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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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Covers from British Columbia to Puget Sound. Counties covered: Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan, Snohomish & BC. An evolving history dedicated to committing random acts of historical kindness
Noel V. Bourasaw, editor (bullet) 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
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The Kirkby clan leaves its mark on Burlington

(Roland Kirkby)
      This photo from the 1946 Tinas Coma annual of Burlington High School shows the student body officers of that year. From l. to r.: Adviser Mr. Lloyd, Roland Kirkby, Don Mapes, Irene Anderson and Dorothy Dahl

      Most people who attend a football game at Burlington's Kirkby field have little idea why it is so named. The Kirkby clan that migrated to Skagit county from Kansas has certainly left its indelible mark in several places, including Burlington. Our multiple-part story below starts with an article about Rollie Kirkby, one of Burlington's most famous athletes and the field's namesake. That is followed by our research into his sports prowess and an article about his fame at the University of Washington. Then we trace back his family history through his father, Thomas Verne Kirkby, who was adopted by rancher and timberman Silas Butler when Silas married T.V.'s mother, Ida Bayly. And then we explain that Ida originally married an ancestor in the clan who was the son of Lewis Kirkby, a legendary figure back in Bloody Kansas and later a resident of Sedro-Woolley.

Memorial Field Named After Hometown Hero
"Our boy" Rollie Kirkby
Skagit Argus, Burlington Schools Centennial, Nov. 18, 1992
      In 1929 a baby boy was born to Mr. & Mrs. T.V. [Verne] Kirkby of Burlington. At a very tender age this lad showed signs of athletic ability.
      After enrolling in Roosevelt Grade School in 1935 he exhibited his talents by being the fleetest-of-foot to get away from the teachers; throwing erasers, he showed signs of being a real sharpshooter. Little did the teachers and students know that this youngster was to become an outstanding athlete.
      A person who influenced 'our boy's' knowledge and interest of sports was Mr. Don Zylstra. This man first taught him to jump over a stick, then adding a pole, he was given the rudiments of pole-vaulting. All of this training was of immeasurable benefit.
      Carrying on with the instruction of this lad was Mr. Tom Mulkey. He not only encouraged pole-vaulting, but impressed upon the boy the fundamentals of football, basketball and baseball in which the young man displayed his amazing speed. Time marched on, and at the age of 14 he was graduated from the Lincoln [elementary] School and began his career at Burlington-Edison High School [the two districts were consolidated in 1942].
      Thinking his size too small, he waited until his junior year before participating in the pigskin sport. Through the encouragement of the team and coach, he was persuaded to don his gridiron togs and venture forth upon the turf which was to bring him fame.
      During his high school years he was influenced greatly by his football coach, Mr. Joe Day, whose chief advice was "outrun 'em." Many games were saved by this boy during his junior and senior year. If the team was behind a touchdown or two, it would be this lad who would grab the ball and streak for the needed goal.
      Not only was his presence felt on the gridiron, but on the basketball court and track alike. He was selected on the All-Northwest basketball squad both his junior and senior year and the Northwest Officials Association presented him with a trophy for his outstanding sportsmanship on the maple court.
      In track, "our boy" showed his display of talent as ably as in other sports. During his four years in school he represented Burlington-Edison at the Washington State track meet and there brought home the first place trophy in pole-vaulting in two of these years. Mr. Bill Case was the lad's guiding hand during his senior year. As his principal he helped him greatly, both scholastically and in the field of athletics.
      The year 1947 quickly rolled around, and before he knew it, the boy was receiving his diploma of graduation. In August of 1947 this young man found participating in the first All-State football game which wa later to become an annual classic. This game proved to be the high of his high school days. Showing his speed and durability the lad romped for two touchdowns and shone brightly on the defense.
      Following the All-State game "our boy" was invited to try the University of Washington for his higher education. He enrolled and entered the university in the fall of 1947. There he was an outstanding player for the unbeaten freshman eleven under head coach Johnny Cherberg [later the longtime state lieutenant governor].
      Yes, the man of whom we speak is "Rocking" Roland Kirkby, the "Burlington Express."
      Because of his achievements in the field of athletics, and the sportsmanship shown during his high school and college years, the Burlington-Edison High School is proud to choose Roland Kirkby as its most outstanding athlete and citizen.

