History: Joyce Koerner – teacher, textbook author and Edmonds Schools Foundation ‘Living Legend’

Joyce Koerner at age 4 with her pup in central Indiana circa 1915.

I have to admit when I first came across the name Joyce Koerner in Archie Satterfield’s Edmonds – The First Century, I had no idea who she was.

In the introduction section of his book, Satterfield identifies several books that provide rich historical accounts of the Edmonds and Meadowdale areas. The fourth paragraph reads:

“Still another book that deserves a permanent life is Joyce Koerner’s down-to-earth workbook for grade schoolers, A Historical Study of Edmonds, Washington. Of the four books this is my favorite because Ms. Koerner concentrated on the people who created Edmonds as much as the events and more than any other writer brought the pioneers to life with a few deft word portraits. Fortunate are the children who have been forced to read it.”

Given that review, I was curious to find out more about Joyce Koerner and her book. Here is her story.

Joyce Koerner was born on Sept. 15, 1911 in the central Indiana town of Valpariso. Born into humble beginnings, Joyce was the only child of George C. and Leona (Nickerson) Koerner, who were married April 2, 1907. In the 1910 census, her father was identified as an educator and businessman, and her mother as a homemaker.

George C. Koerner and his wife Leona with 3-year-old Joyce on George’s lap circa 1914. (Photo courtesy Edmonds Historical Museum)

Raised as an only child, Joyce in her family photos is shown constantly interacting with childhood playmates, various dogs and her mother. By all appearances, she had a happy upbringing and was possibly somewhat of a character.

Joyce at age 8, circa 1919. (Photo courtesy Edmonds Historical Museum)

As she grew older, Joyce’s academic records indicate that she was an stellar student, earning “Excellent” grades in all subject areas including Latin, geometry, English and American History.

Joyce’s high school report card and possibly her high school senior picture. (Photos courtesy Edmonds Historical Museum)

After finishing high school, Joyce obtained a two-year teaching degree and taught elementary school in Illinois for seven years during the height of the Great Depression. Toward the end of the Depression, for unknown reasons, Joyce moved to Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula and taught in a one-room school house on Marrowstone Island, located three miles southeast of Port Townsend. She would have taught every grade and subject while at Marrowstone. In 1948, Joyce moved to Edmonds and was immediately hired by the Edmonds School District.

Author’s note: Prior to her arrival in Edmonds, Joyce earned a bachelor of arts in education from Western Washington University in 1944, while teaching full time at the Marrowstone Island school.

Upon entering the Edmonds School District, Joyce began teaching the third grade at Edmonds Elementary School, joining longtime educators Frances Anderson, Gwen Shakespeare and Adrienne Caspers, as the school’s student population exploded after World War II.

Joyce Koerner with her third-grade class; date not noted. (Photo courtesy Edmonds Historical Museum)

While in her 33rd year of teaching, Koerner enrolled in the masters of arts in education degree program at Seattle Pacific College in 1962. Two years later, she graduated and her thesis — A Historical Study of Edmonds, Washington — was widely acclaimed, becoming the standard social studies reader/textbook for third-grade students in the Edmonds School District for more than a decade.

The article announcing the adoption of Joyce’s (thesis) textbook as the official social studies guide for third graders in Edmonds School District No. 15, in 1965. The young student next to Joyce was Susan Mitchell, the great granddaughter of A.M. Yost.
The cover of A Historical Study of Edmonds, Washington.

The reader/textbook contained 138 pages of Edmonds history written at a third-grade level. It provided photos and written descriptions on a series of subjects revolving around early life in Edmonds/Meadowdale, as it related to the Brackett, Yost and Hunter families.

