Whatcom County has been home to numerous people of historic importance and interest. Here's some of them:
Frances Axtell, legislator (1866-1953) — A reform-minded politician, Axtell was one of the first two women elected to the state House of Representatives, in 1912, serving in a district that included Bellingham and Whatcom County. Her two-term tenure was devoted to public safety issues, workers' rights, and reform through initiatives and referendums.
Nola Ayres, gymnastics coach (1946- ) — Ayres made Sehome High School famous as she coached her gymnastics teams to more state titles than any school in the nation, including 14 titles in a row from 1972 to 1985. By the time she retired from teaching and coaching in 2000, she'd guided the Mariners to 22 state titles and a 384-1 record.
Galen Biery, historian, photographer (1910-1994) — Born in Fairhaven, Biery's avocation of collecting, showing and publishing local history brought him many honors. A student of photography, he learned in his early 20s to transfer old photographs to large, glass slides that became the basis for hundreds of "magic lantern" and later slide shows on county history.
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Biery took many photos of historical events and collected hundreds of photos made by others. He and Dorothy Koert collaborated on "Looking Back," a two-volume history of Whatcom County that family members are republishing this year in one volume.
Mary Davenport-Engberg, music conductor (1881-1951) — Born in a covered wagon near Spokane, Davenport-Engberg rose to international prominence as the first woman professional symphony orchestra conductor.
In 1898, she and her husband traveled to Europe, where she studied music in Germany and Denmark. She debuted as a violinist in Copenhagen and performed in New York on her return to America.
Back home, she organized and conducted the Bellingham Symphony Orchestra and became famous throughout the United States and Europe as the only woman holding such a position.
Eric A. Hegg, Klondike photographer (1867-1948) — Born in Sweden, Hegg began to study art and photography at age 15. He opened his first studio in Wisconsin, then moved to Tacoma and on to Bellingham, where he opened a studio downtown and in Fairhaven.
Hegg became well known as a pioneer photographer of Bellingham Bay and the 1880s boomtown, but gained real fame as the first photographer to document the 1896 gold rush in Alaska and the Canadian Yukon. His most famous picture depicts the grueling 3,600-foot-high Chilkoot Pass, across which gold seekers struggled in search of a dream.
Ella Higginson, writer, poet (1862-1940) — A poet laureate of Washington, Higginson also wrote a novel, songs, short stories and travel articles. A strong supporter of New Whatcom State Normal School, the forerunner of Western Washington University, she and her husband are the namesake of Higginson Hall, on campus.
Her most famous poem, "Four-Leaf Clover," written in 1890, reads, in part:
I know a place where the sun is like gold
And the cherry blooms burst with snow,
And down underneath is the loveliest nook,
Where the Four-Leaf clovers grow.
One leaf is for hope, and one for faith
And one is for love, you know,
And God put another in for luck —
If you search you will find where they grow.
Capt. Henry Roeder, mill owner (1824-1902) — A sailor and merchant, Roeder and longtime business partner Russell Peabody struck north from California in 1852 to enter the fishing industry but revised their plans and decided to build a sawmill in the Puget Sound area.
Hearing of an unencumbered waterfall, they landed at Whatcom Creek on Dec. 15 and had a mill up and running there the next year. Fire destroyed the mill in 1873, but Roeder later convinced a utopian colony to move from Kansas and rebuild the mill.
Active in local politics and economic development, Roeder was the first person to build a large vessel in Bellingham Bay. He also operated a Chuckanut sandstone quarry and sold land for a coal mine.
Lottie Roeder Roth, county historian (1864-1933) — Daughter of a pioneer family, Roth was renowned as an active civic and social worker and as editor of an extensive history of Whatcom County. Her parents were Henry and Elizabeth Roeder, among the first white settlers on Bellingham Bay.
She attended the first school of Whatcom, studied in Ohio and San Francisco and attended the University of Washington for two years before returning to teach in Everson and Ferndale. Her husband, Charles I. Roth, was an attorney and a state representative. Her two-volume "History of Whatcom County" was published in 1926.
Paul Woodring, educator (1907-1994) — In 1989, Woodring received a rare honor by having the Western Washington University School of Education named for him while he was still alive.
A faculty member starting in 1939, he left Western twice, once to serve on Gen. Douglas MacArthur's staff during World War II, once as an education consultant to the Ford Foundation.
He returned to Western in 1962 and was interim president in 1964-65. In 1985, when he retired, he was the first person to receive the distinguished educator award given by Western's School of Education.