“Dear Mr. Poutasse, I liked it when you took me on walks. I remember the rocks we found. You are nice to me when I get hurt. I like when you always look at my electrical drawings and my mazes and flow charts. Who’s going to check me out when I’m sick? I will miss you a lot.” - Nick Nardi, Grade 3 on the occasion of Charlie Poutasse’s retirement, December, 1980

U.S. History: 1980s

Sometimes referred to as the “me decade,” the 1980s is characterized by the “you can have it all” mentality that dominated the culture of the times. During this era of Reaganomics, the stock market and the economy soared, there was a significant drop in unemployment and gasoline prices, and volunteerism and charitable giving reached an all-time high.

In sharp contrast to the 1970s, conservatism in cultural and political life was on the rise during the 1980s, but the breakdown of the traditional American family continued as a result of higher divorce rates, more single parents, and more dual working parents. In the 1980s, the Berlin Wall came down, marking the end of the Cold War; the “war on drugs” was initiated; public awareness of the AIDS epidemic became widespread; and research on global warming was becoming more popular. Efforts to censor books tripled in the 1980s; New York banned books including The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Grapes of Wrath, and Catcher in the Rye.

CDs, video games, MTV, and cable TV revolutionized the music and entertainment industries in the 1980s. Entertainment trends included sitcoms (Roseanne and The Simpsons); tabloid TV (Geraldo Riviera and Oprah Winfrey), stand-up comics (Bill Cosby and Jerry Seinfeld); and infotainment (CNN News and 20/20). Michael Jackson’s Thriller became best-selling album of all time. Other top albums included Bonnie Raitt’s Nick of Time; Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA; The Rolling Stones’ Tattoo You; Pink Floyd’s The Wall; and the soundtrack from Dirty Dancing. With athletes like Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Joe Montana, Wan Gretzky, and Walter Payton dominating the sports scene, the sports entertainment industry continued to thrive.

With the advent of the IBM PC in this decade, personal computers became more commonplace in homes, offices and schools. Also in the 80s, cellular mobile phones became available commercially, the first reusable spacecraft was launched, and significant advancements were made in treatments for diseases in genetic research. Other significant events of the decade include the following: the first woman Supreme Court Justice (Sandra Day O’Connor); the first woman presidential candidate (Geraldine Ferraro); the first major party African-American presidential candidate to run nationwide primary campaigns (Jesse Jackson); the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial; the release of the Iran hostages; and the explosion of Space Shuttle Challenger.

  • Average salary: $19,170 in 1980; $27,210 by 1989.
  • New house: $68,714 in 1980; $120,000 by 1989.
  • New car: $7210 in 1980; $15,400 in 1989.
  • Gas/gallon: $1.19 1980; .97 in 1989.
  • floppy shirts
  • backcombed hair

Hawken History: 1980s

Hawken entered the decade of the 80s on fiscally sound footing. Headmaster Doug Stenberg had kept Hawken in the black since his arrival in 1976, and the budget for 1980-1981 showed a surplus. The December 1980 edition of the Review noted that Phases I and II of the Endowment Campaign were “well underway.” The public phase of the campaign began in early 1981, and by December of that year, the campaign exceeded its goal by $400,000, bringing the School’s endowment to over $5 million.

President of the Alumni Association Clark Harvey ’57 underscored Hawken’s other successes in the December 1982 issue of the Review: a balanced budget for seven years in a row; the highest number of National Merit semifinalists of any independent school in northern Ohio for 3 years in a row; an over 80% yield in admissions; and the shift from one computer terminal to 25 microcomputers over a four-year period. Other highlights included Hawken’s first place standing in the state Mathcounts competition in 1985, and the debate team’s growing reputation as “a force to be dealt with along the debate circuit.”

Hawken’s commitment to pluralism was reflected in the increasing diversity of the constituents on campus. The May 1983 issue of the Review featured an article written by Hawken’s first black trustee, Andrea T. Coaxum, about Charles Jordan ’65, the first black student to enroll at Hawken in the 1960s; another article entitled “Making Sense of the Sixties” by David Perrin ’69 references Hawken’s “desire to eliminate racism.” “The school, as a result of its awareness of urban problems, had made a commitment to recruit students from inner-city public schools.” Other issues of the Review during the 1980s chronicle additional efforts to champion inclusiveness, understanding, and diversity. The text of a speech presented by Sean Decatur ’86 on Martin Luther King Day appeared in a Spring 1986 issue, along with a detailed account of the numerous ways in which the school celebrated Black History Month throughout the school. Hawken became a fully coeducational institution during this decade as well, with the original kindergarten girls entering 8th grade in 1981 - the same year that Joan Page became the first woman administrator at Hawken when she took over for Dick Davies to oversee the Lower School.

