Special Collections


Special Collections Oral History Program


Bob & Marilyn Monahan

Campus School parents, 1959-1966

Interviewer:     Carole Morris

Date of Interview:     January 8, 2007

Location of Interview:     Interviewees' residence, Bellingham, Wash.


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Authorized Transcript 

This interview was conducted with Bob (BM) and Marilyn Monahan (MM) on January 8, 2007. The interviewer was Carole Morris.

 CM:  Let’s just begin by stating your names and what your affiliation is with Western.

MM: Okay, my name is Marilyn Monahan and I’m a parent of three children that went to Campus School, from Kindergarten on until, actually until it closed down. We were gone one year, ’66-’67, I believe that was the year it closed down, wasn’t it?

BM: That was the last year. 

I’m Bob Monahan, and I’m also a parent of three Campus School attendees and I taught on the faculty from 1955 until 1993. And I still work up here in a few places, the Foundation and elsewhere. Pro bono!

CM: Where did you teach, Bob?

BM: I taught in the Department of Geography.

CM:  Can you give us the names of your kids that went to Campus School?

MM: Our kids that went to Campus School: Lynn, being the oldest; next on down the line, Patrick; and Laurie.

CM: What years did they come to Campus School?

BM: Lynn started Kindergarten in Fall 1959 and Pat started in 1960.

MM:  And when did Laurie start?  Four years later.

BM: 1959, plus five . . . 1964!

MM: Yes.

CM: Did any of your other family members attend, teach or send their kids to Campus School?

MM: No, not that I know of.

CM: Where did your family live when your children attended the Campus School?

MM: We lived on Lakeview Street, outside the city limits.

BM: Out in the Geneva district.

CM: And how did your children get to and from the school?

MM: You want to tell them that?

BM: Sure! Well, we have a Model A Ford, we still have it, and I drove it to school when I commuted.  And so we took our two, and then later three kids, and then we always added to that flock: we had George Lamb’s too part of the time—he was a teacher here in the Campus School; and we had the Spratlen children who lived next door. These were probably the first African-American students in Campus School and their father was the first African-American faculty member. Then on the odd occasion we picked up two Elderings on Lakeway on the way in. Those were the days before seatbelts and children restraints of one kind or another, so they’d be rather packed in the Model A. In fact, there were two or three faculty members that used to wait in the parking lot until we came—this car had suicide doors that opened backward, they’d wait and the doors would fly open, three doors would fly open and all these kids would dash out with their lunch buckets and papers and stuff and rush into Campus School. It was quite a show, I must say.

CM: What did you do with them while you were teaching? Did they hang around and ride back with you or . . .?

MM: Well they were in school.

BM: They were in Campus School, and then they usually took the bus home.  Marilyn can tell you an exciting story about the bus trip.

MM: Yes, they did take the city bus home.  Synva Nicol was Kindergarten teacher at that time and one day she called me up and said, “Marilyn, Marilyn, Pat’s lost! He went on the wrong bus!” And I thought “Oh boy,” because we’d had trouble with him going to school—he didn’t want to go to school—and we found out later he had a new rug that he was supposed to use, and he had new gym shoes.  And the students didn’t use these until student teachers came. And also, the milk was sour and one little kid upchucked a bit on that. At any rate, I thought we’d never get Pat back in school.

Synva said, “I’m going to go down to the bus station and wait for him,” and I said, “Okay, Bob will come down too.” Well, pretty soon Bob came home with Pat and he was all excited, “Mummy! Mummy! I got nine tokens on the wrong bus, and saw a real live monkey!” Apparently he got on the wrong bus and the bus driver had asked him where he lived, and he told him where he lived, and he said, “Well just stick with me; we’ll get you on the right bus.” So he wasn’t at all frightened, but he had stopped on that corner where Clark’s Feed and Seed was located on Railroad Avenue.  Clark’s Feed and Seed had little animals, birds and whatnot, to see through the window.  And it ended the problem of going to Campus School.

