PASSAGES: Ethel Telban played important role in preserving Renton’s history, developing school libraries

Ethel Telban, who died Nov. 19 at age 94, lived Renton’s history and for many years, as a founder of the Renton Historical Society, made sure that history wasn’t lost.

Telban was president of the society from 1966 to 1996.

For more than two decades, she was the editor of the society newsletter and edited Renton’s first history book, “Renton – From Coal to Jets,” by Morda Slauson.

“She was one of the five cornerstones of the museum,” said Stan Greene, 78, who for decades was a museum archivist and continues to volunteer at the Renton History Museum. His wife, Rose Mary, was a museum curator.

But Telban is just as well-known for her first love – teaching young children and developing the Renton School District’s library system.

As the school district library supervisor, Telban “knew how to run things,” Greene said. And, he said, “she had a strong personality. She was the powerhouse of the museum.”

Then, he quickly adds, other than Ernie Tonda, who “knew everyone in town.” Tonda was a museum director.

Greene was a school librarian and Telban was his supervisor. He retired in 1982.

Telban’s parents, Blase and Amelia, settled in Renton in 1905. Telban was born on March 31, 1914, at the family home at 508 Cedar Ave. S. on Renton Hill, where she lived for many years with her sister Amelia.

In her later years Telban lived in a retirement community on Rainier Avenue South. No memorial service was held; Telban never married.

In an interview in 1992 with Mary Swift, a columnist for the Valley Daily News, Telban recalled watching the balcony at the Renton High gym sink during the graduation ceremony. She was in the third grade at the time.

Fast forward to her own high school years and the Depression, when “everybody was having quite a struggle,” she told Swift. In fact there wasn’t even a high school annual.

“A lot of my classmates that I started in with had to quit at eighth grade, so it was more or less a privilege to go on to high school because of the bad times,” she told Swift.

Telban graduated from Renton High in 1932 and then earned a degree in elementary education from what is now Central Washington University in Ellensburg.

She taught for one year at the small town of Thorp, near Ellensburg, then began her teaching career in Renton.

She is remembered by many in Renton today, including students she taught at Sartori and Henry Ford elementary schools for 12 years. She attended Henry Ford as a child.

Later, Telban earned a master’s degree in librarianship and for 25 years, until she retired in 1974, Telban was the school library supervisor for the Renton School District.

Telban was an active volunteer in a number of Renton organizations, including the Soroptimists. In 1977, she was named the Renton Citizen of the year.

The March newsletter of the Renton Historical Society will honor Telban’s legacy of preserving Renton’s history.

“She will be much missed by those who remember her, and we all owe her a debt of thanks for recognizing the significance of the city’s history,” said Elizabeth Stewart, the director of the Renton History Museum.

The museum is looking for remembrances of Telban to include in the newsletter. Send those to Stewart at the museum, 235 Mill Ave. S., Renton, WA 98057, or via e-mail,