LEXINGTON - When Mike Hawkins arrived in Lexington in 1968, he didn't plan to become part of the community.
The young English teacher had started his family and wanted to move on to "bigger and better things," but he and his wife, Karen, felt differently when the town showed their support for their daughter, Heidi.
"She had a heart defect which was really serious and concerned us greatly," recalled Hawkins. "We were so overwhelmed by the response from the children, memorial cards, prayers and donations that I decided to reconsider. This town was so special to us. Knowing our situation, the grocery store (Haushalter's) allowed us to charge groceries and the gas station charged our repairs. You don't get that kind of caring from a larger community. We decided we had to stay."
For the next 11 years, Hawkins taught English and speech, directed school plays and became an assistant football coach. Although he was content to continue teaching, Karen saw his potential and urged him to consider becoming an administrator. He didn't want to return to school, but decided he might like the challenge of being a principal and has never regretted the decision.
"Mike was the best combination of child advocate and disciplinarian I have ever seen," said Superintendent Brent McArdle. "Mike truly loved and respected all his students and also expected the very best effort and behavior from each one. Students knew that they would be treated fairly if they were called to the office, but no one ever wanted to hear their name over the intercom with the command, ?~Come to the Office immediately.' "
Hawkins became principal and athletic director in 1980 when the new high school building - replacing the original building, which was destroyed in 1969 - was completed. The "state of the art" building was his "home" for the next 21 years and his three children.
"I bawled like a baby when my last child (Wendy) graduated," Hawkins said. "I realized it was the first time in 27 years that one of my kids isn't in school. I was relieved when (high school secretary) Patty Brown reminded me that I still had my grandkids. Although I'm not there anymore (Hawkins retired in 2001), Karen is a teacher's assistant and intends to stay here until the last grandchild has graduated - 12 years from now."
Hawkins retired after 33 years, but he hasn't given up education. Less than a year after retiring, he became the junior high assistant principal at Epiphany Elementary School in Normal.
"I thought I'd do this for a year as a favor to Monsignor Thomas Maloney and never thought I could have as great a relationship as I did in Lexington, but I fell in love with the new school," said Hawkins. "He thought I'd be like a fish out of water, but I've really connected with the staff and kids, and I promised a group of students that I would stay there until they graduated, so I will continue to be there for three more years."
Though no longer involved in the Lexington school, Hawkins continues to be a fixture in the community. Hawkins played the part of Stephen Douglas in a Lincoln-Douglas debate held at the town's sesquicentennial this summer. He enjoyed the opportunity so much, he is considering yet another career opportunity.
"It was dynamic, and went better than I anticipated," said Hawkins. "I would like to do it again and may do public speaking after final retirement."