Sunday, June 11, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Lakeside Legacy -- Graduates Have Exercised A Powerful Hand In Shaping Seattle

Everything seemed to come together that night Bill Gates came back to Lakeside. The software mogul returned on the school's 75th anniversary, a year-long celebration that included an appearance by another famous graduate, Craig McCaw.

Perhaps no other high school in the world can lay claim to three billion-dollar fortunes created by its alumni, including Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. But you could take all three out of the list and still describe alumni who have powerfully shaped Seattle and the region. Another 113 students graduated last Friday.

There was magic that night in February when the most-famed graduate spoke to the alumni, parents and students, a palpable sense of shared accomplishment. Those who came to Lakeside's faux New England campus in north Seattle captured much of the city's past and certainly its future.

Other Northwest schools have dedicated teachers, impressive science labs or small classes, but none has Lakeside's enduring chemistry: a blend of social connections, big money, talent and a teaching philosophy that promotes independence over conformity, service over selfishness, leadership over flunkyism.

This concoction feeds a select group of children - frequently rich, brainy or both - who often grow into prominence, giving Lakeside an influence disproportionate to its size.

There is no Lakeside secret handshake. No Lakeside network of graduates trying to promote each other into jobs or prominence. No downtown club for the 2,674 alumni living in Puget Sound.

But there is a "binding social connection. It's hard to define but it's strong and continuing," says alumnus Peter Steinbrueck, an architect and civic activist.

For some, Lakeside and family history are deeply intermingled. Skyway Luggage President Henry "Skip" Kotkins is the son of a former trustee, the father of a current student, an alumnus and current trustee, and husband of a graduate of the St. Nicholas School (which merged into Lakeside). Descendents of pioneer banker James Hoge, the Rolfes, now have a third generation enrolled. The Pigott family, which controls the Paccar heavy machinery company, has 11 members among living alumni.

"It continues to be academically the strongest, most rigorous education you can get in the Seattle area," says Paul Pigott.

"You were pushed by everybody to do your best," says Jon Diamond, director of marketing for the parking business founded by his grandfather and now run by his father, another alumnus.

Not everyone enjoyed the experience. Some have perceived a social-climbing atmosphere and wanted out. Some haven't felt sheltered by the school's 30-acre campus, but instead felt isolated. Some just have wanted a more typical high school experience.

The state's most celebrated female basketball recruit, Takiyah Jackson, switched last year from Lakeside to Franklin High School despite the school's efforts to boost minority enrollment. As an African American she didn't feel comfortable.

Jackson at the time said Lakeside "didn't seem like the real world."

But there's no doubt about Lakeside's impact on the real world of Seattle.

It used to be said that the men of the Rainier Club ran the city. But long after the club lost its dominance in power circles, Lakeside remains intimately rooted in the city establishment by virtue of its stewardship over that asset most prized by families - their children.

Lakeside represents certain continuing values. That ethic can be defined only in the most general terms, but it seems to boil down to this: You are part of a tradition in this town. You are known. Reputation counts. Contribute. Make things happen.

Lakesiders surfaced in a big way when it came time to inject some credibility into the largest proposed private development in Seattle history.

The 10 local investors who provided seed capital to a $350 million redevelopment of Frederick & Nelson and two nearby blocks are mostly Lakesiders, as is the project's co-manager, Matt Griffin. The Padelfords, owners of the centerpiece F&N building, are Lakesiders. The biggest tenant in the deal is Nordstrom, whose owners sent some of their children to Lakeside. One of the biggest opponents of opening Pine Street, a Nordstrom requirement, was Peter Steinbreuck.

Any Seattle high school has numerous graduates found in industry, the arts and civic affairs. But Lakeside's stamp is everywhere, if you define a Lakesider as a student, graduate or parent of a student.

If you watch pro sports, vote or follow the news - you've been served by a Lakesider or an organization owned or run by them. Lakeside families have been or still are owners of the Sonics, the Mariners and the Seahawks. Same for KING-TV, KOMO-TV and The Seattle Times.

The school is a name-dropper's paradise.