The chapters included:

  • Introduction
  • Before the pioneers came
  • George Brackett
  • The A.M.Yost Family
  • The Duncan Hunter Family (Meadowdale early settlers)
  • Shelters in the Edmonds Area
  • Logging Begins – Mills
  • Early Edmonds Houses – Schools
  • Food for Edmonds Settlers (vegetables/fruits, dairy/cows, seafood/hunting and early stores, plus water supply options)
  • Clothing (hand sewn, sewing machines, hand-me-downs, washing-boiling-rinsing-and drying outdoors.)
  • Transportation (walking, horse and buggy, blacksmiths, steamboats, trains)
  • Communications: Telegraph, mail/post office, telephone, newspapers, library and motion pictures

In the acknowledgement section at the back of the textbook, Joyce identified the many early Edmonds settlers that she interviewed for the book. Illustrations and photos were also contributed by many early settlers. It reads like a “who’s who” in Edmonds’ early history.

The book’s Acknowledgments page

Each student was given a textbook, into which they wrote their name. Each section in the reader/textbook had a review at the end to check for the student’s knowledge and retention. Throughout the year, various subjects pointed back to items that had been previously covered in the textbook, knitting the fabric of life in Edmonds’ early days together.

After the reader was adopted as the standard, Joyce continued to teach for seven years, retiring in 1972. She had taught elementary students for 43 years, 24 years in the Edmonds School District at Edmonds Elementary and Olympic View Elementary.

In 1986, Joyce was selected as a Foundation for Edmonds School District “Living Legend” and was honored at a citywide event. Frances Anderson probably said it best when Joyce was honored: “Joyce was the ultimate team player, always working for the betterment of the student and the district.”

Joyce (age 75) being escorted by Edmonds School District Superintendent Hal Reasby at the Living Legends event in 1986. (Photo courtesy Edmonds Historical Museum)

After retirement, Joyce remained in the Edmonds area and was very active in the community and at the Edmonds Methodist Church. She died on Jan. 24, 1998 at the age of 87, and is buried at the Holyrood Cemetery in Shoreline.

This article was researched and written by Byron Wilkes. Thanks go to the Edmonds Historical Museum, Sno-Isle Genealogical Society and Associated Press – United Press International for research assistance.

  1. As a first year teacher in 1962, I was lucky enough to teach with Joyce. She was teaching third grad and I had second. She was working on the Edmonds history book then. To be sure the reading level was correct, in the spring she would borrow my students. Joyce was a mentor and a team player. She was cheerful, caring, generous, a wonderful friend.

    1. Thanks Marilyn for the feedback. I am happy that someone remembers her and is able to validate everything I have heard and read about her as a teacher and a person.

    2. In the 1980s, I taught Edmonds History in third grade at Seaview. We, third grade teachers, used Joyce’s book to teach the unit. In the spring, we did a walking tour with our classes to find the historical sites we had read about.

      1. Thanks again for the additional validation as to how long Joyce’s textbook was used in the Edmonds School District. I am sure it helped 100s if not 1,000s of kids learn about Edmonds History throughout the years.

  2. Byron, another great story. As a product of Edmonds School District 15, I have never seen her text book, or even known of its existence . My 3rd grade class at Lyndale Elementary School must not have used it. She interviewed and wrote about many of our cherished friends, I will need to try and find a copy of the book.

    1. Thanks Steve. I believe the textbook was implemented in third grade classrooms starting in 1965. I was told that the textbook was used universally until 1977 and then used in some classrooms as supplemental social studies reading until around 1980.

  3. Joyce was my 5th grade teacher at Edmonds Grade School in 1949 (the year of the blizzard and the earthquake). She was a wonderful person and teacher who made American history (as it was generally understood/interpreted at the time) come alive. She read to us “Caddy Woodlawn” and several Laura Ingalls Wilder stories and taught us all about explorers and pioneers. The Age of Exploration and The Westward Movement, for many good reasons, are spun differently today, but I have no doubt that Joyce would have been good at presenting these new takes as well.

    1. Bruce thanks for commenting on your educational experience with Joyce Koerner as your 5th grade teacher. As a writer it is always rewarding to hear from additional people who have had personal experiences in and around the subject matter you have written about.

      From everything I have discovered about Joyce, I have no doubt that she was an excellent teacher and one who was dedicated to providing a quality education to her students.

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