Namesake for Everett’s newest park was a pioneering educator

The city took almost 2 years to name the 1.4-acre space next to the new Everett Family YMCA.

Emma Yule (Courtesy of Everett Public Library)

Emma Yule (Courtesy of Everett Public Library)

EVERETT — Goodbye, nameless grassy patch between Colby and Rucker avenues next to the new YMCA.

Hello, Emma Yule Park.

The Everett City Council last week voted 5-0 to name its newest park after the city’s revered pioneering public school teacher. Council member Jeff Moore and Scott Murphy were absent from Wednesday’s meeting. Yule joins fellow educator Viola Oursler as the only women to have Everett parks named for them.

Early designs for the 1.4-acre space show a pathway from the adjacent streets to benches, exercise equipment, picnic tables, playground features and an open field. The Everett Family YMCA is just north of the park.

In public comment prior to the vote, several people supported naming the park for Yule.

“This is, after all, commemorating the 100th year of women having the right to vote,” said Paula Townsell, whose parents live a few blocks from the planned park. “We’re a little bit tipsy on knowing who the Colbys, the Hewitts, the Ruckers, the Rockefellers, the Carnegies are around this city. But we don’t know who Emma Yule is, and we need to know her.”

Choosing Yule for the posthumous honor was a long process that began in 2018. The first request for names yielded 140 suggestions, including an inevitable “Parky McParkface,” which was in the top 10 but never a serious candidate.

The City Council focused on three names, as recommended by the historical and parks commissions. Other leading options were Arthur Grossman and Glacier View Neighborhood. Grossman was a beloved family practice doctor and obstetrician as well as a cycling teacher and champion for the YMCA. He lived with ALS, commonly called Lou Gehrig’s disease, until he died in December 2018. The park is in the Glacier View Neighborhood, named after its scenic sights of the Cascade Range.

Previously Grossman was the parks commission’s top recommendation to the City Council. Yule had a late surge of support from several prominent historians in the Everett area.

Councilmember Liz Vogeli said she understood people’s attachment to Grossman, who delivered generations of children.

Emma Sarepta Yule was the first teacher at Everett’s schoolhouse in December 1891, according to the Snohomish County Women’s Legacy Project, a collection of biographies about the county’s foremothers. She was 28 when she came to the then-booming logging town, thousands of miles from her family home in Iowa.

When she started, there were 26 students. Nettie Boucher, another teacher, joined Yule a month later. They were paid $60 a month, historian Larry O’Donnell wrote.

Yule was appointed to be the principal in February 1892, but just five months later was assigned as the “position next to principal.” The title of principal ultimately was given to Professor J.W. Shepherd.

By 1900, the school system had an average daily attendance of 1,032 students.

“It’s an interesting story from the perspective of what women were able to do at that time,” Everett Public Library historian Lisa Labovitch said. “She had a really impressive career.”

Yule taught for almost a decade before moving to Juneau, Alaska, then Japan and the Philippines, where she taught at a university. Her time abroad led to her writing about the history of Japan and the Philippines, including “In Kimono Land,” “Stories of Japanese History” and “Far East Miscellany,” according to an archived memo.

“Her name is still out there and her scholarship is still out there,” Labovitch said.

About 50 former Everett High School students, and many others, celebrated Yule’s return to Everett with a banquet at the Monte Cristo Hotel in 1929, O’Donnell wrote.

“The thing that really struck me is that she seemed to be so important to her students,” Labovitch said. “The students loved her, they talked about the huge impact that she had. … It was clear that she was a role model and left an impression on people.”

Yule retired to Los Angeles in the 1930s, and died in her home there April 16, 1939. She was buried back in Everett at the Evergreen Cemetery, next to her beloved nieces Alice and Clara Rigby, who moved to the city shortly after she did.

Yule’s will left more than $20,000 from her estate to the University of Washington as the Emma Sarepta Yule Fund. It still exists, Labovitch said, as directed in her will to aid girls and women, “who are partially or wholly self-supporting” and attending UW.

The City Council has said it will revisit its park-naming process. Several council members said they’d like to see one dedicated for Grossman.

Ben Watanabe: bwatanabe@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3037. Twitter: @benwatanabe.

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