Relatives trace Mary Hawkins’ historical footsteps

Annette Hawkins talks about the process of taking a photo of Mary Hawkins’ grave Thursday in Pemberton Hall.

Bob Galuski, Editor-in-Chief

When Gilbert Hawkins first began delving into his family’s history, he had no idea it would be life changing.

“I was talking to my friend a few months ago, and he said, ‘You’ve changed,’” Gilbert Hawkins said. “I didn’t think I had.”

Now, almost 100 years after Mary Hawkins died, her great grandnephew Gilbert and his wife Annette are walking the same halls that Mary Hawkins loved so much and left such an impression on.

For the first time, Gilbert and Annette Hawkins entered America, coming from New Zealand, and traveled into Charleston to find out more about Mary Hawkins — the “second matron” and supervisor from 1910-1917 in Pemberton Hall.

Arriving Thursday, the Hawkins couple witnessed the history of Gilbert Hawkins’ great grandaunt by being inside Pemberton Hall and hearing stories from former residents of Pemberton Hall.

As for being in a different country, Gilbert and Annette Hawkins said they feel right at home.

“It’s a really beautiful place. It feels like family,” Annette Hawkins said. “It feels at home.”

Gilbert and Annette have traveled the globe in search of the last branches of Gilbert Hawkins’ family tree. It was in England that they found the headstone of Mary Hawkins, which mentions Charleston.

“We found out she was actually buried in Charleston,” Gilbert Hawkins said.

After that, it took one phone call to “get the ball rolling,” he said. And before they knew it, they were finding out all about Mary Hawkins and the impact she had on campus.

Mark Hudson, the director of Housing and Dining, said Mary Hawkins’ effect on campus was so far reaching that, when she died, school closed down for half a day for a memorial service.

“This history has opened my eyes to her impact and effect on students,” Annette Hawkins said. “I’m really amazed by the lasting impression.”

In the meantime, the Hawkins couple is staying in a room across the hall from where Mary Hawkins slept during her time at Eastern.

Mere steps away from where his ancestor slept, Gilbert Hawkins said he couldn’t imagine a better way to relive the history and memories.

“When you use Google, you get a picture of the place, but not the feel,” Gilbert Hawkins said.

And to be immersed in this kind of history is a unique and special experience for Gilbert Hawkins.

“This is all because of being onsite. I’ve changed,” Gilbert Hawkins said. “And it’s only by going through this experience.

History comes full circle

As part of the trip, Gilbert and Annette Hawkins bestowed a gift to the campus: a sculpture that is only one of three.

One of the pieces resides with Gilbert and Annette Hawkins; the other, with Gilbert’s relative. And the final piece will be displayed at Eastern.

Made from a kauri tree, native to New Zealand, the piece is made from a specific tree that is between 45,000 and 55,000 years old.

The piece is a large circle that wraps into a smaller circle with a space in the middle.

Gilbert Hawkins said it is a living piece, which means it is meant to be touched.

“You have good days and you have bad days. When you’re having either of those days it is time to touch the sculpture,” he said.

Gilbert Hawkins commissioned the piece to a sculptor and informed him of Mary Hawkins’ history.

Hudson said Jeff Boshart, a former Eastern art professor, came to see how to mount the piece, since he is an expert in wood pieces.

His answer: Boshart would create a frame from the pieces of the burr oak tree that, until the previous summer, had been outside Old Main for decades. After a storm made the tree a safety hazard, the tree was cut down.

Hudson said President Bill Perry accepted the gift on behalf of Eastern earlier Thursday.

And it will be a lasting memory once Gilbert and Annette Hawkins take off next Saturday, back to New Zealand to add more info to their family history box.

But for now, Gilbert Hawkins will continue to have a life-changing experience while following his great grandaunt’s footsteps.

“I’m seeing things I never even thought I’d hope to see,” Gilbert Hawkins said.

Bob Galuski can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]