Roland Kirkby's sports records
      In that same 1992 edition, we found the record of the football teams that Roland Kirkby played for. The team that played in the fall of 1945 had six wins and two losses and won the Skagit County championship. The outstanding players included Kirkby, Milt Kahns, Clyde Chase and Dick Van Zandt. The team that played in the fall of 1946 had a record of eight wines, two losses and again won the Skagit County championship. The outstanding players included Kirkby, Bob Moors, Merry Henery, Bill Lacey, John Hopley, Bob Fisher, Bud Ovenell; and Kirkby was selected for the All State team.
      "1943-48: Football coach, Joe Day, coached for several years by himself, later assisted by Coach Duvall. Coach Day brought the first T-formation offense to Burlington, straight from Oklahoma. Teams then in the Northwest League: Edmonds, Snohomish, Mount Vernon, Sedro-Woolley, Anacortes, Marysville, Burlington-Edison."
      We have looked for Roland's record in professional football, after being drafted number ten for the professional-football Los Angeles Rams in 1951, but we cannot find any statistics. We hope that a reader can help us there and we also hope that a reader can supply a photo of Roland in football action and information about when the athletic stadium was named for him. We do know that his pro career was interrupted by U.S. Army service in the Korean War in 1952. His college football career at the University of Washington was certainly outstanding, especially when you consider that he was playing in the same backfield with legendary Husky quarterback Don Heinrich, and Hugh McIlhenny, the consensus greatest running back in the history of the school. This story below was originally on the fine Husky football history website of Richard "Malamute" Linde

Roland Kirkby inspirational at the UW
By Richard "Malamute Linde"
      Notably, McElhenny and Heinrich had remarkable college football careers, and Kirkby, winner of the Guy Flaherty Award, is one of the most inspirational Huskies of all time.
      Roland Kirkby, running back on the 1948, 1949 and 1950 teams, was one of the most underrated members of Washington's fearsome foursome backfield in 1950. As a senior he was named to the Pacific Coast all-star team by a coaches' poll. In 1950, Kirkby set a school record with three touchdown pass receptions, a record that has since been tied. In 1948, Kirkby was an honorable All-American as a sophomore.
      As a member of a backfield comprised of Hugh McElhenny, Don Heinrich and Bill Early, Kirkby, known as "Rolicking Rol," gained 380 yards rushing, caught 28 passes for 473 yards and scored 8 TDs in the 1950 season, when he played on a team that may be the best to never have gone to a Rose Bowl; he was the best overall player on the team.
      Kirkby was a tenth round draft choice of the Los Angeles Rams in 1951. Kirkby, number 44, is one of three Huskies to have had his number retired, joining Chuck Carroll and George Wilson in that regard. Being the best overall player on a team dominated by Heinrich and McElhenny and having his number retired, both qualify Roland Kirkby as a Husky legend.
      Ed. note: The Flaherty award that Rollie received was named for Guy Flaherty, a member of the first graduating class of neighboring Sedro-Woolley High School in 1904. He went on to the University of Washington and overcame adversity after his success in sports was cut short by an injury. His actions so inspired other student athletes that the award was created in his name and it is oldest, continuously awarded tribute in college athletics. You can read more about Flaherty at this Journal website
      In 2005, the students in the leadership class at Burlington-Edison High School have assembled a school hall of fame and Rollie was one of the first nominees. At the UW, Rollie was a member of the Sigma Tau Chapter of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. That fraternity included seven football captains over the years, including Rollie, and he is honored on their website, where they note that Roland Kirkby, 1951, a halfback, was honorably mentioned for all-America honors. The Roland Kirkby Memorial Scholarship is now awarded annually at Burlington High School.

