Cleveland High School Memorial Forest
Text & Photos by David Yamaguchi
The North American Post
On Friday, May 26, I began Memorial Day weekend early by attending the annual ceremony at Cleveland High School Memorial Forest with three school buses of Cleveland juniors and a few other alumni. The gathering is of interest to NAP readers because many are CHS alumni, because few alumni have made the trip — it was my first — and because it comprises a remarkable story in its own right. There, we saw a flag-folding done by two students, then listened to three WWII-era alumni speakers. The main speaker, Emil Martin, ’40, was in the Battle of Peleliu, east of the Philippines. Later, he was stationed in Hokkaido during the Occupation of Japan.
Following the speeches, those who could took a gentle hike to a memorial rock, a great stone deep in the forest, likely a glacial erratic (a stone dropped by glaciers). Overall, I was glad I attended, for it is not often these days that one hears firsthand from WWII veterans and era students. It was place-based learning at its finest, for the elderly alumni walked the same school hallways that later students did.
At this point, the reader is probably wondering where the Cleveland Memorial Forest is, and how it is that the city’s smallest high school has a forest at all. It is between Issaquah and Fall City (map). It is 131 acres.
The project began during WWII, when many organizations, including high school student bodies, were doing what they could to raise funds for the U.S. military. Not to be outdone, the students at CHS contributed coins to a weekly collection jar. They supplemented their own contributions with funds they raised from metal recycling and other activities. But at the end of their efforts, the total amount they were able to raise was $300 and some change. It was too little to make a substantive gift. They could not buy the U.S. Army a tank, for example.
Following the suggestion of their science teacher, Joseph Hazzard, the students decided to instead purchase a tract of land to make a memorial forest for their WWII-fallen classmates. Accordingly, Vice Principal Ray Imus used the students’ money to place a bid on a parcel of cut-over land that Weyerhaeuser was selling at a county auction. There, no one bid against Imus when they heard the students’ plan. And so CHS was able to obtain the property, which was placed in Principal Kenneth Selby’s name. Selby, in turn, gifted the forest to the Seattle Public Schools (SPS) in 1944, so CHS would not have to pay its taxes. Later, students obtained from Weyerhaeuser a donation of 10,000 tree seedlings, which they planted in their forest.
Today, the forest is used for student educational field trips.
Over the years, the forest has faced multiple challenges. One was the theft of a brass plaque bearing the names of the school’s WWII fallen, which had been mounted on the Rock. It was made in the CHS metal shop. A larger hurdle was the forest’s permanence, for the SPS eventually decided they wanted to sell it, which raised the ire of the CHS Alumni Association. In a two-year lawsuit settled in February 2000, the alumni won their case against the SPS, as the latter had accepted the gift as a perpetual monument to CHS alumni killed in WWII.
Today, the forest has a granite monument, of little value to thieves, and a few buildings. Its trees are starting to be of substantive size.
There is one more thing. Recently, to ensure the forest’s long-term future, the SPS, working closely with the CHS Alumni Association, sold the forest’s development rights to the King County Parks Department, while retaining ownership of the property. For the rights, KCPD paid the SPS $3.47 million.
Note: The CHS Alumni Association could use a few more hands. Notably John R. Barton, ’54, has been looking to turn over editing the quarterly alumni newsletter to defter hands. Here, print media is essential for maintaining communication with older alumni. How about you? (I’d be willing to coach a new editor through Adobe InDesign.)