Hats off to the 61st annual Harker Family & Alumni Picnic! The epic adventure began at 10 a.m. and the last picnic-goers reluctantly departed at 4 p.m.; in between, many strange and interesting hats bobbed between the games, stage, chocolate fountain, dunk tank and silent auction, to mention just a few of the destinations at the event.
Organizers Kelly Espinosa and Lynette Stapleton, on behalf of all Harker, send their thanks to all who attended. “We hope you had a hat-tastic day at the family picnic; we sure did,” Espinosa said. “Thanks to everyone who supported the day through donations, volunteer hours, time away from home, ticket selling, ticket buying, bidding, ring tossing, sandwich eating, etc. This truly is an event that couldn’t happen without the support of our whole community!”
Head of School Chris Nikoloff added his thanks. “The Family & Alumni Picnic is a special day and a cherished tradition at Harker,” he noted. “After 61 years, the picnic still delivers old-fashioned, homemade fun, straight from the heart! A special thanks to the picnic committee, all of our parent volunteers, picnic sponsors, and the Harker staff and faculty who combine their efforts to create a magical day for the children and families. Last but not least, a big Harker thank you goes to our picnic chairs, Kelly Espinosa and Lynette Stapleton, whose creativity, heart and vision take the picnic to new heights every year. Hats off to Harker!
Thu Ka had a very special day as the lucky winner of first prize, $10,000, in the grand prize drawing She was sold her winning ticket by daughter Kendall Ka. “Ticket sales were up this year, so, ‘yeah’ to everyone who sold and bought tickets!” said Espinosa.
Harker’s performers again dazzled attendees with a variety of acts, with the performing arts department’s annual extravaganza opening the show on the Sunbonnet Stage at 11 a.m. That show included the not-to-be-missed repartee between assistant heads Jennifer Gargano and Greg Lawson, this year as hat-friendly Lady Gaga and a policeman.
They gave way to students – members of the middle school show choir Harmonics – who, using the picnic’s hat theme and a box of hats, joked their way into introducing the JV Dance Troupe. Chris Nikoloff, head of school, then took the stage under the mistaken impression the theme was rats, not hats, but was quickly put to rights by the student hosts. It was a tough act to follow, but the vocal efforts of the Grade 6 Choir carried the audience with their energetic and subtle style.
Next up was the ShowStoppers dance troupe performing to “Country Girl.” The Grade 4 Choir then took the stage for a baseball medley, followed by Downbeat, the upper school’s show choir, singing the Fats Waller classic “The Joint is Jumpin’.” The Bucknall Choir followed and were then joined in song by Bel Canto, another upper school choir, doing a pair of south-of-the-border tunes before giving way to the grade 7 High Voltage dancers.
Next up was Harmonics, a grade 7-8 group, singing “One” from “A Chorus Line,” followed by Dance Fusion, grade 4-6 dancers, working hard to the tune “Working for the Weekend,” by Loverboy.
Jazz took the stage following the extravaganza, leading with the upper school Jazz Band playing with their usual energy and style. Next Mr. Horsefeathers, a magician, wowed the credulous in the audience with the incredible, followed by the lower school Jazz Band with a trio of tunes including “St. Thomas” by Sonny Rollins.
Then, for the first time, the lower and middle school jazz bands combined, playing Miles Davis’ “Blues By Five.” The middle school then continued with their set, performing a Duke Ellington transcription of “Big Shoe,” and concluded their concert with the Beatles tune “Day Tripper,” arranged by the students in the band, said Dave Hart, their director.
Laura Lang-Ree, performing arts department chair K-12, summed up the day’s performances. “We had over 300 kids, ensembles from every division in the show. Highlights were the Bucknall, grade 4 and grade 6 choirs and other groups singing and dancing alongside the upper school acts. As guest artists, Chris, Jennifer and Greg really bring the show to the audience. This is one of our most prized events of the year as students from all three divisions bond wonderfully during the all-day rehearsal the Friday previous as we put the show together; and, of course, the big performance Sunday is a thrill for all participating!”
Harker alumni gathered in a shady glade for a barbecue from 12-1 p.m.. Diana Nichols, board chair and lifetime trustee, spoke about several of the new initiatives for alumni with regard to admissions. Joe Rosenthal, executive director of advancement, and Jeremy Pomer ’91 tended the grill. “We had lots of young families, and many alumni had an opportunity to see each others’ children,” said Christina Yan ’93, director of alumni relations. A number of administrators and faculty stopped by or hung out to see former students and enjoy the ambiance, including Nikoloff, Butch and Jane Keller, upper school head and math teacher, respectively; Cindy Ellis middle school head; Pat Walsh, grade 5 math teacher; Evan Barth, dean of studies; Andrew Irvine, upper school chemistry teacher; Dan Hudkins, director of instructional technology K-12; Eric Nelson, computer science department chair; and many, many more.
About 3 p.m. tables began closing at the silent auctions, with bidders standing by to collect their winnings by the armload, or calendar them, as some of the most popular items, the Bucknall Pajama Party and middle school All-Night Party, drew hordes signing up for those popular events.
There were some stellar silent auction items this year, including a pair of Hawaiian vacations, architectural design services, a stay at the Silverado Country Club and a pair of Dell laptops. Items included an extravaganza of sports tickets and memorabilia and, as in the past, parents could bid on premier seating for a limited number of seats at their child’s promotion or graduation ceremony, or at any of the top-flight plays, concerts and other performances put on by the performing arts department throughout the year.
One of the biggest innovations this year was the addition of gourmet catering trucks. A trio of trucks and one bicycle brought delicious meals from Thai to Cajun to those for whom tasty hamburgers, classic pizza and the other picnic delicacies were not enough. The trucks were stationed hard by the dunk tank, and a new eating area with umbrella-shaded picnic tables was laid out, so entertainment, food and a place to relax were all in one convenient package.
Speaking of the dunk tank, it continued to be a favorite, with those bravely dangling over the water being announced on the public address system so students could come by for a little harmless revenge. Lunchtime dunkee Jared Ramsey, grade 5 social studies teacher, was seen taking the drop at least a couple of times during his half hour, attesting to his popularity around the lower school campus.
Another innovation was the meeting of Eagle Buddies at the picnic. The Eagle Buddies program started last year with grade 3 and 10 students meeting at various events, and this year those buddies are still getting together, while the new tenth and third graders have paired up with their own buddies. These yearlong pals had identifying shirts and all met up at the Eagle Buddies booth staffed by the 2012 and 2013 class deans Jeff Draper and Victor Adler. The pairs were given carnival tickets and went off to some of the game booths together. Some of the pairs ate together and hung out for a while, enjoying the picnic. “Our older buddies were so generous, sometimes buying extra tickets for their little buddies. What great students we have!” said Draper.
Espinosa and Stapleton will soon be hard at work planning next year’s picnic, but the memories from this one will surely last a long, long time!