Tyee High School Totem Mascot History

Our High School will be changing it’s mascot from Totems to Titans in an effort to be more respectful of our indigenous people of the area. The class of 2022 will be the last class under the old Totem mascot.

This article is an inventory of the totems that were donated and used by students over the approximately 60 years of life at Tyee High School.

May this be helpful in finding an appropriate home for these relics such as a museum or with one of the local tribes.

Lastly, if you find I have misstated something or have additional information please use the comments section at the bottom. Then I can work with you to update the inventory and article.

Batgurrl – Robin Adams (Foster) Class of 1971 Tyee Senior High School

Updated May 7, 2022

Tyee Senior High School was founded in 1963 and was built in an old gravel pit using a then modern 60’s design. The majority of the buildings are round and are connected by covered walkways with courtyards. The Highline School District is currently working on the design phase of a proposed new school that will completely change the look and feel of this nearly 60 year old school. The actual construction will depend on a future bond approval.

Here is some more on the history of the school past and current.

Tyee High School opened in the Highline School District in the fall of 1963. The student body was created from sophomores and juniors from Mt. Rainier High School, and freshmen from Chinook Junior High School. The first class to graduate from Tyee was the class of 1965.

In 2005 Tyee was facing serious academic and behavior challenges, and the small schools movement had become popular in the U.S. In the fall of 2005, the Tyee campus was divided into 3 small schools: Global Connections, Academic of Citizenship and Empowerment (ACE,) and Odyssey. In 2011, Odyssey was eliminated, leaving he other 2 schools on the campus.

By 2016 the academic and behavior challenges were significantly reduced, and the grants supporting small schools had ended. The school district then decided to return the campus to a single school.

Stephanie Knox Nichols Class of ’67
View of Tyee High School in 1971 Annual of the 1960s new school
2022 Google View of Tyee High School – SeaTac, WA

Before we had Totem Poles and other Totem mascots we had “The Thunderbird”.

Thunderbird in Cement Courtyard

This Thunderbird in the courtyard came early in the school’s history from around 1964. Several groups have worked hard to preserve this Thunderbird.

Unknown what will happen to this old mascot relic. Very difficult to move and if a new school is built doubtful it will be saved. But one can always dream that there is a way to save one of the oldest pieces of Tyee High School History. This Thunderbird was blessed by one of the local tribes.

Here is a bit of history from the early years and the Thunderbird:

The t-bird was our sacred symbol. The lettermen from the 1965 class used to stand shoulder to shoulder around it after games to keep Mt. Rainier athletes from stepping on it. (Mt. Rainier was our biggest rival, since the class of ’65 came from there to create the Tyee student body.) Typically a fight would break out over it! I guess that’s why the district eventually put the chain around it.

If you got in trouble, like getting caught skipping, one of your punishments might be to have to clean the t-bird with a toothbrush. What’s really funny is now there is a firmly believed idea among current students at Tyee that if you step on the t-bird, you are cursed & won’t graduate!

Memory from 1967 alumni – Stephanie Knox Nichols
Thunderbird at Tyee High School – photo from Deana Osborn Anderson

The Thunderbird was mentioned in Yearbooks. First we have from page 8 of the 1967 one.

The respected Symbol of Tyee in the early years – 1967 Annual – From Stephanie

Next we have some info on the Thunderbird from the 1972 Annual.

My visit to the campus recently, I took a short video of the Thunderbird Courtyard. This video below also gives a good view of the 1994 Replacement Totem Pole (see 1978 Overman Totem below)

Now to the mascots. The earliest two totems are currently missing. One was of a typical size and the other was small enough to be held.

Tommy – small totem

The smaller one was nicknamed Tommy and was often taken to games and events. It was carved by the school’s head custodian, Brad Orchard. In October 1966 there was a naming contest and this totem became known as Tommy ever since.

Wanda Foster was the one who named our little but powerful Totem Tommy. Sadly Wanda died in a car accident not long after graduation. What legacy she left for us.

Does anyone know the current location of Tommy?? or any other information on this now lost mascot?

Article on totem Tommy’s naming contest.

Tommy was in the 1967 Yearbook. I have examined this following photo and the one above for the naming contest and they are the same one.

Tommy Closeup in 1967 Yearbook

I estimate that Tommy is about 3 feet tall and the wings span about 1 1/2 to 2 feet. Based this on the size compared to Mr. Orchard and Bruce McLean.

As said earlier we need to find where Tommy is. Let us put our heads together on this for Wanda!

1965 class totem

This totem donated by the class of 1965 (first graduating class) was erected in the 1967-68 school year. This pole is also lost or perhaps altered beyond recognition.

