Madora Jane Dawkins
Monday, December 19, 2016 3:47 PM
One of our long-time Eatonville residents, Madora Jane Dawkins, died peacefully in her home at 4:30 AM, Thursday, December 15th. She had just celebrated her 97th birthday. Her youngest daughter Anita was by her bedside when she passed. Madora lost her husband Jess, 33 years ago, so although she was widowed early, she continued to live life to her fullest, and remained active. Madora was full of life from her youth, excelling in swimming, skiing, dancing, and especially as an accomplished acrobatic ballet dancer.
Folks who knew Madora said that she had a kind and generous spirit, a friendly and happy demeanor, and many, many friends. Most people, however, did not know that Madora’s childhood was frequently marked by sadness and tragedy. Her own mother died when Madora was four, and her father was unable to care for her by himself, so she was raised along with two cousins by her mother’s sister, who was the only mother Madora ever knew. Tragedy struck this family, however, when Madora’s cousin Ronnie had a seizure and drowned in a shallow pond as a youngster. The family mourned his death for years. Madora and her cousin Jeannette remained close into adulthood, but again the family was wracked when Jeannette’s son Ross—then in his twenties and newly engaged—was killed in a freak glider accident. Again, Madora was a comfort and support to the family who had adopted her, but sadness came again when Jeannette, who was more like a a sister than a cousin, was struck down early by stomach cancer. Through all these family heartaches, we never saw Madora’s pain; she never pitied herself, always showed care and concern for others and she remained strong, prayerful and supportive to others.
After High School, Madora entered the University of Washington in Seattle, actively engaging in the swimming team and ski club. She also worked summers and between semesters at Paradise Inn at Mt. Rainier National Park in a variety of jobs. She was a regular performer in the entertainment troupe performing for guests on weekends with her acrobatic dance routine. It was during one of those numbers that her dance partner failed to catch her at a critical point in their routine resulting in Madora falling and painfully breaking her leg. Fortunately for Madora, a Park tour bus driver by the name of Jess Dawkins was in the crowd and he volunteered to drive the injured dancer to the closest hospital in Tacoma where she had surgery and was put in a full leg cast. This quick action and “tour-bus-turned-ambulance” led to more hospital visits by Jess, a fairy tale romance, and Jess and Madora were married in 1939. Madora loved Jess and she loved their beginnings at the Mountain, and often regaled her children with fondly-remembered stories about her work there. If you were ever fortunate enough to see Madora in her later years rocking in her favorite rocking chair out on her deck, with her handmade afghan around her shoulders to keep her warm, she might have also warmed your heart with a story about how, decades earlier, Jess’ father, Bembridge, was one of the skilled craftsmen who laid the hardwood dance floor in the romantic Paradise Inn, where thousands of couples have spent romantic evenings dancing and embracing on that floor flanked by enormous stone fireplaces crackling hot with Douglas Fir logs.
Jess and Madora were forced to cut short their honeymoon when Jess’ mother had died unexpectedly. Again Madora was called upon to comfort…this time her new husband. The Depression had decimated the senior Dawkins’ family finances, so as was fairly common in that era, Jess’ father, now widowed, moved in with them and lived with Madora and Jess for most of the next 25 years, helping with their businesses and providing much needed assistance with the family. Madora loved her father-in-law, also calling him “Dad”. She described him as a quiet, kind, gentle and courteous man who adored his grandkids. His grandkids knew him as “Nanny.” He was a skilled master carpenter and Madora loved it when he would put his talents to use to build her kids a glider swing or a rocking horse, a sandbox or even a club house!
After living in Tacoma for a few years, Madora and Jess (and “Dad”) moved to Eatonville where they owned and operated King’s Place Restaurant on the Mt. Highway. Rationing that was so prevalent in WWII took a toll on tourism and travel to Mt. Rainier, so as Madora would say, “After too many years of too long days with too little income, we sold King’s Place!” They then bought another business—one that was perhaps more recession-proof—the Eatonville Red and White Grocery Store-which they operated for 15 years.
Madora and Jess had six children: Jesse Jr.-deceased-(Connie); Suzanne (Al) Lustie; Steve (Vera) Dawkins; Mark (Kathy-deceased) Dawkins; Dan (Deanna) Dawkins; and Anita Dawkins. Madora is remembered by her children as a loving, busy, energetic, and hands-on mother. She was especially known for her ability to bake scrumptious pies and cookies by the dozen. When it was the ‘season,’ days from sunup to dusk were spent canning and preserving whatever was coming fresh from the orchards and fields of Eastern Washington. Her yard itself was a veritable orchard with a variety of apple trees, pear trees, cherry trees, and prune trees. When she wasn’t busy harvesting or preserving or freezing food, she would be tending her wildly prolific garden. She grew beans, corn, raspberries, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, sunflowers, and anything else that would grow in Eatonville’s notoriously rocky soil. Madora used to say our garden’s most successful and prolific crop was “rocks.”
