Dr. Hugh Hawkins, a 1967 Galesburg High School graduate, was a true visionary; in fact, his friends would say he was a constant thinker who always looked at problems from a different perspective.
After retiring from his radiology career in Cincinnati, Hawkins turned his focus to his hometown. He began connecting with current leaders and learning about the educational scene, all the while staying in touch with many of his classmates from the class of ‘67. Longtime friend and classmate, Susan Hegg Wandell, said the more Hawkins learned about Galesburg, “the more he saw the need and importance of Galesburg’s educational communities working together, along with economic development, for the benefit of both students and the community.”
Hawkins saw good things happening in Galesburg and wanted to share them with his classmates. The upcoming reunion was just the place to do that. Sadly, Hawkins passed away unexpectedly in June of 2022, just months before the reunion.
The class carried his vision forward when the Galesburg High School alumni from the class of ‘67 gathered back on campus in September for a B.I.T.—Breakfast, Information and a Tour—to reminisce about their time as students, marvel at the recently renovated building, and learn about the vibrant future of educational collaboration in the community – which is exactly what Hugh would have wanted.
Rural Schools Collaborative Executive Director Taylor McCabe-Juhnke facilitated a panel discussion on the importance of local education pathways, collaboration, and community engagement. The panel included several of Galesburg’s current leaders in education: Dr. John Asplund, Superintendent of Galesburg CUSD #205; Joshua Gibb, President & CEO of Galesburg Community Foundation; Dr. Andy McGadney, President of Knox College; Ken Springer, President of Knox County Area Partnership for Economic Development; and Dr. Seamus Reilly, President of Carl Sandburg College.
The panelists celebrated the strength and impact of education pathways in the Galesburg community and beyond. McGadney explained, “Education is the equalizer of all things and can be a catalyst of all aspects—familial and economic. Schools and teachers have a lifelong impact on students, and that is why education is so important.”
One program having an impact is the George Washington Gale Scholars Program. A collaborative partnership between Knox College, Carl Sandburg College, and Galesburg Public Schools District #205, the program encourages and supports higher education aspirations and success for academically promising first-generation and income-eligible District #205 students.
In addition to educational partnerships, Asplund emphasized the importance of alumni and community engagement for student success. “It is important to know what alumni and community members are thinking and equally as important to advocate for education in your hometown.”
Springer agreed with Asplund, underscoring the need to deepen community and school relationships. “It is crucial for students to gain experiences in their community at an early age to dissolve barriers and create a want to stay and improve their hometown community.” He noted that a program already breaking down these barriers is the Knox County CEO Program. This yearlong two-credit high school course immerses students in real-life learning experiences by working with and learning from current business owners in the area.
Reilly emphasized the importance of investing in students. “Current students are the future of our community. Invest in them now. That affirmation will last them a lifetime.”
Hawkins certainly believed in the importance of advocating for education and was keenly interested in how he, and he hoped others, could bolster the education efforts of local people.
As the Class of ‘67 walked the newly renovated halls of the high school, guided by current students, the memories from their time in the classroom came back easily, a reminder of the impact schools and teachers have on each and every student, even when they return years later.
After the inspiring Saturday morning at Galesburg High School, Gibb encouraged those attending to follow Hawkins’ lead. “Take the time to learn what is happening in your community. Whether you live here or not, there is always an opportunity to make your community stronger by being aware of both current work and opportunity. Hugh believed that education was just the beginning.”