Quentin Clark launched his search for the history of the Dieringer School District with a stack of boxes.
“Everything that had accumulated over the years was stuck in cardboard boxes,” said Clark, a retired Dieringer teacher. “You can accumulate a lot of stuff in 125 years.”
For the past eight years, Clark has been sorting through that stuff, dusting off old photographs and reading the minutes of long-ago school board meetings. Along the way, he enlisted the help of alumni and staff members from one of Pierce County’s smallest school districts.
The fruits of their labor will be revealed Monday (Jan. 25) in a celebration at North Tapps Middle School. A “history wall” with historic photos and information about the school district from its founding in 1890 will be unveiled as part of a 125th anniversary celebration.
3Number of schools in the Dieringer School District
Dieringer’s first school board meeting was Dec. 6, 1890. But the first day of school was on Jan. 3, 1891, so that’s why the district is marking its quasquicentennial this year.
Today, the school district that surrounds the northern two thirds of Lake Tapps has an enrollment of more than 1,500 students and three schools: Dieringer Heights and Lake Tapps elementary schools and North Tapps Middle School.
The district covers about 5.5 square miles. There’s no high school, so students attend high school in neighboring districts, including Sumner and Auburn.
In the beginning, the school district was called Irvington, but was soon renamed to honor Joseph Dieringer, an early homesteader.
The first classes for Dieringer students were held in a storage shed owned by Dr. Charles Spinning, who served as physician on the reservation of the Puyallup Tribe.
“We have a picture of that shed,” said Pat Keaton, the retired principal of North Tapps Middle School who helped Clark on the history project.
A one-room schoolhouse was built and remained in use until 1908. Clark said teachers earned $40 a month — plus $15 for doing janitorial tasks such as keeping the fire in the stove lit and “making sure there was a Sears & Roebuck catalog in the outhouse.”
The site of the one-room school was used until 1908, when the property was bought by the Pacific Coast Power Co. (later Puget Power), which built a hydroelectric power plant there in 1911.
1936The year Dieringer merged with Lake Tapps School District
While a new Dieringer School was constructed, students attended school in Sumner. Clark said the district paid a man to take them by horse and buggy on the six-mile round trip.
In 1918, voters approved construction of a gymnasium, swimming pool and auditorium. The district bought a movie projector and the gym became the village theater, as well as a community recreation center. Students learned to swim in the school pool.
In 1928, with student enrollment increasing, the district built the structure that many know today as the old Dieringer School.
The Georgian Revival-style brick building served as a school until 1992. In 1995, Petersen Brothers Construction bought the building and it’s now the company’s headquarters. Petersen restored the building, and in 1997 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Dieringer School District merged with the nearby Lake Tapps School District in 1936, but over the years has stayed relatively small, compared to neighboring districts.
Keaton said the size allows educators to have more effect on children’s education, and allows parents to feel involved. It also gives students more opportunities to take part in school life, he said.
“You have a greater chance of being on the team, in a club or a drama production,” Keaton said. “Dieringer kids have this confidence, because they’re involved.”
Clark said he was always drawn to Dieringer.
He retired from the district in 1988, but continued as a substitute until just over a year ago, when he retired again at age 87.
“I love the district,” he said. “But most of all I love the kids. They were wonderful.”
CELEBRATE DIERINGER HISTORY
4 p.m. Monday: Take a tour of the former Dieringer School, now the headquarters for Petersen Brothers Construction, 2008 East Valley Highway E., Sumner. The brick building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
7 p.m. Monday: Anniversary celebration and unveiling of the Dieringer School District history display at North Tapps Middle School, 20029 12th St. E., Lake Tapps.