An Humble Hawthorne Homage

Recently, my friend and colleague, known as “profmondo” on his excellent blog that I heartily recommend, wrote about the passing of his 1st grade teacher, and what a profound influence she had on him. I encourage you to read that blog, and all of his blogs at www.profmondo.wordpress.com. His blog brought to mind my favorite teacher. On our trip last week to the Midwest, my wife and I took her to lunch. We had a great time, too. She is in her 80’s, has had two knee replacements, and walks without even so much as a limp.

The following words are about her.

For me, the beginning of each year never started on January 1st. It always started when the new school year began because that was when things started to happen; new grade, new teacher, new challenges, new hopes and dreams. It is still that way with me. The new year begins when the schools open their doors, and when I think of that reality I cannot help but think of her.

When I was in the early grades, I was afraid of Miss Cook. She taught 6th grade at Hawthorne Elementary School in Clinton, Iowa, and I knew she was waiting for me. She waited patiently for all of us to come into her classroom. She was tall and strong and certain of right and wrong with a gaze that could freeze a twerpy little perp in mid-misbehavior and make him wish he were someplace else, like the bottom of the Mississippi River a few blocks east of the school. I was afraid. Of Miss Cook.

She coached softball, basketball, and track relay at Hawthorne, and was a better athlete than any of us. She decided who played and where. Her decisions were final and fair. On fly balls and pop-ups at softball practices she would shout, “Two hands while learning, John!” because one time at practice I tried to showboat with a one-handed grab like Vic Power of the Cleveland Indians. And muffed it. I was afraid of Miss Cook. In basketball she told us there was no good excuse for missing a layup. No good excuse for not making four out of every five free throws. In the track relay, to whomever had the baton, she would exhort them to do their best with cries of  ‘Dig! Dig! Dig!’ I did not want to disappoint, so I did all those things she told us to do, because I was afraid of Miss Cook.

In the classroom she expected us to learn what was taught. We had spelldowns for spelling, science, literature, and geography. Sometimes the sides were chosen randomly. Sometimes it was the boys against the girls One individual winner, one victorious team. Mistakes led to our own embarrassment that led to working harder that lead to success. It was clear. We did not want to act or sound stupid. We were afraid of Miss Cook.

Every year in December Miss Cook’s class designed, drew, and painted Christmas scenes on the tall windows of her northeast corner second floor classroom. Our year we drew a Christmas train and painted it in bright colors, a different gift-laden car for each window, and placed spotlights behind them so people who drove or walked by at night in the cold air and crunchy snow, turned blue and sparkly in the moonlight, could see what Miss Cook’s class had done. We took pride in our effort and we took satisfaction and felt relief when she said, “Class, good job!” because we were afraid of Miss Cook. In those deep Iowa winters, we would hang around after school sometimes and, from ambush, throw snowballs at the teachers as they left the building, then hide. We never threw snowballs at Miss Cook. We knew she had a better arm and more accuracy than any of us. We were afraid of Miss Cook.

After sixth grade we went on to Washington Junior High School and then Clinton High School and then colleges and universities and jobs all across the nation. We became teachers, lawyers, entrepreneurs, bankers, professors, and writers. And in the back of every one of our minds, where fundamentals such as honesty, hard work, respect, and diligence lived, somewhere there we wanted to do well because Miss Cook would be pleased and if she were pleased, well, that was a good thing. A very good thing. We wanted to be decent, honest, productive, and smart because if we weren’t we would have reason to be afraid of Miss Cook. 

And so I was afraid of Miss Cook for a very long time. We all were – her students. But as we grew older and put on weight and added silver hair and wrinkles and experience, and became husbands and wives and parents and grandparents, and lived and died, we began to realize that we weren’t really afraid of Miss Cook any more.We discovered that we had edged into respect and honor, and then, finally, into, well, you know.

Miss Cook is retired now, married, and living just a few houses from where Hawthorne School once stood, where she once stood. The school itself was torn down a while back, a casualty of shifting demographics. But she still stands, in her retirement more enduring in her work than the school’s bricks and mortar, windows and stairs.

She sent me a clipping, through a classmate, about Hawthorne Elementary School being pulled down. She thought I would be interested. I am decades older now and she remembered me from sixth grade. I think she remembers us all.

