Mourning a beloved educator

Merlin and Jeanne Epp are shown at the airport getting ready to board a flight to New York City to see the Yankees. Merlin Epp died Oct. 9. A public memorial will be held 2 p.m. Oct. 21 in Seattle. - Courtesy photo
Merlin and Jeanne Epp are shown at the airport getting ready to board a flight to New York City to see the Yankees. Merlin Epp died Oct. 9. A public memorial will be held 2 p.m. Oct. 21 in Seattle.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Merlin Epp, a tireless educator known for his dedication in the Federal Way School District, died Oct. 9 of heart failure related to diabetes. He was 69 years old.

Epp spent nearly 40 years teaching in the district, with most of his time at Federal Way High School. There, he headed the school’s history department and shaped its curriculum by introducing elements such as a humanities class.

“He had a magic touch with kids,” said Joe Gotchy, a retired teacher, former colleague and close friend. “He was a very principled, very humane person. He’s one of those figures that absolutely stands apart from the rest.”

Epp’s involvement in education spanned beyond Federal Way’s borders. He provided priceless leadership to the Washington State Leadership Camps as well as the Association of Washington School Principals, and established himself as an influential figure in education.

In 1976, Epp launched the “East Coast tour” to coincide with the nation’s bicentennial. Every spring for the past 34 years, he and a group of students would embark on the ultimate history lesson, traveling to sites in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. He kept the tradition going after his retirement in 1999.

For the past few years, he volunteered at the kindergarten class taught by his wife, Jeanne, at Lake Dolloff Elementary School.

“He was a real grandfather figure for a lot of those little kids who didn’t have a man in their family. They just adored him,” said Jeanne Epp, Merlin’s wife of 46 years. The couple had a son, Shaun Epp, and daughter-in-law, Jennifer; son Jay; and a daughter, Jill, and son-in-law Cliff McCloe.

“He was very passionate about teaching,” Jeanne Epp said of her husband. “Every moment was a teaching moment.”

Known as the voice of the Eagles, Epp served as the announcer for Federal Way High School football and boys basketball games.

In fact, he backed up his love of music with a commanding bass singing voice that turned heads everywhere. On more than one occasion, Epp performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Seattle Mariners games when they played the New York Yankees — his favorite baseball team.

One of Epp’s prouder accomplishments in life came in the mid-1980s when he was asked to sing in the Dome Room at Monticello, the famous Virginia mansion designed and built by former U.S. President Thomas Jefferson. At the request of a historian with the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, Epp delivered the tune “Old Man River” in his naturally rich trademark tone during that day’s sunset. The event made a little history itself: Epp is believed to be the first person to sing or perform in the Dome Room since Thomas Jefferson played a violin there, Jeanne Epp said.

As a voracious reader and lifelong learner, Epp’s enthusiasm for education was contagious to anyone who went near him. He had a huge circle of friends and earned widespread respect for his efforts to open educational doors.

“I’ve never known a man with more passion,” said friend and former teaching colleague Bill Harris. “Whenever I think of Merlin doing something, it was always done with so much passion that you have to admire.”


A public memorial and celebration of Merlin Epp will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21, at Plymouth Congregational Church, at 6th Avenue and University Street in downtown Seattle. To learn more, e-mail Jill McCloe at

In lieu of flowers, donations can be sent to the American Diabetes Association. To learn more, visit

Donations can also be sent to: Association of Washington School Principals, Merlin Epp Memorial Fund, Cispus Learning Center, 2142 Cispus Road, Randle, WA 98377. To learn more, contact Susan Fortin at or call (360) 497-5323.

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