History

I credit my father with sowing the seeds of my career choice. He was a history teacher, and traveling across America with him in the ’60s was like traveling with my own personal tour guide. It was an era when most children from rural Maine, where we lived, went on very few school field trips, but as we drove through long stretches with no exterior entertainment but the scenery and scratchy AM radio music, he would tell me about what had happened in those places. I still have vague memories of General Mad Anthony Wayne in the Revolution in New York, and there are pictures of me standing in the rain at Little Big Horn and in the sun in the ruts of the Oregon Trail where it crossed into Kansas. I was fascinated, and I kept imagining what it would have been like to be part of the events that these places had hosted. I desperately wanted a time machine.

Probably the day that sealed my decision to work in museums, rather than in formal academia, came during the summer that I was eight. Not that I knew it then, but here’s what happened.

We were in North Dakota, and it had been a hard day. On our way between Grand Forks and Mount Rushmore, we either got lost, or there were no good roads. The gravel washboard that we’d spent the morning driving over had done a number on my little girl’s stomach, and car sickness won. My mother got out and walked with me until I could deal with the car again, but I was pretty bedraggled. Late in the day, we arrived in a town called Medora. There was a house museum in town, and we were all eager for an interesting reason to get out of the car. So we stopped at the Chateau de Mores. They were about to close, but it had been a quiet day, and we had four people willing to pay for a tour, so the guides on duty gave us a very personal one. Medora de Mores had been a wealthy woman, and she had fine things even in her summer house in the Badlands in the 1880s. When she stopped summering there, she left almost everything behind. What I actually remember from that day in 1965 are her square piano (they let me play some of my careful beginning piano student music on it), her many travel trunks (I always like to pack plenty of wardrobe, and they could have packed me and my clothes and dolls and books in any of several of those behemoths!), and her side saddle (which they let me sit on). As a museum professional who is dedicated to preserving the artifacts and documents that show us the past, I am horrified by how much contact they let me have with the original artifacts. But the truth is, it is the things I could touch that I experienced most fully that day. The lesson I learned that revealed itself over time was that nothing replaces being in the real setting, with the real things, that defined the parameters of the happenings of the past.

So how does this apply to here and now in the Issaquah History Museums? We preserve and share real buildings where key parts of Issaquah’s history happened. The Gilman Town Hall was here before the town became “Issaquah,” and it housed not only early town decision making, but also early elementary scholars. It continues in that tradition, holding exhibits that share and explain the development of this community from the days of the Native American inhabitants to the present. It has many “hands on” features that let visitors have the opportunity to connect physically with the ways in which people carried out the tasks of their lives before they had today’s tools. The 1920s jail still stands in the back yard, and visitors can go inside. The Depot is located a couple of blocks away, between the train tracks, where it facilitated the relatively easy connection between local daily life and the rest of the world. You could ride the train north a stop or two to Monohon to work in the mill, or you could take it to connect to Seattle and boats across the Pacific. You could ship coal out or milk in on the trains, and the mail came more than once a day. Today’s visitors can experience the spaces that housed the commercial and transit hub of the community. They can try the telegraph, too, using the fastest communication method of its day. They can climb aboard the caboose, and they can visit the diorama in the Army Car to see how the train connected a variety of places in this part of the world. Next year they will be able to board the Trolley for a ride through the center of town.

One of the ways in which we share these physical legacies is through providing tours to school groups. Our school tours are tailored for the ages involved, and we can do them for any group from pre-school to senior high. The tours provide an enjoyable personal connection to the history of this place where we now live our twenty-first century lives. There are groups who come every year, but we would like to share this experience with more students. We know that teachers at all levels must fulfill specific curriculum needs, and we work to ensure that our offerings will help that effort and be a good and effective use of their class time. The cost of bussing students to visit on location can also be an issue, but there may be funds available to underwrite this kind of personal local learning experience.

Please contact us if you want to discuss scheduling a tour or any of the logistics of doing so. We want to make Issaquah’s history available and engaging to all ages. When you touch history, sometimes history touches you.

Jake Schomber’s Nieces

A generous grant from 4Culture is currently funding the digitization and cataloging of several archival collections, including the letters of Minnie Wilson and Jake Schomber, Issaquah residents and sweetheart. The couple corresponded during World War I, when Jake was serving in the Army. This post is part of a series of posts about their lives and letters.

After finishing the cataloging of the letters between Jake Schomber and Minnie Wilson, I came across some miscellaneous letters written to Jake during WWI. This was an exciting event as the letters of Minnie and Jake, while interesting, become a little repetitious after awhile. I have noticed that while reading correspondence (whether it be Minnie and Jake’s or the Anderson’s) there are references to other letters written and it makes me curious to read that specific letter. But, for some reason, the letter mentioned is not in our collection. This always reminds me that what I find important in an item is not necessarily what was important to the original recipient.

With this letter, however, it is not hard to see why Jake kept it.

The letter is from his niece, Evelyn Lewis, daughter of Anna Schomber Lewis and Joseph Lewis. It is dated October 5, 1918, and in the painstaking script of a 10-year-old Evelyn told Jake all of what she deemed important and newsworthy in Issaquah.

(click on the letters to read them full-size)

She begins by talking about the hunting by the men in her family. She probably knew Jake was an avid hunter and liked this kind of information. She rats our her dad, Jake’s brother-in-law, calling him an “awful poor sportsman” and that “he’s went hunting twice and didn’t bring home a thing.”

She continues by saying that Carrie is home again, presumably her Aunt Carrie, Jake’s sister. I am curious to do a little more digging to determine where Carrie was, perhaps school?

As someone who loves shopping the next part was my favorite (I have corrected some of the punctuation, not all, to make it easier to read):

“Mama went to Seattle Saturday and got a suit a pair of shoes and two waists and a hat[.] [S]he got some gingham for the kids she brought some candy to[o]. [D]ad bought two pairs of shoes a pair for him and a pair for Tom[.] Mama bought a pair of shoes for me but I am sorry to say that Toms[,] dads and my pair of shoes were small and we had only three working days in which to exchange the shoes. [S]o dad said he’d go down to Seattle and exchange them so he went down Wednesday and exchanged them[.] [H]e got me a pair of shoes that costs $6.50 they are brown shoes. Toms are to but dad got a tan pair. I wish you could see them gee they are nice.”

Evelyn’s section on new shoes and waists is the majority of the letter. A trip into Seattle would have been a big deal and she was probably excited to relay the whole ordeal of her parents going into Seattle not just once but twice. (As a side note, inflation on that price for a pair of shoes roughly translates into $100 today.)

Evelyn’s letter also contains a separate piece of paper on which she has written “Here is too pictures Florence made you aren’t they beautiful.” On the front of the paper Florence, Evelyn’s 4-year-old sister, has drawn a house (complete with door, window and chimney) and a lady. The amazing part about these drawings is that you could compare them with the drawings of a 4-year-old of today and they would be very similar. It seems that the stylings in drawings of children doesn’t change much, even over almost 100 years.

This letter and the enclosed drawing was such a pleasure for me to find in our collection that I can’t imagine how happy Jake must have been to receive it while in the Army. Jake was still in Camp Fremont at the time Evelyn (and Florence) wrote the letter but no more than 2 weeks later he was shipped out to go overseas. I can imagine this letter helped to lift his spirits.