Education was shared passion for senator, sister

  • Tue May 29th, 2012 7:27pm
  • News

By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist

It began as a secret.

Long ago, during Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson’s early years in Congress, lawmakers could earn honoraria for giving speeches without reporting how much they made or how it was spent.

Jackson, first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives at 28 in 1940, gave that money away. Recipients were college-bound students from his hometown of Everett.

One who was helped by Jackson’s selflessness was Seth Dawson, Snohomish County’s prosecutor from 1982 to 1994.

Dawson, quoted in a 2008 article by Herald writer Jerry Cornfield on the 25th anniversary of Jackson’s death, said the anonymous gift helped pay his way through the University of Washington. Dawson didn’t learn his helper’s identity until after Jackson died in 1983.

“The donor just wanted a letter from time to time on our progress,” Dawson said in 2008. “I do recall sending at least one. I certainly wish I had done more.”

The late senator wasn’t the only one in his family with a passion for education.

Gertrude Jackson, his older sister, taught at Everett’s Garfield Elementary School for more than 40 years.

She was born in 1899, almost 13 years before Henry’s birth. A 1916 graduate of Everett High School, she attended Bellingham Normal School, now Western Washington University.

From the time she signed her Everett School District contract in 1921 until retiring in 1964, Gertrude Jackson taught third grade at Garfield. Generations passed through her classrooms.

Still today, her legacy and her brother’s generosity are shaping futures. On June 6, at a private reception at the Jackson home in Everett, 20 students graduating from Everett and Mukilteo high schools will receive scholarships from the Gertrude Jackson Memorial Fund. Each will get $2,300.

Larry O’Donnell, who serves on the board that oversees the Gertrude Jackson fund, said that by the late 1960s Sen. Jackson had incorporated his honoraria contributions into the Garfield Memorial Fund. That fund helped children from low-income families with dental and medical bills and clothing needs.

Gertrude Jackson died in 1969. By the 1970s, federal ethics laws required members of Congress to file personal financial disclosure reports. In the interest of transparency, anonymous giving was out the window.

In 1973, the Garfield Fund was formally established as the Gertrude Jackson Memorial Fund Charitable Trust.

When the 20 graduates are honored next month, O’Donnell said the fund will have given scholarships to more than 1,000 college-bound teens and awarded more than $1 million. Students fill out applications, and winners are selected by an 11-member advisory board. While the fund could give out fewer but larger awards, O’Donnell said the scholarships are intended as a first-year college boost.

“The philosophy is if we could get them started, they could find a way to stay there,” said O’Donnell, a local historian and retired Everett School District administrator. He added that the advisory board works to help students going to community colleges.

That approach helped Janelle Phinney, a Gertrude Jackson Memorial Fund scholarship winner in 1989.

A graduate of Cascade High School, the 41-year-old Phinney is now principal at Everett’s Hawthorne Elementary School. With the Jackson fund award and another scholarship, she could afford tuition and books for her first year at Shoreline Community College. “The premise of the selection committee is to get students in the door. A good start gives a better chance for continuing success,” she said.

Phinney remembers attending the scholarship reception at the Jackson home, and meeting Helen Jackson, the senator’s widow.

The Hawthorne principal will be back there next month to speak to this year’s winners. Dawson, who received his anonymous gift in 1969, will also speak at the scholarship event.

“What an honor. I’ll be in some pretty esteemed company,” Phinney said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Scholarship fund

Twenty graduating seniors from the Everett and Mukilteo school districts will each receive a $2,300 scholarship this year from the Gertrude Jackson Memorial Fund. They will be honored at a private reception June 6. Scholarship donations may be made to: Gertrude Jackson Memorial Fund, in care of Wells Fargo Private Bank, 1604 Hewitt Ave., Suite 408, Everett, WA 98201.