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All Over The Map: Family responds to name being removed from Lake Stevens park

Lake Stevens City Council is set to vote next week to change the name of Wyatt Park. But what do the descendants of the park’s namesake Willard A. Wyatt think about all of this? KIRO Radio tracked them down in Iowa and Idaho to find out.

Wyatt Park is a beautiful spot with a beach and a boat launch on the southwest shore of Lake Stevens. There are picnic tables and a dock, and terrific views of Mount Pilchuck.

Earlier this month, the Lake Stevens Parks and Recreation Planning Board voted unanimously to recommend that the Lake Stevens City Council change the name from Wyatt Park to Davies Beach.

Davies Beach was the name of that spot from around 1908 to circa 1950. It was a private resort operated by a man named Eugene Davies, and featured a dance hall and picnic area, which many big lakes around here had in those years. This was before cities and counties started devoting more resources to acquiring and developing public parks around the middle of the 20th century and especially after World War II. The “Davies Beach” name, Cyndi Fraser says, is still used by some old-timers.

Wyatt Park has been a Snohomish County park since sometime around 1960. Ownership of the land is being transferred to the City of Lake Stevens sometime later this year, perhaps as early as March.

The City of Lake Stevens has expanded its boundaries over the past few decades; where Wyatt Park was once in unincorporated Snohomish County, it now sits within Lake Stevens city limits.

Why change the name now after nearly 60 years? The timing is partly because of the ownership transfer, but the idea to revert to the more historic name of Davies Beach comes from Cyndi Fraser and the Lake Stevens Historical Museum.

In an email, Fraser wrote, “no one knows of any connection of [Willard A.] Wyatt to Lake Stevens, only that he was a Snohomish County Commissioner for many years. I just decided to do some digging into why it was changed, because I was researching the history of different resorts on the lake … residents say you can tell how long people have lived here by what name they call the park.”

Visiting the park earlier this week, the “Wyatt” name figures prominently on a single sign along the road – which, by the way, is called Davies Road –  but there’s no plaque or interpretive panel providing any history or context about Willard Wyatt, or offering any explanation as to why the park is named for him.

Fraser’s research turned up a number of documents that she shared with KIRO Radio, and a search of various newspaper archives reveal that Willard A. Wyatt was indeed a Snohomish County Commissioner representing the 3rd District as a Democrat from about 1950 until 1966. This was when the county was run by three-member Board of Commissioners and not just a single county executive.

Willard Wyatt was born in North Carolina in 1889 and came to Clarkston, Washington as early as the 1920s, working as a newspaper reporter across the Snake River in Lewiston, Idaho. He worked for the Depression era federal program the Works Progress Administration in Eastern Washington in the 1930s, and came to Western Washington to serve as “Assistant Police Chief” at the Puyallup Fairgrounds.

This was in June 1942 when the fairgrounds was serving as the “Assembly Center” for gathering and processing Japanese Americans who were incarcerated during World War II.

His wife Olive joined him in Western Washington sometime after that, and then, perhaps after the war, the Wyatts purchased the Monroe Monitor newspaper. Olive Wyatt died in 1981; Willard Wyatt died at age 94 or 95 in 1984 in Polson, Montana where he had moved after his wife passed away, to live with his son Ken Wyatt. Willard is buried at the Odd Fellows Cemetery in Monroe.

Snohomish County Parks, Recreation and Tourism shared documents with Cyndi Fraser that show the park was officially named for Wyatt on July 5, 1966. Though he would retire later that year, Willard Wyatt was still chairman of the Board of Commissioners at that time, and thus he signed the Wyatt Park naming resolution himself.

Parks staff contacted Thursday agreed that it was likely that Wyatt’s fellow Snohomish County Commissioners wanted to honor him by naming something after him to mark his retirement; the park at Lake Stevens was a good choice, as it had not yet had any name officially attached to it.

As far as anyone can tell, Wyatt has no living descendants around Lake Stevens or Snohomish County. But, through some 21st century internet sleuthing, KIRO Radio spoke late Thursday with one of his granddaughters in Sioux City, Iowa, and traded emails with another who lives in Boise, Idaho.

Gail Ament of Sioux City and her sister JoAnne Wertz of Boise didn’t grow up in Washington, but they do remember their grandfather. They know a lot about his decades of public service and his career in journalism, and they did visit Wyatt Park with a group of family members about 15 years ago.

“We were so impressed with what the county had done with the park,” Ament said by phone on Thursday. “[It was] just beautiful.”

Both Ament and Wertz confirmed that, as far as they know, Willard Wyatt had no connection to Lake Stevens or to what became Wyatt Park, and neither had heard about the effort to remove their grandfather’s name.

Wertz wrote that a bridge somewhere in Snohomish County had also been named for Wyatt at some point, but the “name plate on the bridge has long since been stolen, so the family does not remember the location.”

The sisters also readily acknowledged some of the more difficult aspects of their grandfather’s history, including his time at the Assembly Center in Puyallup. Gail Ament also described some of his views, as a Southerner born in the 19th century, as “racist.”

JoAnne Wertz wrote that her grandfather “survived an attempted copycat lynching by his brothers following a public lynching their father took them to,” somewhere near Laurel Springs or Sparta, North Carolina around the turn of the 20th century.

How does Gail Ament, who is a college professor in Sioux City, feel about the Wyatt name being removed and replaced by “Davies Beach”?

“If the local residents choose to change the name, I’d be very respectful of that,” Ament said. “They have much more right to rename the park.”

From Gail Ament’s perspective, it’s as if regardless of what the park is called, Willard Wyatt’s legacy is secure in the minds of his descendants.

“What name that park might bear has nothing to do with our pride in our grandfather and our pride in his achievements,” Ament said. “He was very civically minded and so was my grandmother. They made lasting positive contributions to the broader community.”

Gail Ament’s sister JoAnne Wertz concurred.

“Since I only get the pleasure of visiting Willard Wyatt Park about every ten years, I don’t have a strong feeling one way or another about renaming the park,” Wertz said.

What Cyndi Fraser and the Lake Stevens Historical Museum are doing, in a way, is making history a contact sport. That is, they’re getting involved, doing research and working with their local jurisdiction to activate the stories behind public places that otherwise would lay dormant and hidden.

Thankfully, Willard Wyatt’s descendants are reasonable people who defer to the residents of Lake Stevens about this effort to rename the park.

“My grandparents are the only ones [in our family] that ever lived in that area,” Gail Ament said. “I don’t consider that my sister and I have any right to interfere.”

Ament, who spent time in the Seattle area while earning her Ph.D from the University of Washington, is clearly good-natured, and also equipped with a self-deprecating sense of humor. But even though she lives hundreds of miles away, won’t it bother her even just a little bit to know that the Wyatt name will be gone from Lake Stevens?

“The challenge would be I would hope that something would be named after me,” Ament said.

The City Council in Lake Stevens – which was named for complicated Washington Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens – will vote next Tuesday evening on changing the name of Wyatt Park to Davies Beach.

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