Family and friends – some not seen in months – drove past the Spokane Valley home of Quentin King Sunday to wish him a happy 100th birthday.
“Our grandson drove all the way from close to Snohomish,” said his wife of 40 years, Jean King.
King is perhaps best known as the longtime shop teacher at West Valley High School, where he taught for 30 years before retiring in 1981.
He was kept in the dark about the celebration until the cars approached his house, which he built himself. “I thought, ‘Holy smokes,’ ” he said. “I didn’t expect that.”
Terral Schut, who knows the Kings through their church, was part of the parade. She said Quentin and his wife Jean are inseparable. “They do everything together,” she said.
King has slowed down a bit with age, but he’s still going strong, Schut said. “He’s given me the starts for my tomatoes the last three years,” she said. “He’s very energetic. He gives the best hugs ever. He’s always happy.”
She hopes to be able to drop by his house soon to bring him some huckleberry jam that she made. She said she was happy to be a part of his birthday parade. “I think it’s great,” she said. “He’s just a great guy.”
King was born in Sweetwater, Idaho, which he described as having a train depot, a blacksmith shop, grain bins and little else at the turn of the last century. When he was 3, his family moved to a farm near Chewelah, Washington, where he grew up.
“Wood shop was my favorite class in high school,” he said. “We had an excellent shop teacher. It helped me a lot.”
After his high school graduation in 1939, he attended Washington State University. He was midway through his senior year when the Army came calling.
“I had joined the enlisted reserves because I knew I’d be drafted,” he said.
He was first assigned to be a company clerk in a field hospital, but King said he was a “lousy typist” and asked for a different assignment. He was trained as a surgical technician and was assigned to the 76th Infantry Division in Europe around the time of the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944.
He worked in a collecting company, which received wounded soldiers from the battlefield and gave them treatment before sending them to a field hospital for additional treatment and surgery, if needed. They moved every few days.
- “We were like ‘M*A*S*H’ without the field hospital,” he said, referring to the popular television show about a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital set during the Korean War. “We were never in combat. We were close enough to hear rifle fire.”
King served in the Army for three-and-a-half years before returning home to finish his degree. He graduated from WSU in 1947 and took a job as a shop and biology teacher in Grand Coulee. Part of the way through his first year of teaching, he was unexpectedly made the principal.
“That was an interesting experience,” he said.
He stayed there for three years before coming to West Valley with his first wife, Naomi “Peggy” King, and their young daughter. The work load of being a principal was simply too much in a school that was heavily involved in community activities, King said.
“Five nights a week I had to go down to the high school,” he said. “I had no home life at all.”
Once he arrived at West Valley High School, he stayed. “It was a great place to work,” he said. “The administration was very cooperative, and it was just a good place to work.”
His was married to Peggy for 31 years before she died of cancer. They also had a son together.
His wife Jean worked as a special education teacher’s aide in the West Valley and East Valley school districts, but that’s not where they met.
“We did something neither of us would normally do,” she said. “We signed up for a singles square dance class and that’s how we met.”
She had a daughter from a previous marriage and together the Kings have nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Jean King said her husband is thoughtful and helpful.
“He’s not perfect, but he’s very good,” she said. “I’m not perfect either, would you believe? He’s willing to help me do anything I’m doing.”
Their home near East Valley High School is the second one King built. He did the first entirely by himself, but hired a framer to help with the second.
“It makes a lot of difference in the cost of the house,” he said. “You know it’s built the way you want. It’s just something I enjoy doing. I like to build.”
King grew up in an era where if you wanted something, you made it yourself or repaired it yourself. “In those days, if you wanted something and couldn’t do it yourself, you did without it,” he said.
He’s been keeping busy since he retired. For quite a few years he repaired and restored antique clocks. He’s been an active member of Millwood Presbyterian Church since 1952 and before the pandemic hit, he was part of a crew of men that cleaned the church each week.
“I’ve done a lot of building and repair work for the church,” he said.
He’s also got a bit of a green thumb, and he and his wife enjoy gardening. There’s always something to do.
“I always seem to have a project that needs to be finished,” he said.
Based on the response to King’s birthday, the community has taken note of his contributions. He received a stack of birthday cards in the mail, many of which included notes and letters. Some came from former students and King said he was gratified to learn that many had gone on to be successful, thanks in part to his influence and direction.
“I got nice letters from students I hadn’t heard from in 40 years,” he said. “It’s nice to hear from your kids. Sometimes you wonder if you’re just spinning your wheels.”
King said he credits his parents for his success.
“I couldn’t ask for better,” he said.
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