Synva Nicol was very upset when she found out that milk had been sour because she didn’t know it. It was probably—not really sour, but a little off.

BM: She said she had taught for twenty-seven years and had never lost a child.

MM: Yes, that’s right.

CM: That’s a good story. Did your children eat lunch at school?

MM: Yes, they took their lunch.

BM: There was no cafeteria at that time. They took their lunches and ate in the classroom I guess.

MM: Yes, I think they did eat in the classroom.

CM: Do you remember the names of your children’s teachers and student teachers?

MM: I don’t remember student teachers, but I remember Synva Nicol was Kindergarten, and Katherine Casanova, I believe, was second grade—

BM: First grade.

MM: First grade. Who was second grade?

BM:  I don’t remember. Nice question!

MM: Yes, I don’t remember, and I don’t have any idea who the student teachers were. Ted Mork was one year; he had Pat in the fifth or sixth grade.

BM: Fifth—and then Mr. Murphy was, I think, a sixth grade teacher and . . .

MM: I don’t know who the other ones were. I’d have to go back and look at their class pictures, because we do have that at home, so I can check it out!

CM: Did any of these teachers remain your children’s favorites or most influential teachers?

BM: Well one that was impressive was Synva Nicol who pulled all the teeth for all the classes. The kids would come back when the two front teeth were loose.  She was the extractress.  She didn’t like to be known as the tooth lady, but they always came back to her and she would get rid of the teeth or turn them over to the tooth fairy. She was remarkable because—for me, as one who did teach—she’d walk over to the piano and she’d just play about three notes, and you could hear a pin drop in that classroom when she did that. She had those students . . . I don’t think they were afraid of her really, but they were very respectful of Miss Nicol.

CM: And how long had she been here?  Do you know when she started?

BM: She’d been here quite a few years. I don’t know if all of her twenty-seven were logged here at Western or not, but she had been here for a number of years.

CM: So as a teacher Bob, do you have any sort of feelings about how the curriculum was here, and how they sort of experimented with different kinds of things?

BM: Well, they had a lot of extras. This was something that we noted. For example, they had a dance class, and I think Pat O’Brien taught that.

MM: Could have.

BM: And the scarf dance, and they danced the Hora, and they had swimming. And the swimming teacher was the one that really had them terrified.

MM: I need to tell that story. Yes, that swimming teacher . . . what was her name?

BM: Miss Weythman.

MM:  Miss Ruth Weythman; a parent would often go be with students learning to swim, and Bob was with Pat one day and he just didn’t want to go in the water, and he was whining around—he was in the water, but he was just whining around in Bob’s arms—and we knew he could swim, but he just didn’t want to do anything.

BM: He got water in his face.

MM: He got water in his face or something, and so Bob says, “Pat, I’ll give you a dollar if you swim across that pool.”  So all of the sudden he came to and he said, “Get out of my way, I want my dollar!” and he swam across the pool. And from then on it was great 

BM: Bribery sometimes works.

MM: And the swimsuits the kids all hated.  As I recall they were those green, wool ones with the straps.  Boys and girls wore the same kind of suits.

BM: Well everyone did. The college students did too.

MM: Yes, I guess that’s true. Anyway, that was quite something. They also had a French teacher come in, teach French to the kids; and the music teacher would come in. What was her name . . . I should remember that. She’s still with us. Evelyn Hines at that time, wasn’t it? Evelyn Hines?

BM: That’s right she did teach there. Evelyn Wellman Von Bargen now is her name.

MM: The children really liked these extra activities, and these were some things that were really extra in terms of the curriculum at this school because they had twenty-five—I think the max was twenty-five students in a class room.  And each classroom had three student teachers.  That was quite different than the public schools in terms of class size and administration at that time.

BM:  They’d break up in groups for reading so the students that needed additional help always received it, whether it was math or reading or whatever, because there was a student teacher right at hand. Then usually the back of the classroom would be lined once, twice, or several times a day with class members from some of the beginning education classes. They came in to observe the teacher, the students and the student teachers at work. So these kids got used to having a lot of observation.

