The Harker Family and Alumni Picnic is a tradition stretching back nearly 60 years. Today, it is one of the most popular events for Harker families and other members of the community.
The family picnic began in the 1950s when Palo Alto Military Academy held the annual family picnic in October at the end of the first full month of school. The Father’s Club sponsored the event, and proceeds funded the cost of monthly awards and trophies. Fried chicken was the traditional fare in the early days, and the picnic included a father-son softball game, the mothers’ 50-yard dash, an egg toss and a tug-of-war. The bike drills were a memorable part of the picnic, as each cadet decorated his bicycle for the event.
During this time, Miss Harker’s School had a May Festival and French Fete. The girls performed French songs, danced the Virginia Reel, and participated in a baton-twirling exhibition, followed by an “aquacade” performed in the school swimming pool.
• 1960s – 1970s
In the ’60s the tradition continued at the PAMA parade grounds, and the 1968 program advertises the $2.50 admission fee, adding, “Children under 5 and over 80 will be admitted free!” In the 1970s, the two schools merged and moved to San Jose as Harker Academy. The Father’s Club still planned the event, and in 1975 the picnic proceeds provided a major source of funding for the new swimming pool, which was completed in 1976. The raffle began in 1978, with a family donating a trip to Hawaii for two.
The 1980s brought the picnic to new heights, with rides and live entertainment, and it became the primary fundraiser for the school. During the ’80s, the picnic also began the tradition of having a new theme each year. The picnic featured a circus theme in 1985, a bicentennial theme in 1987, and a harvest theme in both 1988 and 1989.
As the school became The Harker School in the 1990s, the picnic changed as well. The now-famous Grand Auction from the annual black-tie dinner was combined with the picnic, and a silent auction was added. In 1997 and ’98, the picnic took place in the spring instead of the usual fall. Themes included Blast from the Past, The Beach Party and Starship Harker.
Harker’s expansion continued with the addition of two more campuses, and the picnic followed suit. In 2001, Harker celebrated the picnic’s 50th anniversary by donating all the proceeds from the event to the Harker Teacher’s Fund, which helped them offset the rising high cost of Bay Area housing. The 2006 “Picnic Down Under” allowed visitors to pet both a kangaroo and an alligator. A big change for the picnic came in 2007 when the event location changed from the Saratoga Avenue campus to Harker’s new middle school campus on Blackford Avenue, largely to accommodate the capital expansion project underway on the upper school campus. Appropriately themed “Blackford or Bust!” the wagon-wheeled, way out west theme – and the new, spacious location – was a huge hit, and it has remained on that campus ever since.