I love Miss Cook.

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33 Responses to An Humble Hawthorne Homage

  1. Betty Barsema Moore says:

    I love Miss Carol Cook Kaufman. also. I remember walking from the school to the Congregational church for the Christmas program, listening to the world series on her radio during class. Another was listening to her talk about her helping Kenny Ploen, perfect his passing of the football. ( He lived across the street from the school) He was playing at Iowa when I was there. My girls also had her for math at Washington Junior High. They would come home talking about Mrs. Kaufman and what a great lady she was. I finally put the two of them together, and knew why they likrd her.
    I too love Miss.Cook!

    • Betty, many thanks for your kind words and remarks about Hawthorne and Miss Cook. She gave me a brick from the old school when I saw her a couple of years ago. I try to take her to lunch when I am in town. Always enjoyable, although she does still scare me a little. I graduated from 6th grade in ’56. When did you? Thanks again, and I apologize for not responding sooner. I’m still learning to navigate this neighborhood.

      • Betty Barsema Moore says:

        i was in Hawthorne 6th grade in 58 and graduated from CHS in 1965. I did enjoy your writing and hope to read and remember more of the past. By the way, have you seen the facebook site. You must be from Clinton if you remember… lots of old pictures and memories on it.

  2. James McEleney says:

    Wow, what a fantastic post! I too attended Hawthorne Elementary School. I had Ms. Erickson for Kindergarten, Mrs. Mensch for 1st grade, Mrs. Lange for 2nd grade, & Miss. Pearson for 3rd grade. Sadly, the school was closed at the end of the school year in June of 1980. However I did have Ms. Creiger (the 4th grade instructor from Hawthorne) at Whitter elementary, where I was transfered following Hawthorne’s closing for my 4th grade teacher. Although I had always heard how strict Miss. Cook was, I also knew that she was a very good teacher and that she had a reputation of fairness, which is why i was delighted to learn I would have her as one of my instructors for sixth grade at Washington Middle School… Her reputation was well earned, and I too will always remember her as someone who made an indelible impression on my life.. I was really happy to read your post, some of my fondest, most cherished memories are from my childhood years at Hawthorne…

    • James, many thanks for your kind words about my post regarding Miss Cook. She gave me a brick from the building when Hawthorne was demolished. Are you related to Tom McEleney? Sometimes he played in pickup baseball games at Hawthorne, although much younger than I.

    • Kelly Morrison Galan says:

      The teachers at Hawthorne were incredible. My favourites – Miss Cook and Miss Erickson. Mom and Dad were grateful for the excellent education the four of us received at Hawthorne. Just wondering, James, if you are of the McEleney family that bought our home on Woodlands? If so, hope you enjoyed it as much as my family did.

  3. Stacy McGauvran-Hruby says:

    Not sure how I landed here, but quite a find. Lots of memories that many of us share…. I used to stop by and say hi to Miss Cook/Mrs. Kaufman even into college and after, but now it’s been years. I thought she was pretty remarkable in 1968, but your memories show she was way ahead of her time even before then! (Think of what happened in 1968 in the world around us; in addition to what you remembered, I recall how we did discuss the topics of the day.) I always hoped my kids would find their “Miss Cook” — but she’s a touch one to match!

    • Kevin Gramer says:

      Hi Stacy,
      I’m not sure why I thought about searching Hawthorne School this evening, but saw the piece on Miss Cook and couldn’t resist. Did I ever send you the great image I found at the Clinton County Historical Society of Hawthorne School – probably taken in the 1930s? Let me know if you want me to send the image file your way. I still think of Hawthorne when we’re back in Clinton. My kids are growing tired of hearing “That’s where I went to school.” every time we drive down Third Street. They actually got to meet Miss Cook when we went to a Little League game the summer before last. She really hasn’t changed a bit. I hope all is well with you and your family.
      Kevin Gramer

  4. Lori Weber Lofquist says:

    Oh wow, what a great person to blog about! I too was afraid of Miss Cook. She is, however, one of the reasons that I am back in Clinton, teaching! These words, “We wanted to be decent, honest, productive, and smart because if we weren’t we would have reason to be afraid of Miss Cook” are all too true, even today. I hope I am a “Miss Cook” for my students. I was blessed to be her student in 1971, I believe.

