This is a reminiscence and reflection on Seattle's Roosevelt High School by 1934 graduate Dorothea (Pfister) Nordstrand (1916-2011). In 2009 Dorothea Nordstrand was awarded AKCHO's (Association of King County Historical Organizations) Willard Jue Memorial Award for a Volunteer, for contributing these vivid reminiscences to various venues in our community, including HistoryLink.org's People's History library.
Roosevelt High School
Watching Roosevelt High School being returned to its former impressive self is of great satisfaction to me. I remember when it was the newest school in the city and the pride we all took in having it in our neighborhood. Our family, the Pfisters, lived in Green Lake district and the new school would be ours for our high school years. It was just about a mile’s walk from home, which was nothing at that time in our lives.
We had moved from a homestead in the far northeast corner of Washington State in 1919. One of the main reasons for the move was to ensure that the children in the family could get high school education.
Our parents, Joseph and Mary Pfister, both had limited formal education and were determined that their children, John (always known to the family as Jack), Florence, and I (Dorothea), about three years old at the time we came to Seattle, would have the advantage of a high school education.
The Pfisters at Roosevelt High
Jack entered Lincoln High School almost as soon as we arrived, since that high school served all the north central part of the city. He rode the street car as close as he could and walked the rest of the way. After three years of that, we were all very glad to know there would be a new school much closer to home.
When the beautiful, new school opened, Jack was among the first students and was graduated in 1925. Florence followed him, getting her diploma in 1927. Seven years younger than my sister, I graduated in 1934.
At the time we attended, high school provided two very distinct courses of study; one for college-bound students, and one specifically suited to those of us who would hoped to go directly from high school into the workforce. All three of us took the “commercial course,” knowing there wasn’t a hope of our continuing into higher education. Our family’s financial situation didn’t allow for that.
Mama had entered each of us into the school system using a simpler spelling of our last name, so we all received diplomas and certificates of proficiency with the surname of “Fister,” instead of “Pfister,” but it never made any difference, as nobody ever asked to see those precious documents.
Music, Writing, Poetry
I want to mention my favorite teachers while in school there. Mr. Worth, whose dedicated teaching made it possible for a lot of us to enjoy music in a way we might never have had without his guidance. He has my undying gratitude.
Sam Glass, who seemed hardly older than the students he was teaching, aided and abetted my already budding love affair with reading, writing, storytelling, and poetry. The special effort he made to help me cope with an inborn shyness made a great difference in my life.
Another teacher I will never forget was a Miss Adeline Lee Rowe, who taught bookkeeping. Unfortunately for me, she had been Jack’s bookkeeping teacher. Jack was an arithmetic (as we then called mathematics) whiz, with a fascination for numbers. Teaching him to keep a set of books must have been like teaching a duck to swim.
Not John Pfister
Nine years later, when I became one of her students, it was a whole different thing. I only took the class because I had to get my credit for graduation as a commercial course student.
Debits and credits made absolutely no sense to me. My set of books soon looked a complete mess, due to the many erasures. Miss Rowe was mystified. How could a sibling of "John's," as she called Jack, be such a dud? (She didn’t say that, but I’m sure she thought it.) She had us so tied together in her mind that she often called me “John” in class, which did nothing to bolster my self confidence.
As the term wound down, it was obvious I would not be able to complete my set of books. I stayed after class one day and, shaking in my boots, asked her what I could do: that I just did not understand what she was trying to teach me; and if she would please quit calling me “John.” I can still see the stricken look on her face as she said, “Why, you poor child. Let’s see what we can do to help you.”
For the next three weeks, I came to her room a half-hour before her first class. She issued me a fresh set of books and gave me some one-on-one assistance. Suddenly, it all ironed itself out. Debits became “take aways” and credits became “add ons” and I was able to finish with the rest of the class. And, she quit calling me “John.”
A Great Honor
In my Senior year, I learned commercial law from James Chamberlin and found, much to my surprise, that I had a talent for the logic entailed. At the end of the year the two top students in that class were offered scholarships by Judge Black, a prominent figure in our judicial system. Raymond Royal was the first one selected. He went on to become a lawyer and, eventually, a judge.
I was the second one so honored, but there was never any question of my accepting the scholarship. College was not to be thought of. I was anxious to get out into the world to become a wage-earner and take some of the financial burden of our needy family from the shoulders of my Mom, my sorely crippled Dad, and my sister, Florence.
The Next Generation
Thirty years after my graduation, our eldest son, David donned the green and gold cap and gown from the same school and two years later, in 1966, his brother John followed. Both of them went on to get degrees from the University of Washington.
Daughter Hildy went from Roosevelt in 1970 on to North Seattle Community College to get her Certificate as Medical Assistant. Youngest son, Paul, 1973 graduate, went on to Shoreline Community College. While at Roosevelt, John and Paul each played on the Varsity football team and John earned Seattle All-City Team status while playing catcher for the Varsity baseball team.
I guess you could say Roosevelt High School has been a big factor in my family’s life. We look forward to its restoration.