top of page

Ralph Nichols: Columbia City Football Star

RVHS Photo #94.15.03

Several years ago I had the pleasure of listening to a gem of history as I interviewed Ralph Nichols Jr. The history he had to tell was long, detailed and fascinating. As a community, we were lucky to have a man with such clarity of thought and memory, willing to share his experiences of growing up in the Rainier Valley while our community was still young. Most of the interview was about his father, Ralph Nichols Sr., who was one of the valley’s earliest businessmen.

From this interview I would like to impart just one of many “long-forgotten gems” re-discovered: The year was 1893. The Stanford University Football Team was barnstorming the country, playing everywhere. (Barnstorming in 1893 meant getting on a train and traveling for three days before you had a decent meal.)

The location of this particular game was the University of Washington campus, and they were playing on university land that now comprises downtown Seattle. The setting is the University’s first major collegiate football game. Ralph Nichols Sr. was the student manager for the university’s football team and had arranged this first time meeting with a major out of state school. Back then the student manager also played the game on the field. It was a tough game. The UW lost to Stanford 40 – 0. 

After the game, Stanford’s student manager came over to talk with Nichols. Stanford’s student- manager wanted him to know that, despite the loss, Nichols had proven himself well. He asked him to leave the University of Washington and play football for Stanford. He made the offer more appealing by pointing out that there might even be a job waiting tables to help pay for tuition.

Ralph turned down the offer with the simple reply, he was “going to school to get an education, not to play football.”

Ralph was in the first class to graduate from the university’s present location in the North end. He was involved in campus activities and school politics. Later he had the Rainier Fuel Co. on Edmunds Street in Columbia City with a branch at Rainier Beach. He was also Columbia City’s attorney.

He built a steam plant for the apartment building he built on  Angeline St. and extended the pipeline to the Masonic Lodge building, The Heater Glove Co., and across Rainier Avenue to his own and two other houses.

He was drafted to run for mayor of Seattle by the Seattle Star and although he didn’t want the job and didn’t campaign, he won. He hated corruption in government and when the mayor left town for a trip east, he appointed Ralph as the acting mayor. As soon as the mayor left town Ralph fired the police chief who was noted for running a corrupt department. When the mayor returned he hired him back.

“What happened to the student manager from Stanford?” you ask. Well, the two of them kept in touch for years after and he invited Ralph to Washington D.C. for his inauguration as the 30th  president of the United States. His name was Herbert Hoover.

Days Gone By 

South District Journal 1/18/1995

By Buzz Anderson


bottom of page