MM: Even parents could come. Parents could come and sit in the back of the room and watch if they wanted to.

CM: Do you know anything about having anyone film the classes? Did you ever observe that?

MM: I don’t.

BM: I don’t. It wasn’t that common a thing in those days. There must have been some done, but I don’t know. It wasn’t a regular procedure by any means.

CM: Yes, we found some photos, but we weren’t sure.  Anything else about the curriculum or extra teaching?

MM: I remember when—someone was in, I think it was a student teacher that came in to teach math and he used rods . . .? What did they call them?

BM: Oh yes, Quisenaire Rods.

MM: Quisenaire Rods.  They had all these different innovative types of ways in which to teach math at that time and—they just had a lot of interesting things, and extra things that other students really didn’t get in the public school because mainly the teachers wouldn’t have time—one teacher for a classroom just couldn’t do what a teacher and three student teachers could do and extra people coming in and out.

CM: Do you feel like it really did show up when your kids transferred to public school after that?

BM: Oh I think so. They encouraged reading—and I think they had field trips. I don’t remember specific ones but . . .

MM: Yes, they did, I remember.

BM: But they did have field trips and of course they had access to the college library which was an asset for those who were interested.  I don’t know that all of them went over there to read but it was part of their educational package if they so desired.

MM: I would think that probably the majority of the students that left here did very, very well in school because they had a really good education up through those grades. At least the children that we knew were all very, very good students.

BM: The students were a fairly select group. Many came from professional families, faculty members, and so on. From that stand point it was fairly selective.

CM: Did faculty have an advantage in getting their children in the school?

BM: Yes, they did. I don’t know how they made that decision, but we came and our kids were put right in the classes.

MM:  It was kind of automatic with our kids, but people were on lists I know that, and they even had women who were expecting on the list so that that child would be able to go to Campus School when they were old enough. It was difficult for people, I have been told, outside of faculty to get into the Campus School.

CM: Do you know anything about why it closed or how it closed?

BM: Well, there’s always a variety of explanations, but the one that circulated among the faculty—it wasn’t written down, but the rumor had it that this was a period of very rapid growth at Western and we were short of classrooms and we were short of offices and closing the Campus School was an easy way to obtain both. People in Education said, “Well it’s a very unrealistic pattern for student teachers to see and they were better off to do their student teaching in a proper public school.” So those are two of the explanations and I don’t know what the administrative position on it was.

CM: Were you disappointed that it closed?

BM: Well, two of our children were really out of it, and we certainly didn’t fight it—we weren’t around to fight it—and I think we were very grateful that our children had the exposure that they had in Campus School, but they made the adjustment into public schools without any difficulty.

MM: We were in Finland in 1966-67, so our children missed that year and when we came back it had closed. Laurie was in—she only went through second grade didn’t she?

BM: First or second.

MM: Because when we went to Finland she was in third grade and the other two were in sixth and seventh grade.

CM: So does she remember anything about it?

MM: Oh I think so!

BM: Oh yes, they do.  They were in a British Preparatory School so Laurie was in the first form and the other two kids were in the third form. So that was a little different pattern.

MM:  All our kids remember lots and lots of things about Campus School.

BM: The playfield right out in front where Red Square is.

MM: The playfield . . . it was grass though, wasn’t it?

BM: Yes it was.

MM:  And one time, Jerry Flora brought in a whale, didn’t he? What was it?

BM: No, no, no. It was a sea lion that got tangled in a net, so they dissected it out here and stretched the insides out, so the kids got to see the dissection of a sea lion and so did  the rest of the student body. . . which was pretty impressive, he was an impressive biology teacher, let me tell you.

CM: Yes, I read that. How did your children feel about the presence of observers in the classroom? Did they even notice it?

MM:  I don’t think they paid any attention because they were so used to it.

BM: I imagine after the first week—I’m sure they would be curious about these people, but they tended after a short time to ignore them and go on with whatever was going on in the classroom.  It wasn’t a problem at least for most of them, I’m sure it wasn’t.

