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Grocer memorialized at his Brooklyn school


A Brooklyn grocer who sold strawberries and cans of Dutc cleanser has been memorialized at the public school attended by four generations of his family.

It was a simple and heartfelt ceremony Friday morning when the William L. Hawkins Sr. Memorial Library was dedicated at Maree Farring Elementary School No. 203, at Fourth Street and Pontiac Avenue. An elementary school chorus sang. There were a few speeches. Dozens of Hawkins kinfolk beamed.

The whole neighborhood once traded at the unpretentious white frame Patapsco Avenue store that Bill Hawkins ran for so many years. Dressed in a long white apron, he dispensed advice on cooking asparagus or told how he'd seen Haley's Comet over Fort McHenry. He loved his Brooklyn and harassed any politician who shortchanged the neighborhood.

David Hawkins III, 9, and Kate E. Hawkins, 7, both students at the school attended by their father, grandfather and great-grandfather, participated in the program. Their great-great-aunt was also a teacher there 75 years ago.

"After my father died, we suggested that people make donations to their favorite charity, but his friends sent me checks. The family decided to help his school. I think my father would have liked this," said his son, William L. Hawkins Jr., a 1938 graduate of School 203.

But the naming of the library was also a testament to the permanency of Baltimore neighborhoods.

Grocer Hawkins (1899-1993), the youngest of seven children, was a born Main Street businessman. He preached hard work and salesmanship.

Many times in his life he was depicted in Maryland newspapers at independent grocers' conventions, shaking the hand of a governor or mayor. He had an upbeat philosophy and liked talking with people. He often boasted he had lived through two arrivals of Haley's Comet.

"He was a Bible reader. And he read the newspapers from front to back, then he cut stories he liked up and taped them all over the kitchen walls," said William Jr.

"He reused the nails he took out of old boards. He saved everything," said David Hawkins, grandson of the library's namesake, who still lives in the community and sends his children to the school.

The original Hawkins family grocery business was in South Baltimore at Light and West streets, just south of the Cross Street Market. Along with many other people from this neighborhood, they migrated south, across the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River, to the young community of Brooklyn, a part of Anne Arundel County until 1919.

The old store still stands at 413 E. Patapsco Ave. It's called Save On Food today, but was known earlier as Hawkins' Store or Hawkins' Super Market. In the days when streetcars rolled down Patapsco Avenue, the store had a roof overhanging the sidewalk. A hand of bananas and bushel baskets of apples and corn usually sat outside.

"My father could always make four quarts of strawberries out of three and there wouldn't be a bad berry in them. My father was very progressive. He urged his fellow grocers to modernize and compete with the chains," the son said.

Customers still walk in the old store, which retains its tin ceiling and feel of a cluttered neighborhood market, much as they did 50 years ago. It seems difficult today to imagine the small shop as being one of the most important social and commercial centers of the neighborhood.

School must have been important to the grocer. The man who saved everything preserved his eighth-grade (1913-14) report card from what was then Anne Arundel County's School No. 5 -- the same school where the library has been named in his honor. He got good grades that year before going off to Howard Street and a seat in Home Room 21 at Baltimore City College.

The report card, issued by Anne Arundel, is called the Scholars' Monthly Report. Printed at the top is a quotation from the U.S. philosopher and historian John Fiske: "Let us cherish the public schools as the looms and our teachers as the weavers, who weave the wondrous destiny for the nation."

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