EVERETT — Grandpa taught her how to shine her shoes.
When the time came, Nicole “Nikki’” Wagner taught her cousin, Sammantha Durr.
Sammantha’s younger sister, Christina, was next.
The girls have followed each other through Everett High School, all of them active in the Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps, known informally as ROTC.
“My family was Marines,” said their grandmother, Peggy Durr. “My dad, my brothers, my uncles, a lot of Marines, and I married an Army guy.”
In the Durr household in Everett’s Riverside neighborhood, the traditions of the armed forces are a way of life, passed down with humility and honor.
With a house full of girls, though, there’s still plenty of room for being boisterous.
The girls were on a military-style drill team for nearly a decade before high school. In drill, they learned to twirl wooden rifles.
When Nikki, the oldest, got to high school she had to decide between drill and ROTC.
Grandma suggested ROTC.
Nikki found that she liked Color Guard, marching in a group.
“The other two just kind of followed right along,” Peggy Durr said.
Together, the three girls have gone on ROTC field trips and traveled to competitions, plus practices — several times a week, before and after school. ROTC is where they’ve made most of their friends.
The girls perform at military remembrance events, community fundraisers, festivals, marathons, senior centers and the like.
“Half of our life is pretty much ROTC,” said Nikki, 17.
Some events, such as Memorial Day, are somber. At other ceremonies, though, sometimes it’s hard to keep a straight face, the girls said. Little kids will act goofy around the ROTC students in uniform, trying to get them to laugh.
Sammy Durr, 16, French-braids the other girls’ hair before events. She likes doing hair and nails, and she is thinking about becoming a cosmetologist.
The other girls say they’ve waited patiently for Sammy to get better at the braids: tight enough to stay in place but not so tight it pulls the hair out.
At 15, Christina Durr is the reader, the 4.0 student.
She once called her grandmother from school: She needed a ride, because she’d gleaned a box of books that were being given away. She has 200 titles on her Kindle this summer.
Christina is considering going to culinary school after graduation. She’d like to learn how to make fancy cakes.
Her grandmother calls Christina “the brains.”
“Does that make Sammy and I the brawns?” Nikki asks, laughing.
Nikki is the leader. Her first two years in ROTC, she logged more than 280 community service hours. Sammy is at 134 hours.
Nikki wants to teach elementary school math and sign language. She likes working with underdogs. The plan is to continue her studies at Everett Community College.
“It keeps me close to home so I can live with Grandma still,” she said. “Grandma already said I could.”
The Durrs adopted Sammy and Christina about 18 months ago. Nikki spends plenty of time with her cousins at the Durr house.
The girls all are fourth-generation Everett High School students.
They have a deal: Grandma keeps the house clean, and the girls finish school. Graduation comes before everything, even ROTC, Peggy Durr said, though the girls are expected to keep their rooms tidy.
“Grandma says they’re not chores, they’re us helping her out,” Sammy said.
At school, each girl has earned the monthly department scholar awards for the ROTC program.
Nikki is a ROTC cadet ensign and training officer. She trains the newbies. She gets jittery before performing.
Sammy is a cadet chief petty officer and honor platoon commander. Christina is a cadet petty officer second-class, the integrity platoon chief and assistant community service officer.
Christina isn’t as fond of the marching. She likes working logistics at events — taking pictures, directing parking, making sure folks have water.
For her, ROTC feels like a big family, a group where she belongs.
With all three girls so close in age, it can be a rush to get to all of their events, Peggy Durr said. She and Dennis Durr have three other granddaughters, too.
Peggy Durr retired a few years ago after working two decades at Evergreen Lanes in Everett.
All of the girls in the family go bowling every week, and each of three girls in ROTC also have been on the high school bowling team.
This coming school year, Nikki will be a senior, Sammy a junior and Christina a sophomore.
Wednesday is the school day each week when Everett’s ROTC students wear uniforms to class. The three girls shine their shoes together, and iron and crease their shirts and slacks.
“All of their little ribbons have to be exact,” Peggy Durr said.
Nikki will don her uniform for her senior portrait.
Grandpa, Dennis Durr, retired from the Army about 15 years ago.
He has been able to participate in each girl’s Basic Leadership Training ceremony when they get their first rank in ROTC.
One day, Nikki was called out at practice for her perfectly shiny shoes. The folks in charge thought she was having Grandpa do her shining.
It was her own work, though. Nikki was proud of that recognition. Grandpa taught her well.
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; firstname.lastname@example.org.