The History of Martin Sortun Elementary
Welcome to the story of Martin Sortun Elementary. This page includes material about the school's history, staff, students, facilities, and interesting functions.
Gary Myers was named the first principal of the new Central Site school in May, 1986. The planning staff was selected in November, 1986, and began meeting in December, 1986. During that time they addressed the needs of the new community, students, staff, curriculum, and organization, as well as ordering supplies and equipment. One of the primary goals of the planning committee was to create a positive relationship with the new students and parents. Newsletters were mailed to families of students who would attend Martin Sortun. Students were involved in naming the school and choosing a mascot and school colors. One newsletter introduced the planning staff and told briefly about their background and goals for the new school.
An organizational meeting was held in February, 1987, at the district office for planning staff and prospective PTA members. At that time, officers were elected and plans began for a smooth and successful opening day.
The name for the new school was chosen in August, 1987 by parents and students from the feeder schools. Over twenty-five letters were received by friends, children, and grandchildren of the Sortuns requesting that the school be named for a man who so highly regarded education. Martin Sortun, an immigrant from Norway, once owned and farmed the land on which the school is built. He strongly believed that education was a way to achieve your dreams and aspirations. His family's story is one of progress and the benefits of education and hard work. There are over a hundred direct descendants of Martin Sortun, many still in the Kent area. Over thirty members of the Sortun family attended the dedication of the school, some coming from as far away as Idaho and California. Family members participated in "Martin Sortun Day," sharing stories and insights with students and staff about the school's namesake. Students still learn about the man for whom their school is named. A brief history about the family and how the school came to be named is part of the curriculum at school. Members of the Sortun family, some from as far away as Norway, continue to visit the school and students.
Student Council planning began in May, 1987, when staff members met with students at five feeder schools. Two fifth grade students were selected from each feeder school to serve on the Student Council Planning Group. The purpose of these meetings was to encourage enthusiasm for the new school, talk about the mascot and colors, show samples of school sweatshirts and introduce the student council planning representatives. Additional meetings were held later in the year to get acquainted and establish the purpose of a student council. Bylaws were established, job descriptions for each office were written, and a calendar was set up for fall elections.
Martin Sortun Elementary opened its doors to students on September 2, 1987. Faculty, staff, parents, and some students wore Martin Sortun sweatshirts. The first year was a very exciting one. Dedication Day, October 19, 1987, was divided into two parts. During the school day, the students were involved in activities such as learning the history of Martin Sortun and enjoying an all school barbecue. Students were given helium filled balloons which were set off by all from the upper playground. A time capsule, containing various objects the students chose, was sealed and put in the attic to be opened in the year 2000 by the graduating seniors, the 1987 Martin Sortun kindergarten class! All students and staff were given a blue ribbon stating, "I'm an original!" Martin Sortun Elementary. The dedication in the evening included a program and open house. The faculty sang "Climb Every Mountain" and the student choir sang "I Like Mountain Music" in honor of the Sortun Mountaineers. Members of the Sortun family were special guests for the entire day's festivities.
Through the many years since, the school has matured into a highly respected place of learning. There have been many staff and faculty changes, and yet the school has never lost it's drive for excellence. The driving force in that effort had been Mr. Myers. Then in June, 1996, Gary Myers retired after 30 years of service in the Kent School District.
During the spring of 2000 we opened a time capsule that was sealed back in 1987. Present at the ceremony were a number of former kindergarten students from the first year of the school. They were all graduating seniors for the new millennium. Included at the get together were a large number of former and current teaching staff members. The capsule contained numerous pictures of TV and movie stars important to the students at that time. There was a baseball signed by all the Mariners on the 1986 team and a large number of sports cards. The capsule also contained student work such as letters, poems, art, and lists. At the end of the "Celebrate 2000" party the student council sealed up another time capsule to be opened in 13 years. All attending the proceeding had an enjoyable time sharing stories from the past and present.
The History of Mr. Martin Sortun
Martin Sortun Elementary School was named as such, not only because the school was built on land that once was owned and farmed by Martin Sortun, but also because he was a man who strongly believed that education was a way to achieve your dreams and aspirations. Mr. Sortun and his family's story is one of progress and the benefits of education and hard work. Please read Mr. Sortun's history below.
Mr. Martin Sortun was born in Eikfjord, Norway on August 23, 1889. When he was eighteen, he came to the Pacific Northwest and worked in a logging camp in Enumclaw. Four years later he reluctantly returned to Norway to take over his father's farm. In 1913, he married his school-days' sweetheart, Olianne Ramsdal; and by 1924, they had ten children. It was a dream of Martin's to return with his family to America someday, for life was difficult in Norway at that time; and he felt that he never could support his family adequately there. Therefore, in 1924 he returned to the Northwest alone and resumed work as a logger to earn enough money to bring his family to the United States. Finally, in 1929, after another trip back to Norway, he, his wife, and ten children took a month-long journey across the Atlantic Ocean and then a train ride across Canada. On September 13,1929, they arrived in Blaine, Washington and very shortly afterwards bought a thirty-five acre farm on Kent's east hill. Martin and Olianne worked that land until they died in their nineties.
The Great Depression was just around the corner when he bought the farm, but Martin managed to hold onto the farm because he made it work for him. He put in an acre of raspberries and sold them to canneries. In addition, he planted peach, cherry, and filbert trees and sold the produce the trees yielded. He also raised cows, pigs, and chickens on the farm. Even though the Depression made life more difficult for the Sortuns, they were always ready to help and take in relatives and friends who were more needy than they were. During this time Martin continued to work as a logger and was home only on weekends. His children, who now numbered twelve, worked the farm and attended school. They progressed rapidly at school and soon brought the English language to the home.
Play, as well as work was an important activity on the farm. Haystacks were ideal for games of hide-and-seek. Ropes were slung from high loft beams in the barn for would-be trapeze artists. Nearby Clark Lake provided a welcome swimming area on hot summer days. The fields were used as baseball diamonds and there were always enough on hand to play. After the season's end of berry picking, there was a watermelon feed in the shade of the barn. In the winter there was a tremendous bonfire and wiener roast to celebrate the end of the winter work required in the berry patch.
Christmas was a special time for the family. Olianne spent hours sewing clothes and baking treats. A big fir tree was selected to fit in the corner of the farmhouse living room to reach its twelve foot ceiling. By Christmas Eve it was decorated, and the family joined together for dinner and singing of carols. The gathering of family and carol singing on Christmas Eve is a tradition that continues today in the homes of the children and grandchildren of Martin Sortun.
As the Depression ended and World War II began, Martin found jobs in the ship yards. As time went by, he decided to retire to the farm and eventually shifted to raising beef cattle. Martin and Olianne lived to host the gathering of 108 Sortun direct-descendants and their families in 1979 to celebrate the anniversary of fifty years in America. Martin died in 1981 at the age of 92 while performing one of the farm duties. Olianne had died three months earlier at the age of 94. Up until their last days they shared their lives with so many and asked nothing in return.
Martin Sortun was an honest, proud, and responsible man who was respected and loved by his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, neighbors, and friends. Like many immigrants, he came to America to provide his family with a better way of life. He was a hard-working, family-oriented man who desired to educate his family to become good, strong citizens. Martin enabled his descendants to take advantage of the American education system, and his family, like many, grew more educated with each generation. His and his wife's highly principled, yet simple life style, coupled with their fortunate long and healthy lives, have given enormous inspiration to their family, as well as to the many others who knew them. It is hoped that Martin's story will encourage others to seek steps to educate themselves to be the best citizens they can be.