Janet Haltom Ames (with microphone) speaks to the crowd after being honored during Sacajawea Elementary School’s 60th anniversary last October. Photo courtesy of Paul Herrick
Janet Haltom Ames (with microphone) speaks to the crowd after being honored during Sacajawea Elementary School’s 60th anniversary last October. Photo courtesy of Paul Herrick

Janet Haltom Ames has had a long life of helping others, sharing her love of learning with anyone willing to learn. She is being recognized for her accomplishments, from teaching first grade to helping establish a vacation Bible school, to tutoring students having issues or simply wanting the extra help. 

Last October, Sacajawea Elementary School (9501 20th Ave. N.E.) celebrated 60 years of operation with a sock hop, where Haltom Ames was presented with a plaque from one of her first students there. While she was only a first-grade teacher from 1959 to 1965, the impact she made was evident by the former students honoring her for inspiring them.

Former student Paul Herrick, the drummer for local band the Del Montes, which organized the sock hop, said, “She instilled a love of reading in us, sang to us, and we all loved her.… She was a wonderful, beloved, memorable teacher, and many of us are still in touch with her.”

Herrick, who also teaches philosophy at Shoreline Community College, helped to form the Sacajawea Alumni Association, which partnered with the school PTA to put on the school’s 60th anniversary celebration on Oct. 16. The event attracted 200 people and raised several thousands of dollars for the school. 

 

Learning from experience

To Haltom Ames, whose grandfather taught at Eastern Washington University in 1905 and whose mother taught high school in Spokane, the most important thing is learning. She taught courses at a women’s prison from 1956 to 1958, teaching inmates how to read and write, something that some of them had never done before. 

“I could not do it in today’s world at all, but I taught first-grade reading and writing,” Haltom Ames said. “I was scared to death, so young at the time, but it was just an incredible experience. You could see how learning affected them. One inmate started crying and said that she had never known her name before. It was just unbelievable. The majority of those women had gotten themselves into situations where they were helping someone else commit a crime, but they really had no choice.”

Haltom Ames explained that the Seattle Public Schools superintendent at the time was looking for teachers for the district’s newest elementary school, Sacajawea; she signed up immediately. She said that the superintendent had visited the women’s prison and saw firsthand Haltom Ames’ teaching style and asked her to apply. 

“Education is very important — never stop learning,” she said. “There are just so many things out there to discover and learn.”

Haltom Ames also helped start the Magnolia Ecumenical Vacation Bible School at Magnolia Lutheran Church (2414 31st Ave. W.) after she retired from teaching. 

“We always had a vacation Bible school. So when my son was 4 or 5, I got together with the other parents and teachers to put on a Bible school for the kids,” she said. 

“We started out at the Episcopal Church, and then the Lutherans asked if we could move over there, and we’ve been with them ever since,” she explained. “We started with music, stories and crafts — it just expanded. Now, we have a variety of programs.”

 

Giving back

This year, the Magnolia Ecumenical Vacation Bible School celebrates 40 years of serving the community’s youngest members, something that Haltom Ames considers a tremendous success. But the most touching event was much smaller and happened on a recent Tuesday, Haltom Ames said.

Haltom Aimes, who describes herself as a “reading specialist,” works with students who need a little extra help or just want to get ahead every Tuesday in the playhouse area at Serendipity Café & Lounge (3222 W. McGraw St.) in Magnolia. 

She arrived that Tuesday to see that the owners had changed the sign above the entrance to the playhouse, announcing that it was now “Janet’s Playhouse.” 

“I can’t tell you how much it means to me,” she said. “It was just so sweet.”

She is also quick to explain that she does not feel that she does anything special: “It’s just the same as a mathematician or an engineer: You use the skills and talents that you have and you give back; you just do what you are meant to do.”

Anna Carriveau contributed to this story. 

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