Dieringer Education Foundation Hall of Fame Award
Lake Tapps Elementary School Secretary (1963-2003)
Some people seem destined at an early age for the roles they play in life, and that can certainly be said of Patty Merriman. It wasn’t that Patty envisioned eventually becoming Dieringer’s longest tenured and most loyal employee. But her life experiences certainly gave her a head start along that path.
Patty was born in Salem, Oregon, and from age two was raised by her mother. Patty’s mother worked hard as a cook in several small cafes to provide for Patty and her sister, Priscilla. Then the family moved to California for several years to be closer to “my mother’s people”. Patty was far from thrilled when, as a senior in high school, her mom moved the family to Raymond, Washington, from Sacramento, California.
“They didn’t know what to do with me in Raymond,” Patty recalled. “I had already taken two years of typing, shorthand and bookkeeping, and there weren’t any more business classes to take in that little school.”
Patty soon found herself working one hour each day in the principal’s office of the neighboring elementary school where she honed the skills that she would later be using in Dieringer.
Patty met her husband, Lee Merriman, who was driving a logging truck in Raymond and working at the local mill. When the mill closed, the couple, who married in 1952, briefly moved to California before returning to Washington to stay.
“We learned how to ski on Lake Washington and had heard about Lake Tapps. After a couple of visits, we found a lot on the lake at what was called Evergreen Point, and we decided to homestead.”
In 1962 the family of four which included Lee’s son by a previous marriage, Rick, and the couple’s own son, Lee II, took up residence on the lake. Calling a Spartan Trailer and a small cabin where the boys slept home, Lee continued on his way to a 33-year career at Boeing while Patty began to take an interest in the Dieringer PTA.
“There were so many wonderful families living in the district that we got to know. I can remember the Petersen, Love, Miller and Julum families. And everyone volunteered at the school. When the school needed a secretary in 1963, that started it all for me. I was just 28 years old at the time.”
Patty recalls a much smaller school in those days with 145 students total in grades K-8.
“It was more like a family than a school. And there were so many great ones. I remember the Venn, Baber, Phelan, Ford and Spencer kids just to name a few. Back then I knew everybody.”
Patty recalls that roads were different then. There were only two ways off the hill since the road to Sumner and Lakeland Parkway hadn’t been built.
“You had to go the back way to Auburn or down Forest Canyon. I remember that there was a little mill on the White River below what is now Lakeland Hills. That was just a huge woods and it used to be part of our district. Now, of course, it’s all homes.”
Patty also recalls how technology has changed over the years.
“Back in those days telephones at home had party lines which meant that people could listen in to your conversations. My friend and neighbor, Loretta Smith, had six kids and it seems like I was always telling one of them to get off the line so I could call Lee who was on the east coast at the time.”
When asked if it was different living in the district years ago, Patty recalls how the community really pulled together when it was necessary.
“Dieringer has always been a great community. When anyone needed anything, people always helped out, and I think it is still that way in our district.”
As time went by there were many changes as the little district grew. Lake Tapps Elementary School was built in 1970 which meant that kindergarteners through 4th graders moved up the hill from the old Dieringer School in the valley. Fifth graders would follow a few years later when the Tapps Island development led to additions to LTES.
“We started with just a few teachers at Lake Tapps. Dorothy Watt, Belle Gleason, Helen VanNoy, Tim Hurley and Majel Birge were some of the first. Mr. Hill had his office off the multipurpose room and Principal Jim Denton and I were on the stage with the mimeograph machine. The teachers ate lunch on the stage at a long table. Years later it was great to see former students like Jeff Kindle and Cindy Sawyer (Schuur) come back as teachers.”
Patty’s role in the office included everything from typing and filing to serving as the building receptionist and registrar.
“My job was to do pretty much anything and everything. Most of the time we didn’t have a nurse on hand, so I put on a lot of Band-Aids over the years. And before we had an intercom I remember getting messages by CB radio from the bus drivers and having to run out to the classrooms to deliver messages. That got pretty hard as the building grew, but I guess it kept me in shape.”
After 40 years as head elementary secretary, Patty stepped down in 2003. She had served principals Jack Adams, Carl Hill (principal/superintendent), Jim Denton, Jim Milden and Connie GeRoy and seen many changes over the years.
“A few years before I retired and before Dieringer Heights Elementary was built, there were over 600 students at Lake Tapps Elementary. But no matter what they were always “my kids” and “my families”. But you have to know that the first day of school on the year I retired, I remember sitting on the diving board down at the lake watching the busses driving by. I cried all day.”
These days it’s good to know that Patty is way too busy to cry. She keeps up with her kids and her five grandkids and two great grandkids and enjoys lunches out with other Dieringer retirees.
“Each time we pick another place, so we get to try something new.”
After 40 years of outstanding service to the Dieringer School District, Patty Merriman is certainly deserving of lunch anywhere she chooses!
In November 2012, Patty Merriman became the second Dieringer Education Foundation Hall of Fame recipient. Over 250 friends, family, and former staff members, students and parents were on hand to salute Patty for her tremendous contributions to our Dieringer community.