Dedicated to the citizens of Mason County, Washington since 1886

COMMUNITY PROFILE - Shirley Jaccard

Around the world in 100 years

In the fall of 1937, Shirley "Winkie" Jaccard was a frightened 14-year-old taking the 40-minute bus ride from her family's isolated farm in the Pickering area to enter the eighth grade at Shelton Junior High School.

Her education so far had been conducted inside the one-room Grant School - one year, she was the school's sole girl. She and her four siblings rose at 4 a.m. to milk cows and tend to chickens before their half-mile hike to Grant School. The family's outhouse was perched directly over a stream.

Now Jaccard was heading to the "big city" of Shelton.

"It was so scary," Jaccard recalled in an interview at her Harstine Island home a couple weeks before her 100th birthday, which is Sunday. "We'd never been off the farm."

Yet that rural Mason County girl who had never seen Olympia or Seattle turned into a globe-trotter.

Jaccard taught school in Australia for a year and studied schools in China through a program launched by President Richard Nixon. She was a missionary in Congo and helped crew a ship on a three-week journey from the Shelton Yacht Club to Hawaii. She jumped into the icy waters of Antarctica.

None of these adventures was a guided tour. "I did it on my own, on the streets, no five-star hotels," she said.

Birth made her a Mason County resident a century ago and COVID brought her back. Jaccard was staying at her longtime summer house on the shores of Harstine Island when the pandemic struck.

The fourth of five children, Jaccard was born Sept. 17, 1923, in Shelton General Hospital. Her father was a truck farmer who had migrated from Kansas.

"We were poor as church mice, but we weren't poor in the neighborhood," Jaccard said, pointing out the family had both running water and electricity before any of the neighbors. The property had four creeks, with the outhouse on top of one of them.

"We never had a smelly outhouse," she said.

Jaccard attended Grant School from the first through the eight grades. One year, there were 15 students. She graduated from Shelton High School in 1941.

During World War II, Jaccard worked at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton. She shook hands with President Franklin Roosevelt when he toured the facilities. She then enrolled at Washington State University (then Washington State College) and earned a bachelor's degree in business administration.

Jaccard had met her husband, Gilbert, at a picnic in her late teens. "We were outdoor people - we skied a lot." They wed in 1949 and had four kids.

The family lived in downtown Seattle, then moved to Bellevue. Gilbert worked at Boeing. One day, Gilbert dropped dead at her feet, Jaccard recalled.

"That left me alone with four little kids and I hadn't worked in 15 years," she said.

Jaccard packed up her children and they drove around Europe and camped in a canvas tent, living on bread and cheese.

Jaccard began her 30-year teaching career instructing kindergartners, first graders and special needs students in Bellevue. And she traveled the world, at a time when it wasn't easy to visit places like the Congo or Estonia.

Jaccard said her adventures, studies and projects overseas allowed her to meet so many people face to face. "She has the unique ability to make friends around the world," said her son Walter.

"It can be scary and sad and things you see are heartbreaking," she said of her visit to the Congo. "There's people who sit beside you and plead for help."

In Botswana, she and the other female passengers asked the bus driver to pull over so they could urinate. When all of them were squatting next to the bus, the driver playfully drove away.

Smith said her final overseas excursion to Vietnam and Cambodia was the only time she stayed in first-class hotels.

The family bought the Harstine Island property in 1963, before a road to the site existed.

"This was a summer place. I didn't intend to live here." Three years ago, "I came down for the weekend, then COVID hit, so I stayed." She still owns 2½ acres on Lake Sammamish near Bellevue.

These days, Jaccard walks every day, swims in the Sound, and reads adventure novels and nonfiction books. On her birthday Sunday, some of her children will be with her to celebrate. Next week comes the rest of the clan, from as far away as New York and Florida. Every adult in the family has earned at least a bachelor's degree, she said. And her advice after a century of life? "Believe in yourself."

Author Bio

Gordon Weeks, Reporter

Shelton-Mason County Journal & Belfair Herald

 

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