UW President Bill Gerberding sent a son there, as did the daughter of Hiroshi Yamauchi, president of Nintendo. There's a luster in these names: Bain. Bailey. Ballinger. Bayley. Bullitt. Baillargeon. Benaroya. Bartell. Blethen. Families whose members helped found The Highlands, built office parks, led civic crusades, built downtown office towers, funded arts organizations. And that's just the Bs.

And if you count "Batman," you can add actor Adam West (real name William West Anderson).

Four Washington governors have links to Lakeside: Arthur Langlie (father and grandfather of alumni); Albert Rosellini (father of an alumnus); Dan Evans (current trustee); and Booth Gardner (alumnus).

To a large extent, Lakesiders remade Seattle's downtown after the 1962 World's Fair. As designer, developer or builder, a Lakesider could be found in nearly all the big downtown projects, such as those listed here by their original names: the Columbia Center, the restoration of the Olympic Hotel, the Sheraton Hotel, the Rainier Tower, 1201 3rd Avenue Building, Two Union Square, First Interstate Center, 1111 3rd Avenue Building and the Bank of California Building.

Even the city's best known symbol, the Space Needle, is largely a Lakeside affair. It was built by Bagley Wright, Howard H. Wright, Norton Clapp, Ned Skinner - all linked to the school - plus non Lakesider John Graham.

To what extent Lakeside can take credit for its alumni's success is debatable, a chicken-and-egg question. When a Pigott arrives at Lakeside with a future advantaged by wealth and connections, should Lakeside claim credit when he becomes chief executive? Hardly. And it doesn't try.

Instead, Lakeside's mission statement says it aims to develop young people who can contribute "wisdom, compassion and leadership to a global society."

Gates represents not only the alumni's greatest success but a clear example of where the school made a difference. Gates dropped out of Harvard after two years, but spent five years at Lakeside.

Gates was an unfocused and undisciplined 7th grader in 1967 when he entered Lakeside, then a school of 340 boys grades 7 through 12.

When a computer terminal was installed, (Lakeside was one of few schools to have computers then)the school not only could afford the $4.80 a minute of computer-access time, but young Gates was given the freedom to spend hours playing with the machine, joined by 10th grader Paul Allen. .

Lakeside tolerated and even encouraged his eccentric behavior.

"Bill Gates survived in part because no one forced him to apply himself to things he wasn't interested in," says Lincoln Ferris, a Gates classmate.

Nearly every graduate talks about the school's demanding academics. Everyone, rich or otherwise, must do the work or they are encouraged to leave.

"Stanford was considerably easier than Lakeside," said Lloyd Frink, a Microsoft executive and member of a pioneer family (as in Frink Park in Leschi). Frink got his start at Microsoft as a 14-year-old who met Gates at a school rummage sale and asked for a job.

Lakeside began as the Moran-Lakeside School on the shores of Lake Washington in the Denny Blaine neighborhood. It later moved off the water to a site now occupied by the Bush School and in 1930 moved to a 30-acre site just east of The Highlands, the exclusive community that contributed many of its students. In 1981, Lakeside purchased a four-acre site near the main campus for use by its middle school.

When Dexter Strong took over as headmaster in 1951, Lakeside's classrooms looked like smaller versions of Rainier Club meetings. The boys wore coats and ties and saw themselves as stepping into Dad's business. The urbane Strong lived up to his name. He ran the school with a firm hand, rejecting parent views when he disagreed about what was best for the school, as he did when he decided to drop the school dress code.

In 1965, Strong began the school's first movement away from its white-male tradition by launching the Lakeside Educational Enrichment Program (LEEP), a summer session for students of Central Area schools. From the first LEEP class, Lakeside admitted its first two African Americans, T.J. Vassar and Floyd Gossett. (After graduating from Harvard, Vassar returned to Lakeside as a teacher.)

Girls accepted

Dan Ayrault was named headmaster in 1968. Among his first moves was to push trustees to approve a merger with the St. Nicholas School for girls in 1971, which almost doubled enrollment. Lakeside eventually grew to today's enrollment of 691 boys and girls in grades 5 through 12.

