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A Word with Uncle Bob

IOf all the students, teachers, and administators that have walked the halls of Iowa Park High School, few if any have been as endearing, more memorable, or more respected then retired IPHS principal Bob Dawson.

Tomorrow at 6 p.m., Dawson and his wife Annabeth, are scheduled to receive some form of recognition (he doesn’t know just what kind) during the 2007 IPHS Homecoming. The ceremony will be held at the corner of West Highway and Johnson Road.

Earlier this week, two IPHS graduates (Kari Collins and Kevin Hamilton) cornered Dawson in the publisher’s office at the Iowa Park Leader for a little grill session.

Dawson, now a youthful 80, in his usual unhurried but easily impatient disposition, of course turned the tables on the two. Here are usable excerpts from the conversation.

We know you will be honored this weekend with some things.
Well, that’s what I hear. But that’s all I hear.

It will be fun. Is any of your family coming in?

Some of them are, I think. Robert, Judy. Mary said she will be. I tried to discourage her. She would have to come a long way.

Where does she live?
Westpoint, Mississippi.

Describe your family.
My wife, Annabeth. Son Robert, and daughter Mary Ann. Two grandkids. The oldest is Philip (now kicker for the Cleveland Browns). Then Peter, in Nashville. He’s going to school. Called me up the other day and said he’s going to law school. Decided he’s going to be a lawyer now. That was yesterday. Today it’s probably something else.

Is he still in the music business (Peter and his band have already recorded one C&W cd)?

He still does a little of it. I didn’t want him to get in that nonsense anyway.

He has a great voice.
That’s true. I told him, you have a good voice, but all that garbage you sing you can’t tell.

Other family?
Both Peter and Philip are married. Philip has three children, two boys and a girl. Mary (Riley) has Robert and Steven, both at A&M. Steven plays tennis there.

On Philip one time at Hawk Stadium with Dawson, and comparing turf grasses.
I asked Philip one day how the field here compared to the one at Browns Stadium. Philip said he preferred the turf at Iowa Park. He says it (pro field) looks beautiful on TV, but a lot of times it’s just painted dirt.

Where were you born?
I was born in Howell County, Missouri.

Remote area?

Yes sir. About as remote as you can get.
Then I grew up in Hayti, Missouri. It’s on the Mississippi River. Can’t have any class reunions. As far as I can tell, I’m the only one left!

Describe your family.
My parents were oldtime hardworking people. There were 10 chldren. I was next to youngest.

Dad have you all working?
He claimed I never worked a day in my life.
They were all in the gas business up there. Wholesale and retail gas business. (He further stated that two of his siblings died, one at birth, and one before he was born).

What kind of student were you in school?
Not very good.

Academically or just behavior?

I was more interested in athletics than anything else. Then I learned that wasn’t exactly the best way to go. I competed in track. I played the trombone in the band. I’ve told people that the worst band I ever heard in my life, I was in it.
I was typical, wanting to have a good time in high school more than anything.

After high school?
Joined the Army in 1945. Went to Camp Hood, Texas. Which is now Fort Hood. It was the hottest place I’ve every been in my life. Fortunately, the Japanese surrendered two months after I had entered.

Arkansas State, in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Did you see how they almost beat the University of Texas in football?

In social studies.

Give us a thumbnail as to what you did once you graduated from Arkansas State.

I went to Kinnett, Missouri Junior High.

When did you come to Iowa Park?
I came to Iowa Park in 1957 as a coach, for one year. And I tried to coach a little bit. Tried. I had a 5-5 record. I lost five here at home, and five away from home. And that’s when I decided there was something else besides this.

Then I taught different subjects, then became principal of the junior high.
I was sitting there one day, minding my own business, and they came by and said they wanted me to be principal at the high school, which I didn’t particularly care to be. But I said alright, and that’s where I was from then on.

How many superintendents did you work for?
Three. Keith Swim, Farris Nowell, and Harold Cowley.

You’ve seen Iowa Park pretty much grow up.

Oh my goodness yes. The population was 1,900 when I came here. And 170 in high school.

Where did you get the term ‘alley rat’?
Oh I don’t know. I have no idea. I just thought that applied to a lot of them (students).
The thing is, that turned out to be a status symbol, to be an alley rat. I was kidding anyway when we would call some of them alley rats. You don’t do that.

You taught a cheer.
(Kari and Dawson, in unison)...
Ali ve vi, ali ve vo, ali ve vi vo vum. BOOM! Get a rat trap big as a cat trap. BOOM! Get a cat trap big as a rat trap. Cannibal, Cannibal, Sis Boom Bah. Hawks, Hawks, Rah Rah Rah!!!
(Kevin sits, stunned. Dawson and Kari giggle)

A rat is one of the most worthless animals you can find. And out in the alley ... well, that’s a good place for most of them.
But it wasn’t ever derogatory in any way.
I remember we had two Vietnamese girls out there ... one of them was Linn Nguyen ... and I said “Lin, you’ve turned out a dang ‘Vietnamese alley rat’! And that just thrilled her to death. She was one of the crowd. One of them, now.

What’s your favorite sports to watch?
Whatever is in season.

Hawk sporting events?

I don’t go to basketball games anymore because of the rock music they play out there. Now what did that add to it?

Don’t care for it?
I don’t go for it. I don’t care for it at all.

If it was operatic?