  5. Trinda Smith says:

    To Curly, Larry, and Me, and all subsequent responders, thank you for your insights and kind words about my Aunt, Carol Cook Kaufman. I live in Montana, but of course visited Aunt Carol in Iowa, and I remember seeing her classroom at Hawthorne. Your posts brought me such joy, and I immediately forwarded the information to my children, who both now teach. I always regarded Aunt Carol as very strong and forthright, and her legacy is surely the integrity and resolve she passed along to her students. Many thanks for sharing your thoughts and memories of Aunt Carol.

    • Stacy McGauvran-Hruby says:

      Just happened back on this page again–and what fun to know there was a connection with Miss Cook/Mrs. Kaufman’s niece!! I hope all remains well; her legacy lives on in all of us….

  6. Greg Snell says:

    With a really boring conference call on mute I found myself in Google maps looking at Clinton and saw that big bare spot between Pershing and Third St where Hawthorne used to be. A couple more clicks and I ended up here at John’s post in homage to Miss Cook (no Ms. back in ’56). Brought back a lot of memories … most good, some fuzzy and fragmented. I think that rather than afraid of her we were probably more afraid of letting down Miss Cook or disappoining her … she set the bar pretty high for all of us … looking back we learned some great lessons while unaware of being taught.

    I remember at least one broken windshield on a car in the court house parking lot compliments of a Carol Cook long fly ball. Remember Mr. Price the janitor … ringing the bell to herd us into school in the morning and at lunch? Ice skating at the improvised rink the sheriff had the trustees create in front of the jail every winter … where did they get the music piped over the loudspeaker? John, I’m guessing you remember more than a few hours wiled away shooting baskets on the court at Doc Lyons.

    Another good memory of Clinton was Mr. Olson’s writing class in high school. While most of us have the memories of wanting to be the next Kerouac or Heller it looks like you went out and did it … congratulations on being published … next trip to Barnes and Noble or into Amazon will have your book in the shopping basket.

    Again … thanks for the tribute to a lady who had a hand in shaping quite a few of us and thanks for triggering some memories from more than a few years back …

    • David Mills says:

      I am surprised so many remember Miss Cook fondly. Mrs Ross in 4th grade was a great teacher. Mrs Oakley 5th grade not so much but was very nice. I had to move out of state in the middle of the 7th grade and always wondered what happened to some of the people I knew like Greg Snell, Richard Neilson, Donna Smith and Tommy Burlingame. I know Eddie Zastrow ended up in Iowa City. I don’t know why anyone was afraid of Miss Cook.

    • Greg, my face is red because I’m so late in responding to your comments. Truly, I have only today been able to figure out how to access that information. Definitely not a nerd.
      Many great memories, and, yes, lots of hours shooting baskets at Doc Lyon’s great outdoor court. Hours and hours. And know that I am still in touch with Gene Olson/Brad Steiger! He’s going strong and I plan to visit him next summer/fall when my wife and I are in Iowa again. So, where are you and how are you doing?

  7. Lynne Bieber Kallenbach says:

    I loved Miss Cook too. Since I lived across the alley from her, I was never afraid of her. She was the best teacher I ever had. Painting the windows at Christmas was always a big deal, as was hatching chickens. During the summer she would make popcorn for all of the kids in the neighborhood.

  8. Wanda (Borup) Bryant says:

    I too love Miss Cook. I was in her 6th grade class in 1965. What a fabulous culmination to a great grade school experience at Hawthorne. She recognized both deficits and talents in individuals and actually tailored lessons to specific needs. Oh how I wish Carol Cook could have been my math teacher in junior high! She was tough but we learned and loved it. Like you all, I loved painting the Christmas windows. Our year’s theme was Christmas carols, and to this day, my favorite carol (besides her) was my window’s theme of “Silver Bells.” And we sang! Even made a record. Watched the World Series, hatched chicks, tumbled and folk danced in that scary old basement, and I can still hear her reading Thor Heyerdahl’s “Kon-Tiki” to us after lunch. I just retired from a wonderful teaching career of 37 years, and I can only hope that to at least one student, I was their Miss Cook.

    • Wanda, thanks for your comment. I see Miss Cook every year now for the last few years. She’s in great shape and still sharp. We keep in touch, and she liked my novel, Signs of Struggle. By the way, are you related to the Borup boys who also went to Hawthorne when I was there in the mid-50’s?

