On April 13, 1949, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake hit Tacoma, WA, at 11:55 A.M. Marvin Klegman, 11 years old, was a school safety patrol member at Tacoma’s Lowell Elementary School assigned to noon patrol duty. Marvin was out of the school when the earthquake occurred but went back to look for any students still inside. He found 6-year-old kindergartner Kelcy Allen, took his hand, and told him they had to get out. As they ran, bricks from the school’s cornerstone fell, and Marvin threw himself on top of the younger boy. Kelcy survived, but Marvin was killed by a brick that fell on his head.
(Click here for a photo of the fallen debris from the archives of the Tacoma Public Library.)
Kelcy Allen has always remembered that day. He’s grateful that he got a second chance at life. Although he knew about the rescue, he did not know the name of the boy who had saved him. But another earthquake that hit the Puget Sound area in 2001 sent him to the Tacoma Public Library to see if he could find out who the older boy was.
There Allen learned that the boy who had saved him was Marvin Klegman. Allen began telling the story of how Klegman had rescued him, and that lead to an effort to raise funds to commemorate Klegman’s heroic action. Tacoma sculpture artist Larry Anderson was commissioned to design the statue, which was installed outside the current Lowell School at the corner of North 12th and I streets, and dedicated on September 11, 2003. The statue portrays Klegman holding Allen’s hand and looking upward as the two run to safety. Bricks lay at their feet.
Marvin Klegman was a Cub Scout as well as a school safety patrol member. He also delivered papers for the Tacoma daily, The News Tribune, and had won a Schwinn bicycle for selling the most subscriptions in a contest. Today, students of Lowell School celebrate Marvin Klegman Day every year by hearing the story of his bravery and participating in their own acts of kindness toward others. The local Red Cross now presents a Marvin Klegman Memorial Award for heroism.
Last month Kelcy Allen spoke at Lowell School’s Marvin Klegman Day commemoration. Students were surprised to learn that he is the young boy represented in the statue. He told the students that not everyone can save a life the way Marvin did, but everyone can perform smaller acts of kindness. He suggested baking cookies and taking them to a senior center, befriending a new student at school, or donating their outgrown toys to charity.
Lowell School has its own historical importance as the district’s oldest school. Originally known as the First Ward School, it was established in Old Tacoma in 1869 in a log cabin built at the corner of North 28th and Starr streets. That log cabin was destroyed by fire in 1875. Renamed Lowell School after American poet James Russell Lowell in 1890, the school occupied several locations until 1892, when the building at the intersection of North 12th and Yakima opened. That building was condemned after the 1949 earthquake, and a new school was completed in February 1951 on the corner of North 12th and I streets.