The Central Kitsap School Board has not scheduled a conversation on the question of renaming Brownsville Elementary School after John D. “Bud” Hawk. It will likely be on the agenda for the March 26 meeting, but I have heard from a couple of sources that some will be at Wednesday’s meeting this week to air their thoughts. In preparation for that conversation, in an attempt to understand views on both sides of the question I asked the district to see all the responses to the online survey the district conducted about the question, particularly the spaces where people could weigh in with comments.
I should say up front that all three of my children went to Brownsville. One was there a few months, another a year and the other all seven elementary school years. Given that, we do have a sense of gratitude for the work that goes on inside the school. But I get paid to keep my feelings about an issue to myself, so if I had an opinion I wouldn’t tell you what it is. Besides, we don’t live in that area anymore and my youngest goes to Silver Ridge, so I don’t have a dog, or a bear, in that discussion.
So I leave it to the survey respondents to make the arguments. Here are a few samples:
John “Bud” Hawk was a great man who accomplished more in his lifetime than most people I know. He has also been recognized and memorialized in many ways as a tribute of thanks for his many years of service. For me personally, I feel strongly that Brownsville Elementary should remain, and a portion of the school should be named after Bud. Brownsville is a school with a wonderful family vibe and supportive community. Many of our families attended Brownsville as children and now watch their own children roam the halls of a school they love, one that has been called Brownsville for almost 60 years. In a time where everything moves so fast, information is shared so quickly, names and trends come and go at a rate most of us don’t remember them. I feel that offering some consistency, an anchor of sorts to our youth is crucial. Let Brownsville be that constant, that place where our children will look back and smile, that tangible memory that lets them know that not all things disappear … that some, very special places are kept as they are because of the powerful and positive impact they’ve had on so many.
When my family moved here our three grade school sons were among the largest number of students ever to attend Brownsville at one time. Within months Esquire Hills and Cottonwood opened, reducing the head count to one third. Through it all Bud Hawk kept his cool, maintained order, got to know the children and even cooked Thanksgiving turkeys for the Thanksgiving feast. He was phenomenal under tremendous pressure. He dealt with parents, students and teachers in a way each was heard and respected. For all that Bud did before he came to Brownsville and for his exemplary leadership as principal, John “Bud” Hawk deserves to be remembered in a lasting way. Please don’t flub this. Please name the entire school after a man whose shoes can never be filled by another person. Let this be his legacy.
He was an eyewitness to some of the most horrible things man can do his fellow man. And his reaction to that was to embrace the nurturing of children. He was motivated to make education his career because he knew it was important to help children., that the key to a peaceful world was happy children. His understanding of what was really important in life and his insight into how to change the world is at the heart of knowledge. And the heart of knowledge in any school is the library. I think the library should be named after him.
I attended Brownsville Elementary in the 1970s and remember Mr. Hawk fondly. Of all my school principals, he is the one I remember the most. What he did for our country in WWII is certainly deserving of renaming the elementary school where he dedicated many years of his professional life in his honor.
Nearly everyone supported naming at least a part of the school after Hawk, so it seems clear there is large support for honoring Hawk somehow.
Now, allow me to put on my best pinstriped suit to play advocate for the devil.
Many who opposed renaming the school spoke of how it could harm Brownsville’s “storied history” and “legacy.” Those are kind of big words to attach to an elementary school. What historic moment happened at Brownsville? What legacy at Brownsville is so unique that it couldn’t be found at other schools?
I was especially struck by the people who said renaming the school would be harmful to the memories of people who went there, to which I ask, “Why?” Would your memories be any less beautiful if the school you once attended wasn’t called Brownsville anymore? Did new people move into the house you grew up in? Did that make you sad? Did you get over it? How do the people who went to East High School feel about their old campus being turned into something else? How do Seabeck and Tracyton alums feel today? If they change the name of your school, it doesn’t change your memories.
On the flipside, let me still represent the devil in arguing the other case. A few brought up that the school is actually in Gilberton, some saying that calling it “Brownsville” was a compromise to appease people who really did live in Brownsville and were disappointed the school was not located there. I haven’t verified that. Despite all that, even though Brownsville Elementary School is in Gilberton, that argument ended a long time ago. The school has been there for years with that name, and renaming it Hawk isn’t going to right an old wrong.
Let me tell you a little of my history. Forty years ago I graduated from an elementary school named after a street. That much I knew then. What I didn’t know was the street was named after a former whiskey maker and rancher who helped settle the San Gabriel Valley in Southern California. That’s something I found out about an hour ago, thanks to Wikipedia. The school’s website didn’t have any info on it. Nor did the high school named after John A. Rowland. I still don’t know who my junior high school was named after. This request is coming at a time when the emotions about and the memories of Bud Hawk are fresh. Years from now as more people pass through the class-picture-lined halls of the school there is the threat that the passion to remember the school’s namesake will diminish.
Naming a school after a hero is the most a school district can do, but it’s not nearly enough for what John D. “Bud” Hawk did. There have been principals, few of them maybe, who can match his impact on students. But as CK’s Superintendent Hazel Bauman said at a previous board meeting, there are not that many principals who were previous Congressional Medal of Honor recipients. When I read Hawk’s World War II story I was legitimately flabbergasted. Ed Friedrich, explained Hawk’s wartime exploits well in the story he wrote when Hawk died.
“On Aug. 20, 1944, German tanks and infantry attacked Hawk’s position near Chamois, France. He fought off the foot soldiers with his light machine gun before an artillery shell destroyed it and wounded him in the right thigh. He found a bazooka and, with another man, stalked the tanks and forced them to retreat into the woods. He regrouped two machine gun squads and made one working gun out of two damaged ones.
“Hawk’s group was joined by two tank destroyers, but they couldn’t see where to shoot. So he climbed to the top of a knoll with bullets flying around him to show them where to aim. The destroyer crews couldn’t hear his directions, so he ran back and forth several times to correct their range until two of the tanks were knocked out and a third was driven off. He continued to direct the destroyers against the enemy in the woods until the Germans, 500 strong, surrendered. He would receive four Purple Hearts.”
Then he came home and became a teacher and a principal. Or as the survey respondent quoted above said, “He was an eyewitness to some of the most horrible things man can do his fellow man. And his reaction to that was to embrace the nurturing of children.”
Whatever decision the district makes, this conversation should spark one commitment out of anyone interested in the question. No matter what decision is made about the renaming of the school, the students who go to school there should know well the story of what John D. “Bud” Hawk did in war, and then what he did in peace. For all the distinction and symbolism there is in naming a school or a part within the school after a hero, the greatest way to honor someone is to emulate someone. Whatever the district decides to do, the decision should be made answering the question that as students walk the halls Bud Hawk walked, what decision will more influence them to walk the life he walked, too.