SEQUIM, Wash. — I was a very big frog in a small pond at Sequim High School in the late 1950s. I was on the “honor roll” and a member of the National Honor Society with high though not-perfect grades.
I won a Hallmark Gold Medal for my watercolor still life painted in Mrs. Dorcas Taylor’s art class. That watercolor was displayed in the window of Frederick & Nelson department store in Seattle along with many other lovely pieces of art.
I was a “Thespian” and played leading roles in the two plays we put on in those years, “Our Hearts Were Young and Gay” and “The Night of January 16.”
In the latter play I was “Flint,” the prosecutor assigned to convict and send to prison the young woman accused of murdering her lover — played in our production by my classmate Linda Matriotti. The audience served as the jury. I was as flinty and nasty as they come. But the jury acquitted Miss Karen Andre played so bewitchingly by Linda.
I also played center and defensive linebacker on the Sequim Wolves football team that lost more than it won.
I was such a big man on campus I decided to run for Student Council Treasurer although more than once I added two and two and came up with five.
My greatest enthusiast — actually my de facto campaign manager — was my younger sister, Susan, who conceived my campaign slogan: “Dave Beck can go to heck.”
Dave Beck was the notoriously corrupt President of the Teamster’s union, in the Pacific Northwest, ultimately removed from office. We made home-made lapel badges with that slogan and many in school were wearing them.
I won in a landslide.
I went to the Principle’s office and asked the Secretary, Mrs. Logan, if I could inspect the books. She was astonished. “You actually want to do the book-keeping?” “That’s what the student body elected me to do,” I replied.
“You are the first Student Council Treasurer who has ever proposed to keep the books. I always do that,” Mrs. Logan said. “I’ll show you how to do it.”
She took a big ledger book off the shelf behind her. I sat down at a table and she sat beside me. Step by step she told my how to make entries, add and subtract sub-totals and then add up the grand totals.
I was able to perform this task with the help of the office adding machine. On this wondrous device, two and two always came out four. The Sequim High School student body treasury had a munificent balance of a few hundred dollars occasionally swelling to a thousand dollars or so depending on how many bake sales and car washes we organized.
With many hours of toil, I was able to make the books balance.
Then one day, I opened the books and scanned over the columns and received the shock of my life. A check had been written to buy new football uniforms and the amount subtracted from the total without consulting me or the Student Council.
I then opened the check book. Sure enough, there was the check stub proving that several hundred dollars had been spent to buy football uniforms.
“Mrs. Logan,” I said. “Look at this debit from our account. Who did that? On whose authority?”
Mrs. Logan went deathly pale and stood as if frozen to the spot where she was standing, unable to speak.
Leonard Beil was the principle and he happened to be in his office. I knocked on the door. He invited me in.
I took the ledger book and check book in and showed him the unauthorized expenditure.
“Do you know who did this?”
“I did,” he replied.
“You had no right. It is not your money,” I blurted. “That money could not be spent without it being discussed and approved by the Student Council and by me.”
Mr. Beil turned beet red. He defended himself as best he could, citing the shabby condition of the teams’ uniforms —- something I knew from first hand experience since I suited up in one of those sorry uniforms myself.
Somehow, the issue was resolved without it becoming a scandal.
A few days later, I was removed from the National Honor Society. For what? Defending the fiscal integrity of the books I was assigned to balance?
Nor was I the only member of my family to suffer retribution for crimes not committed.
My sister, Susan Elizabeth, had perfect grades and was on her way to be valedictorian of her class in 1960. But when it came Susan’s turn, the rules were changed. The valedictorian would be chosen on the basis not only of the highest grade point average but also on the basis of extra-curricular activities.
We all knew the meaning of this dirty trick. The powers that be feared what Susan might say in her valedictory address. She was not only a brilliant student, she was a staunch progressive.
I can hear Susan delivering her valedictory now: That it is the task of our generation to ban nuclear testing and nuclear weapons; that we must work to end the Cold War and uphold peaceful coexistence. That we must end segregation and uphold race and gender equality; that workers must enjoy union organizing rights and living wages. That every human being must be assured quality cradle-to-grave health care. That all youth must be guaranteed quality education, jobs, a decent future.
I hear her calling for socialism as humanity’s singing tomorrow.
For the ruling powers of Sequim High, these were ideas the people must never hear.
(An excerpt from the author’s yet-to-be-published book “News from Rain Shadow Country”).
Photo: Courtesy Tim Wheeler