First appearance of this first totem was a drawing in the 1st year book of 1964. For many alumni of this period this was all they had until the actual pole was installed after they graduated.

1964 Yearbook drawing of Tyee Totem Pole with Spirit animals for each class.

The totem came alive when Will Krebs carved the pole for us. One alumni told me that it was kept under a tent like structure to protect the process. Another alumni said that he had a minor stroke while working on the project. Then when he felt better he came back and finished it. Such dedication to our school in the dawn of it’s years.

Article about the carving the original pole from the 1967 Yearbook

Installation of Totem in 1967-68 school year.

Our first totem mascot was official

Here we have a completed totem from one of the Tahlkie Yearbooks.

From early school annual totem unveiled

I have accumulated the following information around this first totem. As always, if you have something to add or correct please reach out.

  • The figures on this totem represent the classes; top is the Thunderbird for Seniors, next is the symbol of the Junior class, the Wolf and the Sophomore’s have the symbol of the Bear. The bottom figure for Freshman is Beaver. (the school did not always have Freshman see article at very bottom for more info)
  • I was told that the wood for this pole came from Alaska
  • There was a blessing ceremony performed by one of the local tribes.

Here are several photos of this pole. The last one I could find is in the 1982 senior photo and perhaps in the 1990 article on restoration. Does anyone have a later one? Do we know why it disappeared? Was it kidnapped by a rival school and finally damaged beyond recognition or use? Mystery surrounds this oldest pole!

1982 yearbook – color photo of Original pole repaired
1981 Senior class photo – totem has broken beak & missing a wing
1977 Class Photo – note the broken beak & one of the replacement wings missing
1974 annual photo color of original totem
1971 Senior Photo close up of totem – two wings but broken beak
Totem Photo in 1971 Annual – must be before beak was broken but has damage to Wolf
Totem Photo in 1971 – beak is broken but Wolf repaired. Pole is beginning to crack
1970 Senior Class Photo with Totem on side of original gym

1969 Senior Photo with Totem which has original wings & smaller beak

1990s Repair, Mischief, & Damage to Totems

Several Alumni have sent me information around how rival schools kidnapped and/or damaged the totem mascots.

First we have the information sent to me by Terri Winchell Hewitt from 1990. First we have a quote from Terri who was part of Senior Class Leadership. She jokes about her quote and I think we all agree with her sentiments.

Unknown publication with comment on pole repairs in 1990

Original memo calling students to action to repair damaged totem mascots.

1990 Memo – Totem Restoration

Next we have a full newspaper article with photo from Amy Scholl Streavel. This is from the Times News (not sure if it is Seattle or Highline Times) and published on May 20, 1990. This talks about how other schools (called out Mt Rainier) would steal the totems and damage them. The school district was trying to stop this behavior. Not only were they repaired when returned but also secured with metal poles. Here is the article:

May 20, 1990 article about Kidnapped Totems, their return and repairs.

Next we have the photo of a totem pole being repaired by Tyee Students. I have looked at this photo closely and compared it to the original 1965 pole. I believe it is our first Totem! It has the crack that runs thru the old wood visible in the 1970s photos, it has the right claws for the Thunderbird and the Wolf that is center of the photo has the correct eyes and shape. One more thing to note is the Wolf teeth being painted are similar to the unknown pole below.

The photo comment also notes that three totems had the steel pole installed. That must be the 1965 original, the 1975 pole (now facing the West Parking lot) and the original Overman pole that was in front of the Cafeteria. Any thoughts, photos or comments appreciated?

1990 Photo of Totem Repair

Kyle Houston gave us information around the 1978 Totem (see below photos). Here is what he said:

The 1978 one in front of the cafeteria was vandalized and burnt in 1993-1994. The current pole was actually donated from Alaska and put up about that time.

I asked Kyle a question to be sure I understood and he sent this response:

They had to replace the pole that was there prior to 1994. It was vandalized with spray paint and set on fire. The current one in the video is the replacement one that was installed in 1994 or 1995. It was donated by a carver in Alaska because Tyee couldn’t afford to purchase a new one.

Kyle Houston – on Tyee High Alumni Booster Facebook Group

I had known there was damage and school rivalries but never imagined that it would go to axes and burning these mascots. Disrespectful in so many ways.

Old Totem – Unknown Origin

This pole is still on campus but not identified. It does have the same animals stacked; Thunderbird, Wolf & Bear. Is this the very original totem with many repairs? Or could it be the damaged Overman Totem? It looks very different from the original but after my visit and review of it, I do think it is possible this is the original. Again, I am asking for any clues on the disappearance of the old totem and the creation of this one.

