Pioneer of the Year’s great-grandparents lived here
Whenever she needed time to herself in Mukilteo, Celia Cleator Nicholson loved to escape to the beach.
“If I was going to be off during the day by myself, and wanted to just get away from the kids and everything, I would hit that beach,” she said. “Right where the lighthouse is.”
Nicholson has been named Mukilteo’s Pioneer of the Year. Each year, the Mukilteo Historical Society honors one living pioneer – a man or woman who was among the first to call the city home – to share and commemorate the history of Mukilteo.
Nicholson’s memories were recorded on video on Aug. 14 during an MHS meeting at Rosehill Community Center.
Nicholson, 77, like many pioneers, grew up in Old Town and has many childhood memories, but her Mukilteo roots run deeper than most – hers go back four generations.
“Celia has exceptionally deep roots in the history of Mukilteo,” said Ann Collier, an MHS member. “What I found really cool is that there were members of her family here before 1900. We have not had that many Pioneers of the Year whose roots go back that far.”
Her great-grandparents, Daniel and Laurie Danforth, settled in Mukilteo in the late 19th century.
Nicholson’s grandparents, Leatha and Philip Cleator, raised three children in a home on Second Street, including her father.
“My grandmother, Leatha, she had to walk the railroad tracks to Everett to get the material to make her wedding dress,” she said. “Didn’t mind it, I guess.”
Her grandfather worked for the Crown Lumber Co. and was renowned for his metalwork. He made cookie sheets for Beverly “Bevo” Dudder Ellis’ father, Walter Dudder, the town baker.
Nicholson was born in 1937, the oldest of eight children of parents Evelyn and John “Jack” Cleator. Her parents also made their home on Second Street.
“My mom and dad were born and raised here because their parents had been here all those years,” she said. “They all loved living down here.”
Her father attended the first Rose Hill School and worked 40 years for Soundview Paper Co. in Everett, which later became the Scott Paper Co.
Nicholson attended Mukilteo’s second school, Rosehill School, built after the first was destroyed by fire. She graduated from Everett High School in 1955.
When she was a kid, she remembers how her grandfather would bring her and her siblings salt sacks filled with pennies.
“He wouldn’t bring them until he had enough, but the minute he did, we ran to the grocery store and we’d get whatever candy we wanted,” she said.
They’d go to Allen’s Store, owned by Fred Allen, which had been the N.J. Smith Store built in 1903 and which still stands on Second Street and Park Avenue. It was most recently the Mexican restaurant La Cascada Acapulco.
She also remembers paying 5 cents to ride the ferry back and forth with her brothers and sisters – just for fun.
“They didn’t kick us off; they’d just leave us there,” she said. “So we’d get to ride the ferry for however long.”
At the Nazarene church, which still stands on Park Avenue, she met her future husband, Everett “Nick” Nicholson, when she almost ran into him on the stairs. They married right out of high school.
“I went out the doors, just flying down the stairs, and Nick and his friend were coming up the stairs to the church for the first time ever, and I almost knocked Nick right down,” said Nicholson, who had taught Sunday School at the church. “That’s how I met him.”
When they were dating, Nicholson remembers how he would pick her up after school every day and bring her to Mukilteo’s beach to do her homework.
“I’d have all my work for the next day’s classes to do, so I’d sit there and he’d be out on the beach, and I’d get my school work done,” she said. “He said, ‘It’s better than being back home with the kids.’”
Her husband was in the U.S. Air Force and, before they married, he was stationed in the barracks at Front Street and Park Avenue, where the NOAA station is now.
He was an engineer on a crash rescue boat, which helped rescue pilots and pick up plane wreckage in the Puget Sound. He later worked 36 years for the Boeing Co.
“They had a smaller boat besides the crash boat that they used if kids got off there and couldn’t swim, or somebody was having trouble on their boat, Nicholson said. “They’d go out and help the townspeople, too.”
She and her husband lived in a basement apartment near Goat Trail Road, where they raised the first two of their three children.
When Nicholson’s mother died in 1959, the family moved back in with Nicholson’s father. There, she helped care for her four youngest siblings. The youngest of all was just 2 years old.
“We ended up with six children,” she said. “We had two of our own and four of my brothers and sisters. We all pulled together and had a good time.
“We didn’t want the kids to suffer much, as they already lost their mom.”
When her father remarried, they found a home of their own in Everett.
That was when the Nicholson family joined the Mukilteo Presbyterian Church, then on Third Street. All five of them were baptized by The Rev. Phillip Laurie in 1971. Nicholson taught Sunday school there, as well.
“When you would go in, the bell rope was right there, and Nick would always be there with some kid, and the kid got to ring the bell, and Nick would help them, lifting them up and down,” Collier said.
Nicholson will ride in a Model T Ford in the Mukilteo Lighthouse Festival parade on Saturday, Sept. 6, and will be honored in a ceremony at the lighthouse at 3 p.m. that day.