EVERETT — The park named for Arnold “Arnie” Wiggum can be a bustling place in the spring, summer and fall, a wide grassy expanse for children to burn off energy and exercise their imaginations.
There’s a playground, skate park and ball field spread across 10 acres in a Northwest Everett neighborhood where many families live in subsidized housing.
It’s doubtful many youngsters would know much about the 1938 Everett High School graduate whose legacy Wiggums Hollow Park celebrates. They’re more likely to recognize the Wiggum family name from the long-running animated series “The Simpsons.” The show’s creator, Matt Groening, used family names in developing his characters. His mother, Margaret, was the inspiration for Marge Simpson, wife of Homer and mother of Bart, Lisa and Maggie. Before she married, she was Margaret Wiggum, of Everett. The police chief of the fictitious town of Springfield is Chief Wiggum.
Margaret’s brother was Arnie Wiggum, who died Feb. 9 in Wenatchee at the age of 96. He was a champion of public education. As an elementary school principal, he touched thousands of young lives and inspired teaching staffs at several Everett schools. He was the school district’s first director of Head Start and known for the soft spot he had for children growing up in poverty or with challenging home lives. An advocate of music and drama, he had a knack for convincing shy students to perform in talent shows.
“Our job,” he would tell his colleagues, “is to make sure kids are starry-eyed, not starey-eyed.”
Larry O’Donnell, himself an Everett High School graduate and retired elementary school principal, was a seventh-grade student at South Junior High School when he first encountered Wiggum in 1949.
Through the eyes of the 12-year-old, Wiggum was a dynamo, an enthusiastic and energetic English teacher. Years later, as a colleague, he was a principal to emulate.
“Everywhere he went, he was just so oriented to kids,” O’Donnell said. “He was like a big kid himself. He liked kids and they knew it.”
It was for his work as principal at Hawthorne Elementary that the park was named in his behalf.
At Hawthorne, “he was a legend, beloved by parents and students” O’Donnell said. “It is no wonder the nearby park got named for him.”
Those sentiments are echoed in a comment section accompanying his online obituary. Jeff Gentzler, of Florence, Oregon, wrote about his time as a Hawthorne student in the early 1960s: “I lived in the old projects and remember him always as just the nicest man. I remember him sometimes watching us play soccer at break time, always with a smile on his face.”
One former Hawthorne student recalled Wiggum taking him to a store to buy him a pair of shoes. Another shared the story of the time he broke a window to Wiggum’s office. He was braced for the worst but was met with compassion.
Sidra Egge, of Marysville, was a first-year teacher at View Ridge Elementary in 1977 and Wiggum was her principal. His trust and leadership made the entire staff want to live up to his expectations to meet the needs of each student, she said. Decades later, his View Ridge teachers still gather for Christmas parties and other special events. Several plan to attend his memorial service at 2 p.m. March 18 at the First United Methodist Church in Wenatchee.
As Egge tells it, Wiggum was more than a mentor. He also was a matchmaker.
On her first day at the school, Wiggum introduced her to a newly hired special education teacher. His name was Larry Egge and Wiggum would call him Lars.
Wiggum would visit their classrooms to evaluate their teaching skills and explain how they might improve at conferences afterward.
“Then he would say, ‘Now how about Lars? He is such a fine gentleman and you two should be together,’” Sidra Egge recalled. “I would blush, smile and quietly walk away.”
Six years later, Wiggum attended their wedding.
“It was because of him we got together,” Sidra Egge said.
Robert Timm was a first-year teacher at the old Monroe School, Everett’s first brick campus that opened in 1893 and closed in 1965 after earthquake damage. Wiggum was his principal.
“He bent over backward to make things work out for me as a beginning teacher,” said Timm, now 86 and living in Tulalip. “I felt, ‘Oh boy, he will be patient with me,’ and he was.”
Wiggum’s support inspired loyalty and hard work, said Timm, who also became an Everett school principal.
Dan and Ann O’Donnell, no relation to Larry O’Donnell, were parents of three children who attended View Ridge in the 1970s. Their children today are 53, 49 and 46, but the couple still fondly remembered their elementary school principal.
They were trying to promote soccer at the time and provide more opportunities for children to play. Dan O’Donnell approached Wiggum about making soccer fields at View Ridge.
“He said, ‘It’s about the kids, isn’t it?’ ” Dan O’Donnell recalled more than four decades later.
Wiggum not only approached the PTA and came up with materials, he helped dig the holes to install equipment.
“Kids came first in his mind,” Ann O’Donnell said. “I just hear his name and I get a smile on my face.”
Arnold Wiggum was born in Minnesota and moved to Everett in 1922 when he was 2. His parents met aboard a ship while emigrating to the United States. He joined the Army National Guard at 16 and met his wife of 72 years at Washington State College. His children describe his initial infatuation with Irene Nelson as “love at first laugh.” When he heard that laugh at a track meet, he approached her. He soon fell in love.
Two months after they married in 1942, Wiggum received his draft notice and became an instrument flying instructor during World War II.
The couple had five children, moving from the shadows of Everett Memorial Stadium to a home they helped build off Mukilteo Boulevard near the city limits. Growing up in the Great Depression, they took pride in providing meat on the dinner table every night. Later they watched each of their children graduate from college. Two became teachers. The other three: an accountant, an anesthesiologist and a Boeing jet salesman.
For many years, Wiggum sang in the church choir and spent countless hours fishing, crabbing and digging for clams. Always proud of his Scandinavian heritage, he liked his lutefisk and Swedish pancakes at the Sons of Norway Normanna Lodge in downtown Everett. He was pleased that View Ridge voted the Viking as its mascot under his watch.
The couple moved from Everett to Wenatchee in their early 90s to be closer to one of their sons.
Dr. David Wiggum said his dad loved the close-knit elementary school setting, “that relationship of everyone getting along and pulling together” and “the kids who achieved no matter where they started from.”
His father had a long and meaningful life, which invokes in David Wiggum’s mind an African proverb: “When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.”
“I would say that’s appropriate,” Wiggum said.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; firstname.lastname@example.org.