Mike Binetti spent 30 years educating the children of Enumclaw, but it’s stories of railroad life that fuel his family’s history.
Born in 1926 in Italy’s Bari Province, near the Adriatic Sea, Binetti came to the United States in 1935 with his mother and sister. His father had immigrated in 1921, returned to the homeland several times and, eventually, put together money to bring the family to the U.S. After landing in New York, the family traveled by rail to the tiny Washington community of Stevens Pass where Binetti’s father and uncle had railroad jobs. Binetti remembers Stevens Pass consisted of only 10 or 12 families but supported a one-room school serving kids through the sixth grade. He then moved to the slightly larger town of Lester for seventh and eighth grades, living with his uncle Joe, who had settled there.
A prominent memory is starting at guard for the Lester basketball team. The squad would hop on a train in the afternoon and travel to nearby towns for games.
His nomadic lifestyle landed him in Easton for a year, where he stayed with his married sister, and finally to the established community of Cle Elum, where his parents had moved. Binetti was more stable then, spending his final three years of high school at the eastern foot of the Cascade Mountains.
Two events that dramatically shaped his life occurred during his senior year of high school. First, the school’s principal gave Binetti and another boy the task of teaching shop classes to underclassmen, as many of the school’s male teachers were off to war. Second, the military draft came calling and, soon after graduation in 1944, Binetti found himself at Fort Lewis.
Hoping to be sent to the European Theater, Binetti was instead shipped to the South Pacific. His division was the first to land in Japan following the Japanese surrender. He recalls that it was still a dangerous time, as Japanese snipers had not learned of the war’s end and were still shooting.
After returning home and working for a couple of years, Binetti used his G.I. Bill benefits to attend Central Washington University. Four years later he departed Ellensburg, diploma in hand, having heard of a job opportunity in a town he knew nothing about – Enumclaw.
As luck would have it, a local vice principal hailed from Easton and immediately recognized Binetti. The education gods must have been smiling on Binetti, as Enumclaw’s superintendent was Tom Davis, who had been in Lester when Binetti attended school there.
Getting hired to teach at J.J. Smith Elementary capped a busy summer of 1951 for Binetti. Between graduating from Central and landing his teaching job, he had married Lena. They had been introduced by friends when he was a college junior and she was a senior at Aberdeen High School.
The couple recall that housing was tough to come by in 1951, when Enumclaw’s population hovered around 2,500. Finding acceptable quarters also was a pricey proposition, as they had to shell out $75 each month to rent a small home near Kibler Elementary.
Lena recalls that on a teacher’s small salary, after paying rent and the utility bill, they cleared $197 monthly to live on.
Binetti was encouraged to advance his education and, after earning a master’s degree from Pacific Lutheran University and receiving administrator’s credentials, he was made principal at J.J. Smith. After spending 15 years in the classroom and 15 in the principal’s office, he retired in 1981.
A lasting legacy is Binetti’s commitment to outdoor education. A program he initiated evolved into the school district’s popular sixth-grade camp, which served thousands of students through the decades.
Not one to sit idle, Binetti worked several years delivering pharmaceuticals throughout the region and worked as a security guard for the school district, patrolling the old, vacant high school on Porter Street until it could be razed. He also played a major role in building several homes in the area; he and Lena lived in a couple of those homes, along with children Rose and Joe, who still live in the area.
Binetti also takes pride in his 10 years on the Library Advisory Board, serving at a time when he was instrumental in the design and construction of the current library. He likes to point out the building resembles the city’s old railroad depot and, inside, has elements reminiscent of the railroad industry.
In retirement, Mike and Lena have made five trips to Italy and, for 20 years, lived the snowbird life, traveling to a home they purchased in Arizona to enjoy winter sunshine.
In Enumclaw, they volunteer at Sacred Heart Catholic Church and enjoy tending to their immaculate condo in town. On Wednesdays, Mike enjoys a get-together with buddies and, over coffee, “we solve all the world’s problems in an hour,” he said.
Two years ago they sold the Arizona place and bought a beach home in Ocean Shores.
“We go down there and just watch the waves,” Lena said.