So much has changed over the six decades the picnic has been held! It began in Palo Alto in the 1950s, and even then dedication made the difference. “Picnic” at Harker has a meaning all its own. It’s not just a picnic … it’s so much more!
The first family picnic was held at the Palo Alto Military Academy in 1951 on a sunny Sunday in October. The school kitchen provided lunch, and activities included a tug-of-war, the ever-popular (and often messy) family egg toss, awards ceremony and military parade. In the 1960s “Alumni Day Exercises” included the Presentation of the Colors, a bugle competition, physical exercises and the colorful bicycle drill, led by Cadet Captain Dan Gelineau (middle school teacher Mark Gelineau’s father).
In 1972, Palo Alto Academy and Harker Day School became Harker Academy and moved to Saratoga Avenue. Picnic tradition continued under headmaster Howard Nichols and the Dads’ Club, and the first Saratoga picnic was on what is now Davis Field. In 1975, the Dads’ Club, under the leadership of Harker dads Marty Scarpace (father of elementary school head Kristin Giammona), Bob Sparkman and Wally Briefs, decided to use the picnic to fund a swimming pool. Scarpace purchased pool blueprints, Sparkman added carnival games to the picnic and Briefs built the Plinko game himself – and it is still used today. The pool was built the very next year. In 1978, the Sparkman family donated a trip for two to Hawaii and the family picnic raffle was born.
Then came the 1980s. Picnic attractions changed and none was more exciting than skydivers landing in the picnic field after lunch! Briefs, chair in the early 80s, even rallied the Mothers’ Club by speaking at the annual Mothers’ Dinner, actually dressed as a mother! Enter the incomparable Morici family, with volunteer extraordinaire Becky and Sausage Sandwich King Tony (who inherited the job from Scarpace) and the picnic was on its way to new heights. In 1985, as a Harker parent at that time, I became chair of the family picnic and in 1986 teamed up with then recreation director Kelly Espinosa (now director of summer programs).
Over the years the team and many wonderful volunteers, staff and students have made picnic history.
While the ’80s saw the addition of memorable themes, more games, more entertainment and more fun, the ’90s proved to be a decade of growth and change for the school as well as the picnic. In 1991, a new kindergarten complex was built and in 1993, we honored the school’s 100th birthday with a Centennial Celebration picnic, featuring a turn-of the- century schoolhouse, an aerial banner across the sky and a giant birthday cake. In 1994, Dobbins Hall was completed with beautiful glass doors that opened out to a perfect patio stage for student performances, so the family picnic was reborn on spacious Rosenthal Field (adjacent to Nichols Hall).
In the midst of all the changes, a dynamic group of fantastic parent volunteers kept the picnic fresh. The great Dan Zanotto graciously accepted the title of Sausage Sandwich King from Tony Morici, and “reigned” through the ‘90s. Yet, the search was on for someone to fill in for Harker super-moms Maryanne Wilson, Jorja Smith, Sue French and Shirley Mortenson, who were retiring from picnic central as their children were graduating. Along came the dynamic duo, Nancy Claunch and Melody Moyer, two talented, funloving, hard-working Harker moms. With the help of their friends Sherry and Louis Ammatuna, Sharon and Harris Meyers, Ken Azebu and Dede Ogami, Amanda Lundie, Ni Denari, Fred and Candy Carr, Fumiko Kimura, Chidori Okubo, Alice Schwartz, Judy Stapleton, Smita and Nayana Patel, the Kawahara family, Linda Sabeh, Robyn Peetz, Kathy and Steve Polzin and many more, the picnic thrived as never before!
The “Curbside Crazies” reigned supreme, especially in 1998 when the picnic became a springtime event. With many weeks available to promote the Harker Goes Hollywood picnic, accepting donations on the curb in elaborate costumes while giving Oscar-worthy performances became the order of the day. “My Fair Lady” Week and “Titanic” Week were legendary! Even Howard and Diana Nichols made a grand entrance at the volunteer breakfast dressed as a movie director and starlet. Then, at the picnic, the Santa Clara Aquamaids provided entrancing synchronized swim performances. Super supporters John and Christine Davis arrived on the scene with kindergartner Cole (who graduated this May), decked out in their NASCAR gear, as they set up their 14- foot spaceship Messenger II along with a selection of NASCAR racecars. What a team! Family picnic organizers promoted the 1999 spring event with a parade, rallies, elaborate door decorating, and spirit, spirit, spirit! The picnic was bigger than ever!
The new millennium arrived with a splash, literally, with FantaSEA 2000. With two days to go, it had been raining off and on most of the week and organizers made the call to move the event indoors for the first time. It came to be known as “Plan B” and the whole crew worked around the clock to move everything into the gym, hallways, classrooms, the library – wherever there as space. When all was said and done, Harker families and friends came in droves to enjoy a fabulous day “at sea.”
Fast forward to 2010! In the coming months, we’ll be sharing more picnic stories, including moving the family picnic back to the fall in 2003 (two picnics in one year) and finally heading to our new home at the Blackford campus. We all love this special day at Harker; whether it’s indoors or out, rain or shine, in the spring or in the fall, it’s a time for us to come together each year and appreciate how lucky we all are to be a part of the Harker family.
Partially compiled from the Harker Archives (parent Debbie Dawkins, contributor)