Helen Parkhurst couldn’t wait to enter this world. Under normal conditions, she would have been born in Everett at the family home. The doctor had assured Helen’s mother that there was “lots of time” before delivery and that she could certainly accompany her husband to Walla Walla on his semi-annual business trip for the Oregon Casket Company. The very day the couple arrived in Walla Walla, Helen insisted upon making her debut at the home of a family friend.
William Kendall Parkhurst and Mae Randall Parkhurst took the unexpected arrival of their third child in stride. Years before, Helen’s father left his family’s estate in Templeton, Massachusetts to heed the call to the Klondike in search of gold. He later left Canada’s Yukon Territory and moved to Everett where he met and married Miss Mae Randall, daughter of the local Baptist minister. Helen has said that her father’s Bostonian family always blamed that “western woman” for his decision not to return to the fold.
Helen was barely four year’s old when her father died in 1916 during a record snowstorm. Because conditions were so bad that the mortician was unable to get to the family’s Wetmore Avenue home, William Parkhurst lay in state in the family parlor for several days. Although Helen lost her father, she was not without a loving male influence. Her maternal grandfather, Reverend William Randall, who lived next door, was pastor of First Baptist Church and took Helen to services with him every Sunday. Helen remembers being allowed to sleep in the front pew as he preached with a thunderous voice, and said, “I thought he was God.” Rev. Randall also made sure that his grandchildren had extra-special Christmases. He purchased toys for them, and on Christmas Eve would gather round the tree with the family as they lit the candles and sang. Helen said, “He gave us very happy memories of Christmas that my mother could otherwise not have afforded.”
Mae already had a job as cashier at Snohomish County Courthouse and continued her work there to support herself and her three children. Like most mothers of the day, Mae made Helen’s school clothes and baked all the bread needed for the family. She also worked hard at home to make sure that there was no interruption in love and learning. Education was important to her. She kept a dictionary on the dining room table where all meals were served, and the children took turns selecting one word per day. At breakfast, Helen and her siblings discussed the word and its definition. They were all expected to be able to use the word in its proper context and correct spelling by dinnertime. Helen enjoyed the ritual, saying, “Mother made learning fun.”
She also demonstrated to her children the value of being informed. When the 1918 flu epidemic came to America, Mae, terrified that she might fall prey to the flu and leave her children orphaned, read everything that she could on the subject. When she learned that fresh air was highly recommended, she erected a large tent in the back yard and explained that it was their new “fresh air residence.” The family moved beds into the tent, and used buffalo robes to keep warm in the winter. “None of us was lost to the flu epidemic,” Helen said,” and we’ll never know if it was due to our fresh air lifestyle.” All three children were given their buffalo robes as they grew up and left home.
Helen enjoyed her childhood years. She and her friends delighted in playing “kick the can,” which she explained was an inexpensive version of hockey. Birthday parties were simple affairs without many gifts, but always included her grandmother’s wonderful coconut cake. Helen was taught how to punch the hole in the fresh coconut in order to drain it of its milk, then to grate the fresh coconut to apply over the icing. The family moved about a bit, and Helen attended Jefferson and Longfellow grade schools. In junior high school she lived in Pinehurst and played softball and took dance lessons from Betty Spooner, who Helen remembers as a great teacher. A move to a lakeside home in Lake Stevens brought opportunities to swim and picnic, but those carefree days came to an abrupt end when a loan was due and the lender foreclosed, taking the house and all its contents. The family was left with nothing.
Again, Helen had an opportunity to see bravery and practicality in action. Mae started over by opening The Variety Store in Snohomish. By the time Helen graduated from Everett High School, Mae was back working as a cashier in the courthouse. It was now time for Helen to decide what to do with her life. She had spent the summer after junior year back in Petersham, Massachusetts working at the West Road Inn where her aunt was manager. “I wore my smocked uniform from the inn to my high school graduation.” Helen recalled. “It was beautiful.”
During her senior year, Helen had also worked at the Bon Marche, the Everett Co-op and the Big Four Inn, an exciting place frequented by Hollywood. Not wanting hotel work as a career, Helen went to beauty school, where, after earning her certification, she became a teacher. Life was not all work though. Mae had recently remarried the Everett Fire Chief, Charlie Swanson, who taught Helen how to fish for steelhead. She adored her stepfather and the feelings were mutual. In later years, he would introduce her to her first husband, and then to her second, who became the love of her life.
But, marriage was the farthest thing from her mind at this point. She was auditing classes at the University of Washington, riding Harley Davidson motorcycles with one of her male friends and climbing Mt. Pilchuck whenever she and friends had the chance. Then she met a young Croatian fisherman, Tony Marinkovitch, who had moved to Everett from Astoria, and was part of the large Slavic fishing community. Tony was the brother of Mrs. Paul Martinis. Tony was Catholic and Helen was Baptist, but that did not matter to the young couple. Rev. Randall, who approved of the friendship, died by the time they married, but his old friend, Father Van der Walle, married them. “We bought a house at Fifteenth and Grand, but soon moved to Astoria,” Helen said, “I had loved living near the Martinis family in Everett (Tony was the brother of Mrs. Paul Martinis), as they were so much fun.”
The marriage did not last long after the move. Helen and her son, Kirk, settled in North Everett, and Helen went to work as a “Rosie the Riveter” at Boeing. She recalled with a laugh, “The only problem with this job was that my sister Mary was the Inspector!” Helen also taught at the Beauty School to earn extra income. A working, single mother, she did not have a lot of free time, but did reluctantly agree one evening to have dinner with her stepfather at the Elks Club.
That night she became reacquainted with Vern Sievers, someone she had met before he served overseas in World War II. Now divorced, Vern was quite taken by Helen’s flaming red hair that had earned her the nickname, “Red.” They courted for a while, and when Vern proposed, Helen put him off, saying that they needed more time to know each other. “By the time I was ready, he made me wait!” Helen laughed. “I really had to wear him down!”
They married in November 1946, and she thought that they would have a quiet honeymoon trip to Seattle. But Vern had other ideas. He invited many friends from his old fraternity along, which, she says, was just the start of a lifetime full of surprises. Although his good friend, Henry “Scoop” Jackson had encouraged him to run for Congress, until his death in 1990, Vern served as Snohomish County Treasurer.
“My life has been a merry ride,” Helen said. “I had the best mother in the world, a woman way ahead of her time who had a career and stepped out ahead of the crowd when women were quiet and removed. She always had an honorable job, and I admired her for it. She was a leader. My stepfather was the most loving and caring man that one could ask for. My son, Kirk, and I have had a wonderful mother/son relationship, but we are also friends.”
She was active in the community and took great pride in Everett. She was a volunteer and believed that giving back to the community was one of the greatest ways to help others. Helen was a member of Chapter Q of PEO, YMCA, DAR, Mayflower Descendants Society, Friendship Club, Antique Club, and the Garden Club. She was not only active in the community but her yard was her pride and joy. It was a great source of tranquility and pride.
Although peppered with tragedy, personal loss and struggle, Helen had the fondest of memories and a most wonderful outlook on life. Her life may have been a merry ride, but somehow she put herself into the driver’s seat and never let go.
Source: Helen Parkhurst Sievers, Letters
© 2004 Sandra Schumacher All Rights Reserved