Oldest Pole of unknown origin on campus 2022 – Photo thanx to Deana Osborn Anderson

I took some close up photos of this pole. Looking closely, it has a very old core that is rotting away. The current paint is super heavy, almost leather like. First we have the Thunderbird:

Thunderbird on the top have the same legs and hump where the body would be.

The bird on the top has ear type structures that the original does not and the carved out eyes are not visible. However, the paint is very heavy and that could have been carved off for a new look. The legs and body hump are similar and a crack in the pole on the right is in a similar position to the original.

Next we have the Wolf:

Wolf on old un-identified totem

In the original pole the wolf had only a head, shoulders and front paws. This one extends down to include feet as well. On the original this would be where the mouth of the Bear used to be. A very voracious bear expression compared to the bear on this pole. Could the remake have extended the wolf down and then created a more teddy bear like at the bottom. This also would encompass a figure that I cannot ID on the bottom portion of the original pole. Here is the Bear for you to see:

Bear of today is kind of cuddly versus the original Bear

As I looked at this I thought perhaps they made the paws of the old Bear into these cute ears and they re-carved and painted this face and body. I know I am stretching it but perhaps it was so damaged by other schools stealing the totem. This was a necessary repair done in the 1980s to fix it.

I am researching another unknown pole, it is a 1977 photo from the yearbook of that year. Perhaps it is the Overman totem. Looking at that photo and this unknown pole they have two things in common. One is the ear like top of the Thunderbird and the flat like wings. The unknown pole wings are smaller but kind of similar. Will update as more info comes in.

Does anyone know what happened to the original or the Overman Poles? Where did this unknown pole come from? Mystery for sure!

Smaller Totem in Office

This totem is not Tommy but was taken to games as well. No information on who carved or created this nor when. Your help would be appreciated.

Well preserved Thunderbird Totem in Office

Class of 1974 Totem – Westside of campus

This pole was donated by the class of 1974. It has had considerable damage from birds and the weather. This has caused rot and general deterioration. Not sure if it can be saved. Perhaps a portion?

Any information on this poles carver or other bits of history? Reading the 1990 article on repairing the totems it mentions that in early years the mascots were celebrated at a Potlatch Celebration. Often new poles were produced during Potlatch. Could that be the origin of this pole?

Some are telling me that it is unlikely this was a Potlatch Pole. Those were made of paper and other quick construction items. Takes time to carve a pole.

Another alumni said that this was a John Overman Pole. It is possible but we need more info on this and sent some questions to Don Beaver if he know.

1974 Totem facing West Parking lot
Close up of 1975 Totem

Lonely Pine Tree next to ’74 Totem

We have this lovely pine tree that was planted in the early years of the school. From reading this article I would say this baby pine was planted in the 1963-64 time period. The article mentions the muddiness around campus so hence my guess on the age.

Here is the article that Deana found for us with a photo of the Lonely Pine.

Lonely Pine and the hope for a lush campus one day
Just a baby tee in a sea dirt around the unfinished school

I received this 2011 photo of the 1974 totem from Karen Smith and Deana. There is our little Pine Tree thriving and not small anymore. Just like all of us alumni!! He grew up with Spirit.

See our Lonely Pine on the right of this 2011 photo?

1978 Totem – Outside Cafeteria Wall

Carved by John Overman per Don Beaver who helped to paint it. Mr. Overman had several children who attended Tyee; 1972, 74 & 77 classes. Heard that John carved totems and other items with a chainsaw and sold at the Puyallup Fair.

Fred Overman, class of 1972, contacted me quite a while ago with the following story. The totem was in his parents’ yard, & they had to move & couldn’t take it with them, so offered it to him. He was in the Navy at the time & had no place to keep it, so he donated it to Tyee.

Stephanie Knox Nichols

This pole was damaged in 1993-94 school year. Then replaced the following year.

1981 Small Totem

This small totem looks to be the same size as Tommy. Comparing the two photos the wings and beak look different. I estimate this little pole that was taken to games and other events is about 2 1/2 tall about a 2 foot wing span. Karen Smith sent the photo and said it was painted bright colors

1980-81 Yearbook of Prep Club with Small Totem

1994 Totem – Outside Cafeteria Wall

The current pole in this location is the replacement of the Overman Pole after it was severely damaged by a rival school. It was donated by a carver in Alaska because Tyee couldn’t afford to purchase a new one. See remarks above about kidnapped, damaged and repairing Totems.

Overman 1978 Totem

1979 Totem – Inside Gymnasium

This totem was purchased from the famous chainsaw carver Mike McVay of Whidbey Island. Deana sent me the following link to a great article on the McVay Family.

