Osage Trail Middle School Activities Director Floyd “Coach” Hawkins thought it was peculiar when a safety committee meeting was scheduled for noon at Fort Osage School District’s Central Office Tuesday.

“They never have them at that time,” he said.

After the meeting, he returned to Osage Trail and noticed the entire student body gathered in the school’s gymnasium.

“I assumed it was for Scholar Bowl.”

He entered the gym to discover the entire Fort Osage Board of Education seated at a desk in the center, along with members of his family at the opposite end of the gym. Hawkins now had a hunch that maybe this assembly was for him.

Hawkins’s suspicions were correct. His family members and former students displayed a giant banner that read “The house that Hawkins built” as he walked toward the school board. The Fort Osage School District had set up a surprise ceremony to honor Hawkins’ 41 years of service at Osage Trail, which left virtually everyone in attendance misty-eyed. The space that he was standing in was unanimously voted by the school board to be renamed “The H. Floyd ‘Coach’ Hawkins Gymnasium.”

“It’s hard to say good-bye,” Osage Trail Middle School Principal John Schuler tearfully told Hawkins in front of the hundreds of students and staff members. “We love you, Coach.”

The activities director/coach/teacher/committee chairman spent his entire education career with Fort Osage and has been at Osage Trail since it first opened its doors in 1973. Hawkins recently announced the 2013-14 school year would be his last.

“It’s time for the young people to take over,” he said on why he decided to retire. But it certainly wasn’t an easy decision.

“I loved my job,” he added. “I woke up every morning with a smile. I hate to leave. Vince Lombardi once said, ‘The harder you work the harder it is to surrender.’”

The students, he said, were the driving force that made him stay in the education field for more than 40 years.

“They haven’t changed since I first started to now. They may have cell phones and social media nowadays, but kids will always be the same. They’re just as good today as they were before.”

As for staying with the same school and district his entire career, Hawkins said Fort Osage treats everyone like family, despite financially growing from a $20 million to $70 million budget over the years.

“We are referred to as the Fort Osage family. The district doesn’t have its own town, so we band together as our own community.”

Hawkins had wanted to become a teacher since the seventh grade when he was a student in Vaughn Oetting’s physical education class in Independence. The “valuable teacher” made an everlasting impression on him as he subsequently taught physical education himself, as well as coaching a variety of sports like soccer, basketball and cross country.

Hawkins also supported his fellow teachers. He was an advocate for raising teacher salaries by being chairman of the district’s salary committee for more than 30 years.

“He fought long and hard for better (teacher) salaries,” said Schuler.

For today’s current and aspiring teachers, Hawkins offered just three words, “Stay with it.”

“There will be some hard days and difficult students,” he said, “but what you provide is far more valuable than any professional sports player who makes millions of dollars.”

His wife, Paula, said there isn’t a time when they go out in public that he isn’t approached by students, both past and present.

“He took a number of kids under his wing. A very non-judgmental teacher who regarded every student the same.”

Hawkins said he plans to work in his yard and possibly run as a candidate for the Fort Osage school board in the future during his retirement years. He added that Tuesday’s surprise dedication ceremony was the most memorable thing that happened to him in all of his 41 years of education.

“It’s unbelievable. I am humbled.”

When asked what was Hawkins’ impact at Osage Trail, Schuler just pointed out to swarm of students wanting to hug their former activities director.

“Everything has been better (at Osage Trail) because of him.”