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Nichols gets chance to honor special instructor

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By Stephen Thomas

 NICHOLS - For someone like Mary Ruth Hawkins, the awards keep piling up, yet those around her still feel like it’s not enough.

Adding to her recent accomplishments, including a Kentucky Colonel designation and a Mary Ruth Hawkins Day in Bullitt County, Hawkins received the Presidential Volunteer Service Award. the country’s highest honor for volunteer service.

The previous accolades were presented at a school board meeting; The Presidential award was made even more special, presented in front of students and staff at Nichols Elementary, where Hawkins contributed an estimated 4,500 volunteer hours.

“That estimation is still probably low,” said Heather McDonald, VISTA volunteer with Community Partners for Learning. She said only four Presidential Volunteer Service Awards were presented this year.

Superintendent Keith Davis presented a letter to Hawkins directly from the Oval Office desk of President Barack Obama.

“Congratulations on receiving the President’s Volunteer Service Award, and thank you for helping to address the most pressing needs in your community and our country,” Obama said in the letter.

“Ms. Hawkins is an example to our community of doing the right thing for future generations,” said Davis. “She has shown a tremendous commitment to Nichols Elementary.”

School Board member Delores Ashby stressed the importance of Hawkins’ award, especially her efforts  that earned it, to the students.

“She does this because she loves us,” Ashby said. “She wants the best for you.”

Ashby said Hawkins showed the strong life lesson of giving back to your community.

“When you volunteer, you’re not getting any money,” said Ashby. “You do it because you want your community to be a better place.”

Ashby hoped Hawkins’ efforts would always be remembered by Nichols students who would hopefully do the same in their lives.

“Remember that you’re doing it because you’ve met a great lady,” she said.

Following the recognition of the Presidential Volunteer Service Award, McDonald announced another achievement for Hawkins. She will receive the Kentucky Governor’s Volunteer Award in June, presented by First Lady Jane Beshear. The event includes a free meal at the Governor’s Mansion in Frankfort.

McDonald submitted the award nomination for Hawkins, thanking the Nichols staff for their assistance.

“Everyone here was excited,” she said. “They wanted to recognize her, they helped supply information, they wrote essays, and the principal supported it. It was a team effort.”

“We just can’t live without her,” Nichols principal Sheri Hamilton said of Hawkins. “She filled in for us last year when we had no office volunteer coordinator. She does whatever we need.”

“The whole thing is just overwhelming,” Hawkins said following the ceremony. “Something I never dreamed of happened to me. I realize now it’s a great honor. I’m a little embarrassed, but it all means well.”

Hawkins grew up in Arkansas and moved for a time to California, where she met her husband, Clyde. A Bullitt County native and Nichols graduate, Clyde was returning home from World War II, serving in the Navy.

The couple married in 1947, on the radio. A program called “Bride and Groom” aired the ceremony and paid for the service.

Clyde always wanted to return to his roots. Hawkins said she moved to Bullitt for good in 1970.

Hawkins completed a successful banking career prior to retirement and travel, but stayed home beginning in 1999 when Clyde’s health took a downturn. Her original plan was to volunteer with a hospital.

“When I was home more, I began volunteering,” she said. “I thought why stay at home? When the time rolled around I decided to help the school. Now I just feel like a part of this school.”

Hawkins volunteers two full days a week at Nichols and another day in West Point, where a great-grandchild attends. She admitted that being a community service is why she does what she does.

“Knowing it helps, it’s an encouragement to keep on,” she said. “It makes you feel like you’ve really helped that person.”

“It makes a big difference when you offer time to help out a teacher,” McDonald said. “It helps teachers give individual attention to students.”

At 86, Hawkins maintains a steady presence with her schools and is not ready to slow down in the least.

“When I come in, I expect to be busy all the time,” she said.

McDonald said Hawkins was an inspiration to the Community Partners for Learning program, always in need of public figures to volunteer as tutors in the schools. Hawkins was pleased to help promote the program.

“If this publicity helps convince someone else to do it then it’s worth it all,” she said.