The Kirkbys and the Butlers
By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal of History & Folklore, ??2005
(Ida Bayly Kirkby)
Ida Evelyn Bayly Kirkby Butler, circa 1938, at their home on the hill

      While Ida Bayly Kirkby's tummy was bulging with baby back in Kansas, she read Jules Verne's book, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and she was so taken with the tales of Captain Nemo and his submarine Nautilus that she gave the baby the middle name Verne.
      The daughter of John and Cartratta (Wickham) Bayly, Ida married Adam Kirkby, the son of Lewis and Malinda Kirkby, in February 1897 and baby Thomas Verne came along on Dec 29, 1897, in Ottawa, Kansas. Kansas was a crucible for dozens of early Skagit county settlers for the preceding three decades, including Lewis and Malinda, who migrated first to Roche Harbor and then to Sedro in the late 1880s. Lewis worked in the lime kilns at Roche Harbor, as did Silas Butler. Lewis moved on to old Sedro on the Skagit river and Butler settled near Edison and the Samish river. When Thomas Verne was a toddler, Lewis decided to play matchmaker. Ida had not remarried back at Kansas and Silas was a dashing young bachelor who co-owned a sawmill with Albert S. Howard and was establishing a mill of his own with his brothers who followed him out from Pennsylvania.
      Lewis invited his youngest son's widow Ida to move out to Washington state where she soon met Silas and Cupid did the rest, as they said back in those days. Ida Bayly Kirkby married Silas Moore Butler on Sept. 21, 1904, in Burlington township, Skagit county. Ida had a teaching degree back in Kansas, but she soon spent most of her time helping run the Butler family dairy, ranch and sawmill. It soon grew to include 40 cottages for the workers and she ran the kitchen for the hungry loggers and farmers. Verne melded right into the family when he was adopted by Silas, and soon the couple had four more boys and a girl together. The family joke was that Verne was always summoned as "Boy!" whenever one of the men needed him, and he retained that nickname. So it is not surprising that his son, Roland, was affectionately nicknamed "Our Boy" by the community when he was growing up and tucking the pigskin under his arm, evading tacklers of the opposing football teams.
      After U.S. Army service in Korea, Roland married Marilyn McKinley of Burlington, who is better known to we baby boomers as Dorothy Neighbors, her pen name as fashion columnist for the Seattle Times. [Unfortunately, Marilyn has never received attribution on the Internet for long stint under the nom de plume, but you can read the history of the column, which started during the 1930s Depression years.] Roger Peterson, Sedro-Woolley researcher extraordinaire, reminded me that Marilyn was the daughter of Roscoe McKinley, a Burlington physician who took over the practice of the legendary pioneer doctor Hiram E. Cleveland of Burlington [see the Journal website]. Peterson notes that Marilyn's brother, Bill McKinley, was also a star athlete for Burlington in 38-39. He married Susan Grace Batey, a granddaughter of Sedro pioneers David and Georgianna Batey. David was one of the original four British bachelors who homesteaded the land that formed the nucleus of Sedro-Woolley in 1878, and Georgianna was the first university-trained female physician in northwest Washington. Like her husband, Roland, Marilyn died much too young, in her 50s, after a 14-year run as Dorothy Neighbors.
      Sara Butler, Ida's granddaughter, recalls family stories that Ida soon became the driving force of the Butler camp in her own right: "she raised a big family, fed the crews, preserved the food and ran the company mill store." Like Silas, she soon urged more of her relatives to join her in Washington. Her older sister Florence and husband Daniel Ansell moved out from Ottawa, Kansas, in 1907, as did their mother, who lived here until her death in 1919.

(Verne Kirkby)
Stanley Butler, Verne Kirkby, Gertrude Butler

      Verne did a stint in the Navy on a submarine tender during World War 1 as a pharmacist mate and then returned to the farm. After a few years as a bachelor, he married Ellen Marie Johnson in Burlington on June 20, 1928. Ellen went to Edison High School in the 1920s at the same time as Egbert R. "Edward" Murrow and both played for the respective boys and girls basketball teams. Ellen was also related to pioneers by marriage: the Inman and Sandal families of the Samish flats, and the Pulver family. Her sister Hattie married Ed Pulver, son of the Swiss immigrants for whom Pulver road is named. Verne and Ellen had three children: Roland Verne; Thomas Lyle and Marlys Ann.
      Ida died in 1964 in Burlington. Roland died of cancer in 1978 and Lyle died of cancer in 1982. Marlys is the only surviving child of Verne and Ellen. Ellen died in 1994 in Burlington at age 89. Verne died in 1985.

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Story posted on Sept. 4, 2005, and last updated on March 1, 2006
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