First black teacher in Everett is honored

EVERETT — Shirley Walthall did much more than break the color barrier as the first black teacher for the Everett School District.

Over 35 years, she inspired her colleagues and cared deeply for her students as a teacher and principal. She served on boards representing the Everett Library, Red Cross, a hospital and the United Way and worked hard to make all children feel at home, regardless of race, family income or a fledgling command of the English language.

“She has just touched so many people’s lives,” said Anne Spence, who worked with Walthall for many years at Hawthorne Elementary School in northeast Everett.

The Everett School Board recently decided to name the Hawthorne Elementary library for Walthall to recognize her contributions to the school and district.

The school board did so at the urging of the Hawthorne Ambassadors, a group of former teachers, principals and former students of the school who continue to help Hawthorne and felt strongly that Walthall should be recognized.

“Teaching children was such a passion with her,” Spence said. “It just seems like a slam-dunk.”

Jim McNally, an executive director who oversees schools in the north end of the school district, said gyms have been named for former coaches who also taught, but this is the first time another part of a school has been named for an educator.

“It is unprecedented for us to name a facility other than a gym after someone,” he said.

Walthall was the first black teacher in the Everett district when she was hired in 1965. She spent more than two decades at Hawthorne as a teacher and principal. She also taught at Lowell Elementary, was principal at Monroe Elementary School in south Everett and worked in the district’s human resources department.

Walthall retired in 2000 and has been slowed in recent years by multiple sclerosis, but has told friends she plans to attend the dedication ceremony. The event, which is open to the public, will be at 4 p.m. Wednesday in the school’s library, 1110 Poplar St.

Lynn Evans, human resources director for the Everett School District, once supervised Walthall when she was a principal at Monroe.

Evans was impressed how Walthall made students and parents feel they belonged on the campus.

“She made parents feel they were welcome at the school and were involved in the school,” Evans said.

Marsha Cogdill said Walthall took her under her wing when she was a young teacher at Lowell, and they became and remain close friends.

Cogdill enjoyed watching students, many who had never seen an African-American, get over their initial uncertainty of having a black teacher.

“For some of them, at first, they were a little reticent, but it didn’t take them long to realize she was just very welcoming,” Cogdill said. “She was just a marvelous teacher. She was so accepting of all the kids and she always greeted them with a smile.”

Cogdill said she is delighted Walthall is being recognized and her friend is thankful.

“She is so excited,” Cogdill said. “I think it just gave her a real lift.”

Reporter Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446 or e-mail stevick@heraldnet.com.

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