A two-time Olympic gold-medal winner in rowing, Ayrault was handsome, looked younger than he was, and had degrees from Stanford and Harvard. He was a soft-spoken mediator, a modest, meticulous personality. He loved big dogs, which had the roam of the school but usually hung around his feet, poking their heads from under his desk. Ayrault tried to create a system where students would be respected and given as much freedom as possible.

"We are a school of very few rules," he said.

Lakeside's faculty reached a high level of innovation during this period. Steinbrueck and others will be forever grateful for the art program run by Robert Fulghum, an ordained minister who later made a living writing "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" and other bestsellers. Fulghum gave students keys to the art room and let them come and go at any time, using whatever materials they wanted.

As one of the first girls to attend Lakeside, Tomima Edmark often felt overlooked by teachers accustomed to calling on boys. But Fulghum's class in fabrics "helped me find my individuality" and led her to a college degree in fashion design. A Dallas resident, she went on to found the Topsytail Co., maker of a gadget for making ponytails that has $50 million in sales, according to a New York Times estimate.

Dwight Gibb taught a French Revolution class that included a two-day trip to Orcas Island, where students were assigned to play different historical figures. Students came home exhausted but intimately familiar with one of the most dynamic periods in European history. Author and journalist Bruce Brown, who describes Gibb as his best teacher, found it was ironic that Gibb taught revolution to the children of Seattle's ruling class.

Painful scandal

The Ayrault period also generated the school's most painful scandal, the disclosure that Gary Little had allegedly molested students while working as a part-time teacher between 1968 and 1972. Little later became a King County Superior Court judge.

To this day, some regard Little as the best proof of a Lakeside network, saying the news media kept quiet about his past to protect the school and its alumni.

"Little's Lakeside connections were clearly a cloak over him when he was violating children in his care," says Brown.

Newsroom executives at both KING-TV and The Seattle Times vehemently denied that Little had been protected. Both news organizations said it had been difficult to get credible sources to talk and evidence was sketchy or old.

Little killed himself on the night in 1988 that the P-I was publishing a story detailing his past. The top P-I editor on the story happened to be J.D. Alexander, whose son had graduated from Lakeside a year earlier.

Dan Ayrault was only 55 when he died of a heart attack in 1990. In those last Ayrault years, the school was going through a dramatic change, a sustained effort to reach out to children from less advantaged backgrounds. Minority enrollment rose to nearly 27 percent and financial aid now goes to more than 17 percent of students.

Woman at the helm

Nothing more symbolized the school's evolution than naming of the first woman to run the school. Terry Macaluso took over in 1992 with the new title of Head of School. Not all traditions changed: Grizzly-sized golden retrievers still pad around Bliss Hall looking to be petted.

Macaluso is a quiet, thoughtful personality whose conversation reflects her academic training in philosophy. She speaks of "sustaining Lakeside's evolving sense of itself."

One of her toughest tasks is admissions. The merger with St. Nicholas enlarged the base of alumni parents who want their child admitted. Lakeside could easily admit twice as many as it does now, but the school wants to remain small. Coupled with the desire to admit minorities, that has put extreme pressure on the school's admissions office.

There is no shortage of people who feel Lakeside is worth $11,500 a year.

"I've had some very tough conversations with families," says Macaluso. "We can't take the third child or the grandchildren. We've taken some risks. It's been very painful to the extended community."

Those who get in are part of a group Lakeside is training for leadership. It's tempting to walk through the campus, look around at the typically scruffy teenagers in baggy T-shirts and torn jeans, and wonder which of them is the next Craig McCaw or Bill Gates.

Thirty years ago, that guess would focus on a white boy produced by the traditional establishment. Now it could be a girl or a minority as well. And this suggests that Lakeside's influence may someday be even greater, rooted in a broad array of communities with clout.

Sabrina Cowles, the 18-year-old president of student government, is headed off to Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., to study business. After that, she's interested in starting a company or doing something in government.

Committed to "giving back to the community," this poised and articulate teenager likes meeting people and making speeches. There's little doubt Seattle will be hearing from her and other young Lakesiders, second-century doers fueled by the school's chemistry and its sense of destiny.

"Part of our job is to make the world a better place," she says.

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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