      • Wanda (Borup) Bryant says:

        Yes indeed. I’m the little sister; our sister Norma is three years older than me. The boys were 11-12 years older than me. Give my regards to Miss Cook when you see her next. She and John DeHaan were unquestionably among the best five teachers I ever had (including through my doctorate!) or worked with. Top notch. We were so lucky!

    • Sally Lloyd says:

      Thanks Tom for your memories of Hawthorne. I did not attend but did walk by the school every day for 9 years on my way over to St. Patricks. Lived about a block from Hawthorne on 3rd street. So many great memories of growing up in Clinton.

      I was so excited to see the comment from Wanda Borup, who was my best bud at Clinton High! Hi Wanda – hope you are doing well. Sorry to have lost touch over the years. All my best to you.

  9. Kelly Morrison Galan says:

    Thanks for the memories. Hawthorne holds a special place in my heart and mind. Incredible teachers who gave us a good educational basis. For me, Miss Cook and Miss Erickson were my favourite teachers.

  10. Linda Smith says:

    I don’t know how I stumbled on this website but I am so glad I did! I only met your Miss Cook a few years ago at the YWCA in Clinton where I am an aquacise instuctor. She is in my class 2x a week. I enjoyed reading your memories and comments of her and thought I would add a few of my own. When Carol came to my class I took an instant liking to her. She has been my great encourager…telling me she loves my class and how good I am, etc. (those are her words not mine!) At 8 o’clock in the morning I often need that to get me going! Carol lives as she appears to be….honest, hard working, caring, and straight forward. Each summer she and her husband Louis grow the best cucumbers ever and are very generous with them! Recently, Carol suffered the loss of a very good friend which I feel took a toll on her. She was absent from class for some time but returned last week. It was so good to have her back. She is aging gracefully but I also see changes coming. She seems to be getting more tired and maybe not as alert as she has been. Just so you know Carol will be turning 91 in December. She won’t give anyone the date but I know it is a couple of weeks before Christmas. This is your opportunity to encourage her and bring back fond memories. Her address is Carol Kaufman, 319 10th Ave. N., Clinton, Iowa 52732. What a wonderful gift that would be for her….spread the word! Thanks.

  11. Kelly Morrison Galan says:

    Thank you, Linda, for the information. Will send a card.

  12. Linda, many thanks for your comments about Miss Cook and her upcoming birthday. I will send her a card and ask the same from my Class of ’56 Hawthorne grads who continue to benefit from Miss Cook’s teaching. I try to get back to Iowa (from S. C. ) every summer or fall, and will endeavor to do so again next year. We usually have lunch together and “catch up.” Thank you so much, again, for the heads up. Miss Cook is the best, and you’re wonderful for sharing this information. Blessings on you and yours. Sincerely, John Carenen.

    • Linda Smith says:

      Dear John,
      Just wanted to drop you a note and let you and other classmates know how much your cards meant to Carol. We were talking right after her birthday (which I found out was the 6th of December) and with tears in her eyes she told me how blessed she was that in the last week she received 7 birthday cards from former students. She couldn’t believe it…nor how you knew. Clearly it meant so very much to her! So I thank you all. You have blessed me by blessing her!
      Linda 😊

      PS: John, so you are a published author. Out of curiosity, is it fictional or non fiction, what is the name, and where would I find it?

      • Linda, so wonderful of you to tip me off about Miss Cook’s birthday so I could let some of my classmates know. Glad it was a blessing to both of you. I’ll make sure, Lord willing, that we get even more cards next year on the 6th. I have published two novels, Signs of Struggle and A Far Gone Night, both with the same characters set in northeast Iowa. A third in the series has gone to the publisher and I’m working on the fourth. Publisher is Neverland Press, but if you’re interested, they’re available on Amazon. Thanks for your interest. Hope you and yours have a fine Christmas and New Year’s (barring the Rose Bowl) starting this week. Blessings.

      • Kelly Morrison Galan says:

        I was thrilled to send greetings to our ‘Miss Cook.’ Nice to know the actual date. Happy 2016.

