Pioneer of the Year proud to call Mukilteo home

Janice McCaulley Henry, 81, recalls growing up in Old Town
By Nicholas Johnson | Aug 09, 2017
Photo by: Nicholas Johnson Janice McCaulley Henry in front of her longtime home Monday, Aug. 7, on 3rd Street in Old Town Mukilteo. She is the Mukilteo Historical Society’s Pioneer of the Year. She’ll speak and take questions Thursday evening at Rosehill Community Center.

Mukilteo is the only place Janice McCaulley Henry ever wanted to live, despite the town’s reputation among her classmates at Everett High School in 1952.

The 81-year-old, who grew up in Mukilteo’s Old Town during the ‘30s and ‘40s, still remembers how people from Mukilteo were regarded in those days.

“They used to call people from Mukilteo mud hens,” Janice said. “In the yearbook at Everett High School, a lot of the senior guys would say their greatest ambition was to be the mayor of Mukilteo, being facetious.”

Until about that time, Mukilteo’s waterfront was more of a swamp, as Janice recalls. She should know: her parents had lived in one of the small beach houses where Lighthouse Park is today before moving up the hill to 5th Street.

Janice has been named Mukilteo’s Pioneer of the Year for 2017. Each year, the Mukilteo Historical Society honors one or two living pioneers – the men or women who were among the first to call the city home – to share and commemorate the history of Mukilteo.

She’ll be the historical society’s guest of honor Thursday evening, Aug. 10, at the Rosehill Community Center, 304 Lincoln Ave. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. She’ll share her memories of growing up in Mukilteo and take questions from the audience.

Next month, she will ride in the Lighthouse Festival parade with a contingent from the historical society, then at 3 p.m. the same day she’ll be honored during a reception at the lighthouse.

Janice was born in September 1935. She was the youngest of four children born to Hazel Riches McCaulley and Ralph McCaulley. Ralph came to Mukilteo from his hometown of Arlington prior to 1920. He worked for the Crown Lumber Company.

It was Hazel, however, whose roots ran deep in Mukilteo. She was the tenth of twelve children born to Mamie Gongia Riches and Edward Riches. Mamie was the oldest of 12 children.

Mamie and Edward, Janice’s grandparents, came from Wisconsin to settle in Western Washington in the early 1900s. They settled in the Mukilteo area in 1906, the same year the Mukilteo lighthouse began operations.

Not long after, Mamie’s parents decided to sell their farm in Wisconsin and move to Western Washington. Joseph and Mary Gongia, Janice’s great grandparents, boarded the Great Northern with their six youngest children for the several-day train ride to the west coast.

Upon settling in Mukilteo, Joseph worked at the Crown Lumber Mill. They had a large house near the beach and took in boarders. Later they moved to a house up the hill. They also lived in Seattle for a while, but after Joseph died, Mary moved back to Mukilteo to live with family. Mary, who died in 1931, was known as “Grandma Gongia” to children in Mukilteo.

For their part, Mamie and Edward lived in the Edgewater area, where they raised their 12 children, including Janice’s mother, Hazel. The family had a strawberry patch, and Edward kept chickens, at one time having 1,000 chickens in two large coops.

Edward also owned the hall near the Post Office on Park Avenue. It was used as a skating arena and also for dances. Two of their sons, Claude and Walter, managed the hall, with Claude and other members of his family playing in a small band for dances.

Before Janice was born and right before the Depression, her parents bought a house on Mukilteo Boulevard.

“They had a new house and a new car, and then the depression came along,” she said.

That’s when the family moved to a little house in an alley on 5th Street. Janice’s father dug out a basement and moved the little house on top, she said.

“He worked on that house all his life, basically,” Janice said. “In those days, you didn’t build a house in a few months. He did it all himself.”

Janice would grow up in that house, which her father built using hand-split shakes and beams from the mill.

“When I was really young, we had an outdoor toilet,” Janice said. “In fact, everyone in Mukilteo did, I think.”

Like her mother, Janice attended Rosehill school, where she played violin in the school orchestra. Janice said she got her interest in music from her father, who would play violin with Filipino travelers who came through town on ships and played mandolins and ukuleles.

Mamie, Janice’s grandmother, had a house on Mukilteo Boulevard.

I used to go up there when I was little,” she said. “It was big piece of property, as I remember. Everybody was pretty close knit and close by in those days.”

When Janice was in second grade, she and her family picked up and moved to Seattle, where her father worked as an electrician. The family moved back to Mukilteo by the time Janice was to start third grade.

Janice remembers going down to the sandy beach, near where the Silvercloud Hotel is today, and swimming in the water as Alma Ek (“Ekie”) watched over them. She also remembers Navy ships would dock nearby.

“Navy ships would come into the bay when I was 10 or 11 years old,” she said. “My sisters were older and could appreciate the sailors a bit better.”

Janice has fond memories of growing up in Mukilteo.

“It was a nice town to grow up in, it really was,” she said. “There were a lot less people. There was no Harbour Pointe. You could go up the Speedway, which was just a gravel road, and it was just trees on either side of the road the whole way.”

Janice attended Rosehill through eighth grade. She said it was a central part of the community, especially for children.

“If you didn’t know what to do after school, you could just go on over to the school and someone would be there,” she said. “All the school kids would go to the school grounds and play baseball and ride their bikes. I really hated to see the school disappear.”

In 1952, Janice married her high school boyfriend, Larry Rise. They moved into a little house in south Everett and had three children: Leanne, Karen, and Lynda.

“I would come over to Mukilteo to visit my mom, who still lived in the house my dad built,” she said. “I really wished I could still be living in Mukilteo. Eventually, we saw a house for sale, and we bought it.”

In 1960, Janice and her young family moved into a house at 605 3rd Street, which is where she has lived ever since.

All three of her daughters attended Rosehill school. For high school, her oldest went to Cascade and the younger two went to Mariner. Janice now has three grandchildren and one great grandchild.

In 1966, they considered moving, “but we couldn’t find a better area,” Janice said.

“We couldn’t find anything we liked as well, so we gave up our search and decided stay here and work on the house we had.”

She said the town had everything they needed – a library, a post office, a grocery store and a school, among other things. She said she misses the days when kids could run free with no real worries about safety.

“The kids could walk anywhere,” she said. “We didn’t worry about our kids as much. There also wasn’t busy traffic like there is now. If I had kids now, I wouldn’t want them crossing the Speedway.”

Janice and Larry divorced in 1971, after which she went to work at Taylor’s Landing on the waterfront. She also picked up golf from her sister Yvonne. That’s how she met her second husband, Dean, who she married in 1983. They lived together in her house on 3rd Street. He died in 2007.

“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate this place more and more,” she said. “It’s always been home. I’m really happy to still be living here. It’s such a special place to me.”

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