SALT LAKE CITY — Surrounded by schoolchildren dressed in poodle skirts from the '50s, hippie bell-bottoms from the '60s, disco dresses from the '70s and gargantuan shoulder pads from the '80s, Patty Lingwall looks down at her own attire and laughs.
With no time to rat her hair or throw on some love beads, she is celebrating Hawthorne Elementary’s 100th birthday dressed as a harried PTA president from 2012: Black slacks, beige top and a pair of modern flat shoes with good tread for running from one classroom to the next.
“Both of my girls wanted to dress from the '80s today because they think it’s so ancient,” she says. “I had to tell them, ‘Hey, wait a minute. I went to school in the '80s.’ I know the '80s well. It was the era of big hair.”
Lingwall, who is grateful those days of wild perms, blue eye shadow and geometric jumpsuits are behind her, decided a year ago that it would be a good lesson for 500 children to bring back the looks of every decade for a day at Hawthorne, where she has served as PTA president for three years.
“There were a few of us looking through some old photos in the library and we realized the school was about to turn 100,” she says. “How often does that happen? If anything called for a celebration, this was it.”
So last week, in honor of the school’s 100th anniversary (the actual birthday was Feb. 12), Lingwall invited me to share some Hawthorne memories over a Free Lunch of chicken noodle soup and breadsticks (perfect comfort food for any decade) in the school’s faculty lounge.
As teachers hurried in to grab a bite in oxfords and bobby socks and the principal strolled past with hippie hair and loud bellbottoms, Lingwall pulled out a stack of old black-and-white photos, documenting the school’s past.
When the school opened its doors that first frigid February morning on the corner of 700 East and 1700 South, it was surrounded by dirt fields and small farms run by families who’d moved to the “country” to enjoy the slow life.
News clippings from Hawthorne’s library reveal that a loaf of bread cost three cents then, while a movie ticket would set you back four cents more. There were 48 states instead of 50, the Boston Red Sox were preparing to open Fenway Park and the Titanic disaster was just two months away.
“Hawthorne was the first school in the district to have electricity,” notes Lingwall, “and everyone was thrilled to have running water.” She smiles at a snapshot of second-graders sitting stick-straight at wooden desks — girls in pinafore gingham dresses and boys in knickers, bow ties and jackets.
“Imagine what they’d think today,” she says, “if they could get on Facebook.”
Although the old red-brick school was torn down in the mid-'80s because it was outdated and an earthquake hazard, the “can-do” spirit that filled Hawthorne in 1912 lives on, says Lingwall. “A lot of our kids over the years have been from low-income homes,” she says, “but they’ve always rallied to help others in need.”
Students raise funds every year for the Heifer Project — a charity that provides farm animals to families in impoverished countries so they can earn a small living. And in the 1990s, the school rallied to save Sugar House’s Hidden Hollow nature preserve from becoming a parking lot.
“It’s part of a long tradition of caring about others,” says Lingwall, pointing out snapshots of children in the 1940s selling stamps to raise funds for the war effort. “They raised enough,” she says, “to buy nine Jeeps.”
She often wonders what happened to those children and whether those still living realize how their sacrifices impacted future generations at Hawthorne.
“We’re planning to have an open house on May 16th for anybody who has gone to Hawthorne over the years, and I’d love for these older alumni to come,” says Lingwall. In honor of the occasion, she says, she just might go in search of some cat-eye sunglasses or day-glo polyester pants.
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