Chainsaw Carving History

Here is a recent photo of it inside the gym. I had heard that there is a good Totem Banner close to this.

Mike McVay carved Totem from late 1970s.

Miscellaneous Totem Items

Next are a couple of totems that are not poles but deserve mention.

First are the two flat totem art on the side of the Gym.

Totem Art #1 on Gym
Totem Art #2 on Gym
View of Gym with both Totem Art

Then we have the red metal school sign on the Cafeteria facing 188th. Unsure of the year this was erected. Anyone know more? Below this is the original Tyee High School Thunderbird sign from an annual.

Current Tyee School Sign
65 annual photo of thunderbird Tyee School Sign from Deana Osborn Anderson


In the 1970 annual is this Tyee Crest. Do we know the location of this relic?

The Crest was approved on February 7, 1967. Here is a Smoke Signal with article about the Crest and a proposal to protect the Thunderbird from people walking on it.

1967 Signal announces Crest

The crest is mentioned in the 1967 Yearbook and it documents that it was created and gifted to the school from the class of 1967. Here is a page from that yearbook talking about Tommy, the 12 foot original totem and this Crest. It also explains the meaning of each item on the crest.

We have an early rendering of the crest from the same yearbook.

1967 Annual – Original Crest Drawing

The actual wall plaque made of the crest pictured in the office area around 1969-70.

Tyee Senior High School Crest – from 1970 Tahlkie

Crest shown in 1970 Homecoming Photo of Queen.

Queen Burrell in 1970 with Crest in background

Next a set of items that include another version of the crest, a framed totem art piece and Alma Mater Poem by Mr. Rants. These items should be added to the list of Totem items to be saved and honored.

Crest and Totem Memorabilia in Gym Next to scoreboard
Close up of Poem and information from Karen Smith
Article from the Signal on the Alma Mater Poem

Another item is the Tyee Sign board which was used to publish important dates. Here are views of the original under construction in 1970 and the current one:

Sign completed in the first decade of the school

More History items:

Lot of discussion around when the school had 3 or 4 classes on campus. Here is a good explanation I recieved:

  • Tyee was 3yr the first year it opened (no seniors).
  • Was 4 year until the 67-68 year when it went back to a 3yr. Class of 70 was bottom of totem pole 2 years (their frosh and soph years)
  • Reverted back to 4yr school 80-81 year and Junior High went to a Middle School 2yr format (grades 7-8).
  • So the 80-81 year saw about 1/2 of Tyee as new faces! Frosh/sophs plus transfers from Glacier High School. Which closed in 80. It was rebuilt and opened in 2019 as a Middle School
  • The 2019-2020 year 6th graders moved to Middle School.
  • Currently in Highline Public Schools: Elementary School is K-5 ( some have preschool programs) Middle School is 6-8. High School is 9-12.

Deana sent me a history of Tyee written by Stephanie. This included some important information about the current Tyee that we need to understand and help with. Kudos to both of these ladies on all they have done for the current student body.

During the 2016-17 school year the staff faced new challenges. First, the returning students had developed identity as ACE or Global students and were completely unfamiliar with the old traditions of Tyee. In previous years, ACE and Global students had competed against each other and so the elimination of those schools left a void. Incoming students were too young to remember Tyee as it once had been.
A second challenge involved the changing demographics of the area. In the 2017-18 school year Tyee had close to 1,000 students. Of those, 85% qualified for free and reduced lunches, and 106 were homeless.
Tyee is now in it’s third school year since being returned to a single school. The staff and the alumni group, “Friends of Tyee,” have helped create a new school spirit, but it will take more time and effort for this to reach the level it once was. The school has received financial support from the Mariners and the Seahawks, but the high level of poverty at the school continues to be a challenge

Stephanie Knox Nichols Class of ’67.

Next is a Smoke Signal article reminiscing about the very first day at Tyee in 1963.

Opening Day for First Tyee Students

Conclusion

That is what we have gathered on our Tyee High School Totem Mascots. Thank you to all who have helped with photos and history information.

Are we missing some items like Banners or Sports related items? Please send me anything else you have, additional information on the above items or corrections to what I have included.

These relics could make a meaningful exhibit that explains how times have changed and honors our past mascots as well.

4 comments

    • Hope all is well in your history searching. I took some time off from my latest research of Veazie lost Logging Camp to help consolidate this for my fellow alumni.

  1. Thank you for all the work you have done. It is an amazing history and I am proud to have gone to school there for four years being in the Class of 70. I really feel like we need to preserve all the TOTEM Spirit !!

    • Thanx Melaine – Be sure to send my anything you might have tucked away on the history. This information is growing as everyone pitches in a picture and a memory.

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