While many schools in the 1980s were becoming more conservative relative to the previous two decades, Hawken remained educationally liberal, continuing to encourage educational experimentation. The trustees and faculty agreed, after reviewing the educational program, that the history curriculum needed a greater focus on “Asian, Third World, and other non-Western cultures and histories.” The 80s also saw an increase in interdisciplinary, “real world” teaching with a History of Science course, an English elective on Logic, and a Bioethics course. The Winter 1985-1986 issue of the Review describes an outdoor project for Lower School students in the Poutasse Woods which combined art, science, and mathematics - a project designed to help students “draw on the connections between their disciplines to facilitate learning in a tangible way.”

Charitable service continued to be a part of a Hawken education, and a course called “Community Needs and Services” was designed in 1983 to help facilitate it. In 1985 the Upper School Bright Horizons program began, enabling Hawken students to engage with students at Stephen E. Howe Elementary School, a public school in East Cleveland, in various kinds of enrichment activities, which included a mini-Olympics initiated by OJ McDuffie ’88 as part of his senior project. In order to further promote the School’s motto of “better self,” the Effective Parenting Program (EPP) was established in the 1980s to help support community service programs and to promote meetings, seminars, panels, and support groups that focused on effective parenting and issues relating to alcohol and drug abuse and sexuality.

The Upper School Senate maintained an active voice in setting school policy throughout the 1980s, addressing issues including the wording of the alma mater, the dress code, the school day, and drug and alcohol policies. In June of 1985, the Senate was instrumental in adding a nonsectarian policy that was added to the Hawken Handbook, stating that class materials, hymns, prayers, music, and symbols on campus would be subject to ongoing assessment.

As Headmaster Stenberg continued his efforts to unite as “one school,” each campus continued to evolve and expand. In 1980, the Education Committee of the Board of Trustees announced plans for a new program for kindergarten-age children that included the traditional morning program plus an optional afternoon program of enrichment. In the mid-80s, Charles Stephens submitted a proposal to re-evaluate the Middle School goals and philosophy. As a result, the School initiated a series of workshops led by experts on current research on how adolescents learn and why it makes sense for a middle school to exist as an entity of its own as opposed to being a part of an upper elementary division or a junior high. The advisory program was developed soon thereafter, as was the Middle School Renewal Project, which led to administrative reorganization beginning in the fall of 1989, when Hawken shifted from two divisions to three, each with its own director.

Athletic programs were expanding at a rapid rate as well. The Upper School fielded 18 varsity teams in 1985, and that same year the football team had more wins than any previous team, the field hockey team had its first winning season, the men’s basketball team had more wins than any previous team, and the women’s swimming team went undefeated. Girls swimming earned its 4th straight state championship title in 1987, and the football team boasted many successes throughout the decade, including an undefeated season, a 24 game winning streak, and a second place standing in the state.

Facilities to support programming also evolved throughout the 1980s – among them Humphrey Field; the Loveman Mathematics and Computer Center; the Rankin Family Tennis Courts; the McCarthy Kitchen; Phillips Hall, Blossom Hall, and classrooms named for Charles A. Poutasse, H. Mortimer Smeed, Charles R. Stephens, and Howard and Cara Stirn. Also at Lyndhurst, a glass walkway was constructed to connect Phillips Hall to the west wing of the School, and a playground was built by members of the community through funds provided by the Mothers Committee. Plans for new athletic facilities at the Gates Mills campus began with parking lot construction in the summer of 1988, which drew protests from students who opposed the idea of “paving paradise to put up a parking lot.” Others argued, however, that it was “the essential first step in the building of the new gymnasium, which will become the largest facility in the Upper School Sports Center.”

The 1980s also saw an increased emphasis in marketing as a result of a recommendation from McKinsey & Co., a consulting firm hired pro-bono by Hawken to “monitor the relationship between Hawken and its surrounding communities.”  Their findings indicated that there was no need to alter the School’s mission or philosophy. It was, however, determined that the School’s message – its philosophy and advantages - should be marketed more to the community; and that a strengthening of alumni relations, particularly with older alumni, was needed, particularly given the addition of the Upper School and the change to coeducation in recent decades. As a result, alumni outreach increased, and the Alumni Board established new committees that focused on different areas of the school. Stronger efforts were made to reconnect with and recognize alumni who contributed time and resources to their alma mater, leading to the establishment of the Hawken Fellows to recognize alumni and parents who exhibited “exceptional contributions, unusual love, devotion, and commitment to Hawken.” Each fellow was given a miniature replica of the red-tailed Hawk sculpture that was commissioned for Hawken School by William C. McCoy ’38 in honor of his late wife and created by Emily Parkman, mother of Mary Parkman ’78. The original Hawken Hawk, “an expression of appreciation by a number of Hawken parents for the great natural beauty of the Gates Mills Campus,” was dedicated in 1984 and remains ensconced in the foyer of Ireland Hall. 

Hawken School | Lower & Middle Schools, 5000 Clubside Rd, Lyndhurst, OH 44124
Upper School, PO Box 8002 (12465 County Line Rd), Gates Mills, OH 44040
Gries Center, 10823 Magnolia Dr, Cleveland, OH 44106