This story, written by Sheryl Hegg, ran in The Dispatch on August 22, 1979
The name Jesse Dawkins inspires different recollections from different people in the area. People here in the 1940s remembered that Jesse Dawkins owned a restaurant outside Eatonville. Those herein the 1950s recall him as their friend neighborhood grocer. “He was a teacher,” insist recent Eatonville High School graduates who remember him most for his original humorous lectures in health class.
Could all be the same Jesse Dawkins? Yes, Dawkins admits that he’s done all of the above and more.
Dawkins grew up in Tacoma and graduated from Lincoln High School. After high school, he attended the College of Puget Sound (now UPS) where he played football and graduated with a degree in education.
During the summers while he was still in college, Dawkins became familiar with the Eatonville area while driving a tour bus from Tacoma to Paradise at Mount Rainier. At that time, Dawkins had no idea that he would one day settle down to live in Eatonville nor the fact that he would meet his future wife at Mount Rainier.
Those same summers that he was dutifully driving his bus to the mountain and back, a pretty young woman had found a summer job as a waitress and dancer at the lodge at Paradise.
The young woman, Madora, performed an acrobatic dancing act with her partner, when she was waitressing.
One day, during the act, Madora fell off her partner’s shoulders and hurt her head. Jesse, who didn’t know her at the time, volunteered to driver her to the doctor. That was the beginning of a relationship that has never ended. They have been married now for 38 years.
After Dawkins finished college, he played semi-professional football for a year and taught high school at the same time. He is reminded of his football days every time he looks in the mirror. He said that he was broken his nose more times than he can count. Football players in those days were a “rough bunch of cookies” according to Dawkins.
Teaching in the 1930’s and 40’s wasn’t a particularly prosperous field.
“I was starving to death. The wagers were to lousy,” said Dawkins. He earned $1,260 a year then. He had to quit teaching and move when the only house he could find to rend was $105 a month (nearly his total monthly salary).
Restaurant Owner & Construction Worker
Frustrated, Dawkins left education and went into the world of business. IN 1941, he and his bride bought the Kings’ Place Restaurant just outside of Eatonville. The restaurant thrived on the business brought in by truckers and tourists passing by on their way to the mountain.
“We sold a complete rib stake dinner that included dessert for 85 cents back then,” said Dawkins. He chuckles when he remembers being upset when Ole Malcom, an Eatonville butcher, raised the price of rib steak from $.19 to $.25 “We had to sell our dinner for one dollar after that.”
The hours were long and busy ones for the Dawkins during those years. Jesse also did construction work then. He spent three years working full-time days on the Alder Dam and nights at the restaurant. Madora handled the restaurant during the day.
In 1945, Dawkins made the difficult decision to sell King’s Place. He was worried that the economy would bottom-out after the war, so he sold the restaurant. The disaster he expected never happened. “Oh well,” he said, “if foresight was as good as highsight, we’d all have 20-20 vision.”
Selling the restaurant gave Dawkins a chance at another new occupation. So far he had driven a bus, taught school, played football, done construction work and owned a restaurant.
X-ray Technician & School Teacher
Dawkins worked as an x-ray technician for a year for the army, the only job he could find at the time. He said that if was the most boring job imaginable.
Faced with boredom, Dawkins decided he would rather be poor. So, for the next year he took a job as a teacher in the Clover Park School District.
Grocery Store Owner
During the years that he had been away from Eatonville area, Dawkins had kept in contact with some friends there. One of the friends mentioned that he was selling his store. Would Dawkins be interested in buying it? He jumped at the chance and by 1947 he was back in Eatonville as the new owners of his own store.
Keith Malcom, owner of Malcom’s Shop Rite, owned and operated the butcher shopt at the Red and White.
The 1950’s were good years for Dawkins. Although it was hard work, he enjoyed owning his own business once again. For 15 years Dawkins worked day and night at his store.
Eventually, it got to be too much for him. In 1962, he decided to sell out to Keith Malcolm who was planning to build a bigger store.
For the third straight time in his life, Dawkins decided to return to teaching. He taught math and science at the Eatonville Junior High. “Things were more respectful,” he added.
Dawkins really enjoyed his junior high students and was reluctant to return to teaching high school, but eventually he did. He taught high school math, health and social studies until retiring in 1976.
Dawkins had a special talent for teaching. Because he is a big man, with a deep, sometimes gruff voice, his presence in a classroom was never ignored by students. He has the rare skill of maintaining respect without closing off communications, which came in hand when dealing with adolescents.
Although he hoped to continue teaching for a few more years, he retired early for health reasons. Madora is still teaching at Eatonville Grade School.
Jess and Madora have six grown up children. Their four sons are Jesse Jr., Steve, Mark and Dan. They have two daughters, Suzanne and Anita. The Dawkins also have five (soon to be six) grandchildren.
Dawkins said the he has never regretted any career changes that he has made. Each was unique and fulfilling in its own way. There aren’t very many people around who have had the broad range of experiences that Dawkins has had.
Photos courtesy of Margit Thorvaldson, Pat Van Eaton, Bob Walter, and the Dispatch.
Click on images to enlarge.