  13. Jan Stapleton says:

    Such a lovely stream of recollections about an amazing teacher. We three Stapleton kids lived on north fourth street and all enjoyed Miss Cook as our 6th grade teacher. I will always remember her tall, straight posture; how she’d kneel in front of my desk to have a quiet conversation with me; and, of course, those Converse sneakers! Thanks for sharing, everyone. Now I’m off to find the perfect birthday card for my favorite teacher…

  14. Dawn Lorenz says:

    I received this via a friend I met the first day of kindergarten at Hawthorne. Miss Cook was my favorite also. Thank you for saying so eloquently what is also in my heart. Our Christmas window was Santa,s band.

  15. Karen Wilke Platter says:

    Right about now we would have finished painting our Christmas windows. Great memories!

  16. Kim Wilkins says:

    Great memories! I always consider her the best teacher/ coach I ever had, and I had a bunch- Mr. Huff, Mr. Holsclaw, Mr. Luebe, Mr. Vining, Mr. Lehr…. I’ll always remember the big skirts she used to wear, usually plaid with white blouses and usually a dark sweater. Playing softball after school amongst the oak trees….going ‘down’ to south Clinton to play Mr. Blanchard’s school?? softball team in practice…going to Horace Mann school to practice basketball because we didn’t have a gym…making our own track around the oak trees and practicing for the elementary school relay race at the high school field (Iten Field) I think we won…square dancing and doing situps in that little room in the basement…taking cornet lessons in the vacant room on the 1st floor next to the kindergarten room and Miss Erikson….painting on the big windows in our classroom for Christmas- I still have the picture of my window that she sent me at Christmas time, handmade….reading to us after we came back from lunch from the front of the room at 1:00 P.M. (we didn’t have a cafeteria). I always admired and respected her, never afraid. I remember how I was so disappointed after 3rd grade to find I was getting sent to Hawthorne instead of Jefferson. I went to Kirkwood grades 1-3 and then Hawthorne 4-6 because of where I lived. Most of my best friends were being sent to Jefferson. It turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. Miss Ross for 4th grade; Mrs. Oakley for 5th grade; and of course Miss Cook for 6th grade. Mr. Winters was the janitor and always rang the bell to let us in. I won a quarter from him in 1964 when I bet him on the World Series. He bet on the Yankees and I bet on the Cardinals. Cardinals won in 7 games, and he paid up. A quarter was big money for a kid in those days. I remember coming back to school on a February Monday in 1964 after the Beatles had been on the Ed Sullivan show. I was jealous cause all the girls were going wild over the Beatles. When I was a sophomore in high school, I was on the basketball team but not on the 1st team. One game, Miss Cook (and I think her husband now) were sitting behind the bench. During the game, I got called to sub. Not playing that much, when I got up to go in and began pulling down my warmup pants, I accidentally mooned Miss Cook by pulling down my trunks too. I remember to this day looking behind me and seeing her laughing at what I had just done. Man that was embarrassing. It just goes to show you how much that lady meant to me by remembering all the things that happened at that school. Forever Miss Cook!
    Kim Wilkins, 6th grade class of 1965- 50 years…….where does the time go?

  17. Dawn May (Allen) says:

    Oh my goodness this is such and awesome article. I lived across the street from Hawthorne school.. I just absolutely loved Ms Cook. One of my best memories was also painting a train on those big windows, my picture was the Santa. My most memorable day was after a snow we got to go outside and build snow sculptures.

    • Dawn, so glad you enjoyed the article. Miss Cook means a lot to many of us who had the privilege of attending Hawthorne School. She gave me a brick from the building when I saw her a couple-three years ago. I always stop in and see her when I’m in town, which is just about every year. We correspond via snail mail and email. Her handwriting is distinctive. Thanks for the kind words.

  18. Brian Weyeneth says:

    Having held down the 1000 block on North 3rd Street, I never had a good excuse for being tardy at Hawthorne. Ms. Cook (and others) had a deep influence on my raising. Each was a gem in her own right. Harold Kirchdofer was principal during my years there (Fall 1968-Spring 1975). I managed to scoop up a couple of bricks, the limestone cornerstone block, and an old chalkboard and wash basin from the demolition which was tough to watch. Today all that oak and pine flooring would bring a fortune on the reclaimed wood circuit. I’ll be sure to send Carol a card – albeit tardy – for her birthday.

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