S'Klallam elder leaves legacy of selflessness

Geneva Ives - Photo contributed
Geneva Ives
— image credit: Photo contributed

LITTLE BOSTON — It was a year of numerous firsts for Americans.

In 1941 the Grand Coulee Dam began to generate power on the Columbia River, the Archie comic strip found its way into print, the first Jeep rolled off the production line, Cheerios adorned grocery shelves and commercials forever changed the broadcast world.

It was also the year of a historical first for the S’Klallam Tribe, as the first ever Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribal member donned cap and gown and graduated from public high school.

In 1941 S’Klallam Tribal Elder Geneva Ives earned her diploma from North Kitsap High School, sparking an education legacy and forever cementing the importance of academics for all S’Klallam youth who grew up in her footsteps.

Ives’ legacy now must live on without her, as she died Feb. 3 at the age of 85. But listening to friends and family speak of Ives and learning of all the improvements in tribal education that were born of her experience, it’s clear her spirit is forever etched in the tribe’s history.

Back in 1941, S’Klallam men went to work and women raised the family; the need to acquire an education was as useful as a thought inside a dream.

But Ives, the eldest of 12 siblings, thought differently.

“It is outstanding Geneva did this,” said Tribal Chairman Ron Charles. “The culture shock for Geneva must have been really great and the discrimination kids saw in those days was really great.”

Another first for the tribe took place on Jan. 30, as Ives was formally honored for her achievement. During a special celebration the tribe dedicated the Career and Education building in Ives’ honor.

The ceremony was yet another historical milestone for Ives, as she is the first tribal member to receive such an honor. Her graduation picture will hang in the education center.

The mother of seven who had 31 grandchildren, 31 great-grandchildren and four great-great grandchildren was praised for her generosity, her spirit and her unconditional love for family and the Lord. Ives’ youngest brother shared the story of how his sister, raising seven children at the time, still took him in to ensure his graduation from NKHS in 1964.

But it was Ives’ heart to put other’s first and to delight in their happiness. She told her son Pat the most memorable thing in her life was raising seven children.

“She’s one of those people who lights up your life,” Charles said.

Her education legacy already thrives in the accomplishments of others and the advancement of several S’Klallam education programs.

In June of 2007 100 percent of the 22 S’Klallam students who began the ninth grade together graduated on time. In 2008 all but one student graduated on time, and that student completed course work in the summer.

Jill Metcalf, the tribe’s education coordinator said, five years ago the graduation rate was between 50 to 60 percent. Community-wide emphasis on education has made the difference.

“We understand the challenges students face and there is growing support from the community for students,” she said. “We’re all emphasizing the importance of education and that makes a big difference.”

Providing the necessary support programs and having Susan Reiersen, a dedicated certified teacher on board, also helps.

“Our certified teacher is extremely passionate about making sure these kids graduate on time,” Metcalf said. “She rewrites the curriculum to meet their learning style and that has had a huge influence on them.”

In recent years the tribe launched kindergarten through fifth grade reading and homework clubs, after school tutoring for middle school students, year-round credit retrieval and tutoring for high school students, language courses and collaboration with Evergreen College and Olympic College for post-secondary education choices.

Northwest Indian College is also on site, offering two-year vocational programs and associate degrees. In 2008, seven students graduated with associate’s degree.

Currently, 12 students are attending Olympic College, one student is earning a four-degree at Haskell Indian College and Anthony Jones graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in June. He is attending law school.

Some 50 S’Klallam students attend NK schools.

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