Herald ‘Seems Like Yesterday’ columnist Jack O’Donnell is retiring

Jack O’Donnell began writing Seems Like Yesterday in 1990.

His local column reprises news, sports and other tidbits published in The Herald 25 years ago and 50 years ago.

Today, The Herald is publishing the final Seems Like Yesterday column compiled by O’Donnell, who is retiring from the task.

“I’m not going to go back and go through the 1965 papers again. I’ve done that,” he said.

O’Donnell explained that the “25 years ago” items he wrote about when he started have become “the 50-year stuff.” He hopes the newspaper will find a fresh way to highlight local history.

In the beginning, the how-to was simple: four paragraphs total, with lots of names. That’s how O’Donnell remembers the instructions Herald editor Jeanne Metzger gave him when he took over the task of writing Seems Like Yesterday.

It’s unclear how long the column has been part of The Herald, but it’s been a six-day-a-week fixture for decades.

When O’Donnell, now a 69-year-old retired teacher, took over Seems Like Yesterday he was helped by Lew Ramstad. Until her retirement in 1989, it had been compiled by Lis Masi. She died in 1998.

O’Donnell and Ramstad — both Everett High School graduates and Everett natives — began combing through copies of The Herald from January 1940 and 1965. Ramstad died in 1996.

Writing Seems Like Yesterday has meant reading The Herald on microfilm, but O’Donnell began his job by culling items from old bound copies of the paper at the Everett Public Library. He sometimes was allowed to take papers home. O’Donnell and his older brother, Larry O’Donnell, live near each other in Everett’s Norton-Grand historic district, both in homes more than a century old.

Both are retired from education careers. Jack O’Donnell taught for 39 years, most of them at Alderwood Middle School in the Edmonds district. He spent nine years at Immaculate Conception &Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Everett, retiring in 2006.

The O’Donnell brothers share a passion for history. In 1999, they took a road trip together in Jack’s 1968 red Chevrolet convertible. Cruising the length of Historic Route 66, they stopped at significant and kitschy places along the way.

Closing the Seems Like Yesterday chapter of his life gives O’Donnell more time for history projects. An author, he contributed to the 2005 book “Snohomish County: An Illustrated History.” He wrote the forward to the recently published “150 Years of Lowell History,” by Karen Redfield and Gail Chism. In 1992, a year before Everett’s centennial, the Everett Public Library published O’Donnell’s “Everett, Washington: A Picture Post Card History.”

“I am busy,” said O’Donnell, who is involved with the preservation group Historic Everett. These days, he goes back in time every Tuesday afternoon. With a group of museum officials and volunteers, among them Gene Fosheim, Dave Ramstad, Neil Anderson and Bob Mayer, O’Donnell works each week to inventory and properly store the Everett Museum of History’s collection, part of which is stored in the basement of the Culmback Building on Colby Avenue. The museum organization currently has no display space.

Through writing Seems Like Yesterday, O’Donnell has compiled a massive chronology of important dates and events in Everett and Snohomish County. He also has files of city blocks in Everett noting their changes.

In Seems Like Yesterday, he has made a few goofs. “Early on, I had a man in Tulalip marrying his mother-in-law,” he said.

“I only put my name in the column once,” O’Donnell said. In 1954, he was excited to be photographed by The Herald with other kids at the Everett YMCA. When the paper came out, his name wasn’t in the caption. “In 2004, I corrected that injustice,” he said.

Countless times, people have thanked him for a Seems Like Yesterday mention. He once included something about one of his former teachers at Everett’s Longfellow School. “The day it reached print, I walked into the library and she was the first person I saw,” O’Donnell said. “She gave me a hug and 50 years vanished.”

O’Donnell especially enjoyed revisiting 1965. It was his first year away from home at what’s now Western Washington University in Bellingham. With the old papers, he caught up on all he missed that year in Everett.

Writing the column was largely an exercise in making choices. “I tried to stay away from divisive politics, and I didn’t want to embarrass people. It was a feel-good thing in the paper. Bad news unfolds all the time,” he said.

“I just loved doing it,” O’Donnell said. “It was always an adventure.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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