CM: How did the Campus School communicate with you as parents? What kind of feedback did you get on your children?

MM: I think we had conferences with the teacher. I think that was really all, wasn’t it?

BM: Well, they sent notes home for whatever needed to be communicated.  And of course I would encounter most of the teachers at least, I suppose, once a week or so, I’d run into them on the campus. So there were many opportunities for communication.

CM: Were there any fees charged for anything?  Do you remember if you paid any kind of fees?

BM: I don’t remember any fees.

MM: No, I don’t think so.

CM: What kinds of special programs did they have that parents could come and watch?

MM: Well they could watch anything, really. I mean, the parents could come and watch anything they wanted. Now a special—what do you mean by “a special program?”

CM: Plays or—

BM: Well the dance performances.  I remember attending the scarf dance and the Hora and some of those things. But I don’t remember them putting on plays, do you?

MM: No. But I’m trying to think, because we did go in to the auditorium on occasion for something. But I don’t recall that it was anything—

BM: So many things happened in that auditorium, it’s hard to—

MM: That’s right, so many things happened in that auditorium.

BM: That’s where the faculty met, the total faculty. And Dr. Haggard knew if you weren’t there. This was 117 faculty or something like that.  He knew if you weren’t there.

CM: So they met here in the Campus School auditorium.

BM: Yes.

CM: So was this the only auditorium then?

BM: No they had the big one, but that was twelve hundred and one seats according to William Wade Haggard.

CM: Where was that?

BM: Well it’s the Performing Arts Center, the mainstage.

CM: Oh, that was here already.  I didn’t realize that was here. Do you remember any sort of corrective measures taken with students if they needed?

MM: I don’t recall that kids would have to stay after school or anything of that sort or they would be set aside, but I think the teachers were in good control of all the students and I don’t think that was a problem.

BM: I don’t think so.

MM: Certainly in Synva’s class they wouldn’t act up. I don’t think it was a problem.

BM: You know you had three student teachers . . . there wasn’t a lot of latitude for being bored and unengaged. So I think that solved the problem: they were kept busy, they were always learning, there was somebody supervising them at least out of the corner of their eye. Well, you can imagine, four teachers and twenty four students . . . that’s not conducive for a lot of hijinx and that sort of thing.

CM: I know the little I’ve read of Dewey, he suggested that you use diversionary tactics if someone was not interested or—

BM: I’m sure that they did. Well they had two gyms here to work off any surplus energy, and they had their own—I think the classes had their own library so possibly they could be isolated in the library area.  As far as I know I never heard of any real disciplinary problems.

CM: Were there any strengths or weaknesses that you felt your kids came out of the school with? Like, some past alumni have said they didn’t learn how to do script writing, some said they didn’t learn math or . . . you know, that sort of thing?

BM: No. I think they learned script . . . they could all write.

MM: I think with our children there wasn’t any problem.  Even when we were in Finland we took a few books with us and we had them do some of the basic things just so they could keep up.  They came back here after being out a year and they just picked right up where they left off; there was no problem. So I don’t recall that there was any problem with our children. Now there could have been with others but—

CM: Did they learn how to type? Were there still typewriters?

MM: I’m trying to think . . . did they have a typewriter? I don’t think so.

BM: I don’t think—I heard that—I know they experimented with typewriters but I don’t think it was in our time.

CM: It might have been earlier.

MM: Yes, I think it might have been earlier.

CM: Were there parent volunteers in the classroom, or a parents’ organization like PTA or something?

MM:  No, I don’t think so.

BM:  They had so many student teachers that the parents would have been in the way. Parents were welcome to come and observe but I don’t recall them ever being used as volunteers.

MM: And there was always a conference, we always had a conference with the teacher about our own children.

CM:  How often was that?

MM: I don’t remember, probably once a quarter.

BM: Yes.

CM: Do you remember anything about the connection with the Bellingham School District, because it was a Bellingham Public School.

MM: I don’t know of any.