Madora was a loving mother, but that love included discipline when it was appropriate to administer a well-deserved spanking to correct some child’s aberrant behavior, like when one of her kids set fire to a neighbor’s porch (creating no small embarrassment for her husband who, as a new volunteer fireman was called upon to extinguish the fire his son had just ignited.) Or when another launched a baseball-sized rock through the dry cleaner’s window to “see if it would break.” Her favorite weapon for capital punishment was a flat-sided hair brush. All her children learned enormous respect both for their mom and that double-purposed device.
After her youngest child Anita started Kindergarten, Madora returned to her education with a focused purpose and after years of commuting to school in Parkland, taking night classes, weekend and summer classes, she graduated from Pacific Lutheran University with a degree in Education. She was hired part-time by the Eatonville School District, but soon the administration saw her dedication and love for children, and she was offered a full-time position that eventually spanned thirty years. Madora loved to teach…about anything. She taught her own kids how to read, how to cook, how to type, how to use reference books, how to play the piano, how to iron a shirt and sew on a button. Her kids remember how she would encourage them in the value of reading… “I couldn’t boil water when I got married,” she would say. “But if you can read, you can LEARN to cook!” She especially loved teaching the fourth grade, and many Eatonville residents (and even their children) will remember her fondly as a caring, dedicated educator who would provide a needed hug to a little guy who had his feelings hurt, or a snack to a little girl who forgot her lunch or a blanket to lie down on under her desk if they weren’t feeling well. Madora regularly paid for supplies and snacks for her students out of her own purse, if there was no budget at school.
Madora loved the Lord, and not only professed Jesus Christ as her Savior but also encouraged her children to follow Christ, to attend church, read their Bibles, pray, and to live God-fearing lives. When the kids were young and Madora was beginning her teaching career, mornings in her home were hectic….She would be up early creating a breakfast that may have consisted of hotcakes and bacon and eggs or warm cream of wheat and toast with homemade jam, french toast and ham, or other delights. Then after she had helped the little ones get properly dressed and warm, she could be found at her desk in the back bedroom secreting a few precious minutes with her head bowed in prayer and her Bible open. She never failed to thank God for His mercies, for His provision, and to trust Him in good times as well as in difficult ones. Madora loved hymns, and loved to play the piano and sing them. She described her playing ability and her voice as “very garden variety” but she had a theory that in Heaven, Christians would be given the gift or talent they so much desired on earth. And so, she was convinced that after she died, God would endow her with an angelic voice in Heaven to sing His praises. (She’s probably belting out “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” right now! Maybe putting Sandi Patty to shame.)
Madora was a lifelong learner, and she loved to travel, continuing to visit countries all over the world as long as her health permitted. She not only enjoyed these trips immensely but she also incorporated what she learned into her teaching with stories and facts about the exotic lands she had visited. Well into her 80’s Madora was still being called upon to substitute teach and the stories and pictures from her travels were fascinating to her students who would remember Mrs. Dawkins’ fourth grade stories all their lives. She was a fearsome Scrabble player, which she played with anyone who dared take her on. Many have been vanquished by that sweet old lady with words never heard before and scores that were embarrassingly one-sided.
Madora’s friends and her family were amazed by her seemingly limitless energy. Rarely would she be content to sit in front of the TV for more than a few minutes. There was always cooking to do, baking, sewing, knitting, needlepoint, classes to prepare for, tests and assignments to correct, children to discipline or encourage, her own kids’ football, baseball, or basketball games to watch, music lessons to take some kid to, or to pick them up from, and kids’ concerts to attend. One of Madora’s passions was teaching little kids dance steps and working with them to choreograph their little feet to perform. A highlight of her year was her annual production of the Maypole Dance performed before the “King and Queen” of the Eatonville High School’s Mayday Court. Every year Madora selected new music to serve as accompaniment for her little fourth-grade performers as they wound the pole with their festive Spring-colored ribbons. Madora was recently honored by the school for her success in this happy annual Eatonville celebration.
When her own kids started to leave the nest and the family pace started to slow, Madora found new activities to engage in. She was a long time volunteer at the Good Samaritan Gift Shop, a member of Lady Lions, and The Eatonville Historical Society. She loved animals and always seemed to be nursing some poor stray cat or dog back to health. At any one time there were two or three cats that had adopted her cozy deck as their home, primarily because the old softy, Madora provided an ample supply of food and water.
Madora Dawkins is no longer sitting on her deck at 403 Center Street, smiling and waving to passers-by. Of course she slowed down in her later years, and we didn’t see her out and about as much, but she left a positive mark on the lives around her and she will be remembered and missed by many. A Celebration of Madora’s life is scheduled for Saturday, January 14, 2017, at 1 PM at the Tanwax Country Chapel, 36417 Mountain Highway E, Eatonville, Wa. Pastor Dan Tanner will be presiding.