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Photo by Gord Bowes

Photo by Gord Bowes

Gail Rappolt (left), Gary Birchall, Georgina Cosentino, Sandy Murphy and Joshua Green are among the many past Hill Park Secondary School students and staff who will be sharing their memories at an alumni-organized event on Saturday.

Heaven on the Hill

By Gord Bowes, News staff

When they tear down Hill Park, it might mean a little more to Georgina Cosentino.
Her parents moved into a brand new home a stone’s throw away from the high school as construction was wrapping up.
Cosentino’s first memory of Hill Park is seeing it from her backyard at age 4.
She recalls listening to the music from dances at the school and wondering what it would be like when she attended, which she did in the 1970s. She still lives in that home and serves on the Hill Park alumni association executive.
“I’ve never left,” says Cosentino.
Hill Park opened in 1955; the first high school on Hamilton Mountain. It closes this month and could be sold by the end of the year.
The Hill Park alumni association is planning a last hurrah — “Remembering Hill Park; Heaven on the Hill — on Saturday. From 1-5 p.m., people can walk the halls one last time and from 7 p.m.-midnight they can raise a toast to the old school. See hillparkalumni.ca for details.
Living in the Upper Wellington-Brucedale area, Gary Birchall attended Norwood Park elementary school. Fennell Avenue was the south edge of town at the time, he says, and there were few homes in the area.
He recalls treks through muddy fields in the days before Hill Park was completed and the surrounding homes were built.
“It grew pretty fast once the school was here,” says Birchall, who returned to the school after graduation as a geography teacher.
Sandy Murphy, who attended in the 1970s, says there was a feeling of community during her years there. Outside of dating her future husband when they both attended Hill Park, it was teacher John Hall and the music program that she remembers most.
“He was a real mentor to everyone,” Murphy says.
“I truly credit the music program for getting us through the angst of being a teenager.”
Gail Rappolt had big shoes to fill in 1995 when she became principal at Hill Park. That office was first occupied by Ernie Hutton, a revered educator in the Hamilton school system.
Rappolt admits when she started her teaching career she would roll her eyes when her peers spoke of Hutton like he was “some kind of god.”
The longer she taught, however, the more she could see Hutton was “the most forward thinking” educator of his time.
“I had to eat crow,” she says. “I could see what a visionary he was.”
Rappolt said she was glad Hutton, in the last year of his life, came to speak at a Hill Park Alumni Association meeting.
“I just grabbed a piece of paper and a pencil and began to write,” she says (see sidebar below).
Joshua Green, a member of the class of 2000, grew up around the corner from Hill Park and always knew that would be his high school.
Green met his future wife at Hill Park while the two were rehearsing for a school play.
He has a daughter who is nearly 2 and is sad she will not have the choice to attend the same high school as her parents.
He says it is still hard to believe Hill Park is closing, but it will always have a place in his heart.
“You can’t erase the memories, which is a good thing.”

Ernie’s Legacy

(notes from a speech former Hill Park principal Ernie Hutton gave to the Hill Park Alumni Association, as recorded by Gail Rappolt)

• Hill Park is a second home to every student it serves. No one will ever feel that he or she cannot get the help needed at Hill Park.
• Hill Park will serve its community as only a high school can. No other institution has the opportunity has the opportunity to capture the force and vitality of youth and use it creatively in the way that an effective high school can.
• The school song represents the philosophy of my life and is a good guide for young people today. “Play the game; never be a spectator,” “Have hope and courage, be strong of heart and of high spirits,” “Stay determined til the timer’s final gun,” “Stay focused on winning the battle of life whether you win or lose the particular game.”
• Race, creed, gender and colour are meaningless in the assessment of a human being.
• I am a part of all that I have met, so I better do something that enlarges each life and does not diminish it.
• We are still capable of things “beyond the bounds of human thought,” when we have clear goals and have the support and love we need to reach them.

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