BM: We were unaware of any formal connection. I’m sure that the Bellingham School District if it received the payment for these students would be absolutely delighted. So that might have been one of the deals, that this student body was hooked on to Bellingham Public Schools because it would have made an important financial difference with Western paying the faculty’s salaries and providing the supplies and all of those things. I never thought about it but that would be one interesting question as to whether or not they were carried as part of the Bellingham School District student load.

MM: If they were, wouldn’t they have had to abide by all the public school curriculum and all of the things . . .

CM: They were part of the school district.  But we’re not sure how exactly—

BM: No, there are minimum requirements whether or not that would curtail the Campus School curriculum is unknown to me.

MM: I see, I see.

CM:  Here’s where I ask you what else you want to add to this; what other memories or stories you have?

BM: Well, there are happy memories. We certainly knew all the teachers, I knew them as co-workers and I’m certain that any problems or anything of that sort would have been relayed immediately to us. We were pleased with the extra opportunities they had: to learn to swim at swim classes and the dance and all of those things were pluses. And they had a lot of supervision on the playfield: when they went out to play they had student teachers out there who watched over them. Not that that’s absolutely necessary but it almost precluded bullying and fighting and some of the normal things that do occur on playgrounds.

MM: That reminds me of something with Synva Nicol. I think I remember most things with Synva Nicol for some reason. We had a dog named Thermo, and Thermo thought he owned the campus. The dog catcher was often around and Synva would call up and she said, “Marilyn, Thermo’s up here again, the dog catcher’s coming,” to remind me. And it was really funny because I think they did pick him up once or twice, but at that time there was no leash law, there was no anything and dogs were roaming, and Thermo thought he really owned this campus, and he’d just come trotting up with the kids and then he’d come home—sometimes he wouldn’t come home for awhile, but I thought that was really funny that Synva would call us. Well, I thanked her, which was great because I’d come get the dog.

BM: Well the dogs would evaporate when the dog catcher came. I don’t know what the communication was . . .

MM: Yes, they did! That truck—

BM: That truck would come and he wouldn’t see a dog—

MM: No, it would just—they’d be around—

BM: It would drive away and all of the sudden out of the bushes here would come six or eight dogs that kind of hung around up here.

CM: So had you moved to Garden Street by then?

BM: Yes, we’d moved.

MM: Well, yes because Laurie was only two years old, so we lived there the whole time that she was in school and part of the time—

BM: Well we moved in 1961, so the kids went here five years.

MM: Something like that.

BM: And Thermo met them regularly and escorted them home.

MM: And Laurie—I remember we used to come up and watch the procession at graduations and Laurie would say, “Hurry up, Mommy, hurry up! Let’s go up there and see Daddy and all those guys in their clown suits.” Then would come Thermo with us and we’d go up and watch the procession and the kids really liked this—and other people’s children were doing the same thing. That was another advantage, I think, of having our kids here, because—through the children we knew a lot of parents of those children and you wouldn’t be that close with a child and their parent if they were in a public school that was larger.  We knew most of the parents of the children that were in our children’s classes. And that was nice, that was nice.

CM: And you’re still friends with a lot of them, aren’t you?

MM: Yes, we are. Anyway, we just think that our children had a great experience and a great opportunity and we’re very thankful for that because they went on to school and did very well—as did many, many, many other children from Campus School.

BM: I was sorry when it closed because if it was a special school—which I think it was—it was a good thing to expose potential teachers to on the grounds that having seen this, they would strive to bring about the same sort of thing in whatever school district they wound up in.  It was an opportunity to raise the bar for education by seeing what could be done, and then to be agitators for that to happen where ever they might venture and start their teaching careers or especially if they went on to be administrators, that sort of thing.  I thought it was unfortunate that they closed it, but I wasn’t consulted.  That’s one of the many issues that they didn’t ask for my opinion on.

CM: Anything else?

MM: I don’t think so.

CM: Well, thank you.

BM and MM: You’re very welcome.

MM: It’s our pleasure.