No. I don’t think the music is necessary.

You don’t like music whatsoever?
I love music. We don’t have much of it anymore.

So you said you really didn’t mean to be elevated to high school principal?
Oh no. I was just happy as a junior high principal.
I enjoyed most of it, I’ll guarantee you. I wouldn’t have stayed with it that long. The relationships you have with all sorts of people.

On conflict resolution, did you have a general way to handle them?

I would listen to them for a while.

Was there a cutoff point?
They’d always threaten to go to the board. I’d tell them, go on to the board.
I remember one gal. I just happened to have a list of board members on my desk. She was screaming and hollering because the band formation ... they had some formation so that when they came across the field they were in a triangle, and her daughter was not at the point.
She said she was going to ‘kill Kingsley (band director Larry Kingsley). I said “There’s the board members and their phone numbers.” She looked at it and said “There’s no use in talking to that bunch of Cowboys,” then got up and left.
I didn’t hear from her anymore.

Note: Somewhere at this point, Dawson indicated he didn’t much prefer the liberal antics of a marching band. So, he usually did something else at halftime.

What were you doing at halftime if not watching band?
I was taking the money to the night depository at the band. I’d have the police go with me to keep me from being robbed.
I don’t like the routines the bands do now. We have a very good band here. But I like the old-fashioned marching business, like the Aggie Band.
I’m always kidding Greg (Miller). One year, they had four big old shiny garbage cans out on the field. Remember that? I’d ask him “Who is going to play first chair garbage can this year?” It didn’t seem to have much effect on him.

I remember you being the kind of principal that dealt with kids on a one-to-one basis. You seemed flexible to me, even then.
Well, you had to be. You can’t always rule with an iron hand.

Maybe that’s why people respected you so much.
I’ll never boy had done something, and I swatted him around two or three licks at the office. He was kind of dancing around. I was trying to keep from laughing at him. I told him “I don’t want to catch you in this office anymore.” He said, “No sir, Mr. Dawson. Next time I’m in this office, it will be a social call.”
I kind of lost it there.
In all those years, and all those problems you have, which was always exaggerated, the hardest part of all of it was that dress code business.

To enforce?
You bet. Parents didn’t want it. They claimed they did. That was the hardest part.

Biggest other problems?
Hair and short dresses.

Any specific year that stands out above all of them?

Nope. Not in particular.

Any students stand out?

No. I couldn’t do that. I wouldn’t want to do that, anyway.

Well, you did have this way of endearing yourself to even the lowest form of student population, as well as the ones that had NHS ability. The ability to command respect without being too physical about it.
Well, I suppose. I thought people should enjoy going to high school, and should learn, too. And it’s possible.
It doesn’t take any magic to do that. I always wanted people to remember their school time. And they do, apparently.
But you must have discipline in the school. You just absolut ely have to have it. Without it, you are not going to have much learning going on.
And you can have it without waving a club at everybody.

Was it about respect as much as anything?
I suppose.
There weren’t near as many licks administered as some of them would tell you.
Someone would come up and say to me “You remember that time you busted me?”
And I’d say “Yeah, yeah, I remember it.”
Well, if Id’d done all the busting that they let on, that’s all I would have done, all day long, just one after another!

I remember you had a problem with Home and Family Living class.
I didn’t like that class.

You didn’t make any bones about it. But one of the things about sex education in the early 80s was getting a hard-boiled egg for a baby. And you had to boil your egg, decorate that baby.
And carry it around all day long.

Guys were drawing fangs on the baby. And you had to have a babysitter.
And they had those dog-gone mock weddings.

You hated the mock weddings?
Oh boy, did I ever.

Being a big sports fan of the Ha wks, do you have any specific remembrances of going to see a football game?

I remember when we had it over here (stadium by Iowa Park Middle School). We were winning big, and you just couldn’t seat but a third of the people. That was a mess, trying to cram them all in here.

The first year we moved here, in 1969, we were playing Hirschi, and a guy on the Hirschi side had a heart attack and died.
Died, and they couldn’t get an ambulance in there to him.

There was a goal line stand by the Hawks at the very end.

When the old boy went in to score, he actually went over the line but somebody grabbed his arm, and he left the ball behind. That was when the guy had the heart attack.

That was a big deal to watch those games. What about when we moved to the new stadium. Were you proud ot if?
I was. It was 100-pecent different. That was 1970. We didn’t have to worry about seating anyone. We moved into the high school there the 22nd day of January, 1970. That was when they started working on the stadium. And by the start of the next school year, we opened it up for football. Those berms were bare dirt. We did get grass on the field. We played Vernon the first game. And beat them.
We bought a 50-acre plot of land out there, and everybody complained “What do you need all that land for?” And look now. Every square inch of land is covered.

I understand a lot of volunteer work built that stadium.
All of it, volunteer and donations. We had just got through winning a state championship. That helped a lot.
I never saw anyone ever address you as ‘Uncle Bob,’ but that’s how they referred to you when talking to someone else.
I always told them that, yeah, they could call me Uncle Bob, but from a distance.

Do you wish you had done something else?

No. Probably not. But the fact that I know so many of them ... so many of them remember me one way or another ... that makes it pretty well worthwhile. I don’t know what all this nonsense is going on right now that nobody will tell me. I guess I like it. I guess I’ll let you know when it’s all over!

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