NFL dreaming: Alumnus crafts book jacket for star quarterback
By Jeannette Cruz
GCU News Bureau
Stanley Fred Hawkins, a Grand Canyon University alumnus and self-taught artificer, has chiseled his way into NFL notoriety. Hawkins, a leather crafter for nearly two decades, recently experienced his first moment in what some say is America’s favorite sport by creating a leather cover for a book of records honoring Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
The 81-year-old Hawkins, who graduated from GCU nearly 60 years ago, owns Hawkins Leather, an international business, that produces and ships handcrafted leather belts, bags and billfolds within the U.S. and all over the world.
Hawkins said he will never really know for sure why the NFL contacted him to produce the Manning book cover. But it was a fortunate break for someone who has lived life in the slow lane.
“It’s funny how something like this could happen to little old me because this is something that I’ve loved to do all of my life,” Hawkins said. “When I retired, I didn’t want to just sit around and so I got into doing leather work and now, I’ve got an amazing highlight to my new career.”
An early interest, a post-retirement love
Hawkins initially was introduced to leather craft in 1951 while he was a junior at North High School in Phoenix.
Although he took a break from leather during college and his first career, it was a skill he never forgot.
Hawkins was a member of one of the first graduating classes at GCU, formerly known as Grand Canyon College, earning a degree in education with a minor in physical science in 1956. After a long career as a teacher and assistant superintendent for two Phoenix school districts and two Missouri school districts for 40 years, he retired in St. Louis in 1996.
With patience, Hawkins said he taught himself how to draw and became immersed in his lifelong interest in leather crafting. Every day, he works in his basement shop, shipping half a dozen orders.
Hawkins said it had been like any other busy day when he received a surprising email from the NFL Network. He was told that the network was making a feature about Manning that would tie traditional leatherwork to Manning’s legacy and mark on the league’s record books. Manning’s name is all over the record books, but especially since he set the all-time NFL passing record of 71,840 yards on Nov. 15 in a game against against the Kansas City Chiefs. Hawkins was asked to participate in a four-minute video, “Peyton Manning: The Making of a Record Book,” and it was a huge departure from his everyday tasks.
“I remember thinking it was probably a scam, but when my son checked it out he told me, ‘No, Dad, this is real,’” Hawkins said. “I just about fell off of my chair when I read that email and the NFL Network told me they had searched on the web for local leather people in St. Louis and that they had found me. It was just one of those things that you don’t even dream of, but you can’t pass on.”
After five hours of camera takes, cuts and retakes, the video was complete. The program recently aired on the NFL Network; click here to view it.
“This entire experience was a big deal for me, not just because Peyton Manning is one of my favorite football players but because when you’re 81 years old, like me, life slows down a lot,” Hawkins said. “I grew up in Phoenix and went to a really small college, but I got to do something really big.”
From small-town college to growing University
Hawkins attended GCU on a full scholarship to play baseball. There, he made long-lasting connections with friends and teachers.
“I think it was because the campus was so small that everybody knew everybody,” Hawkins said. “All the teachers knew all the students and all the students knew all the teachers. I think that was one of the strongest points of Grand Canyon — it was this tiny community of people and that’s what made up some of my best memories.”
When Hawkins attended GCU, the campus consisted of a few scattered buildings, a library in the center of the campus, a cafeteria, a music room, a bookstore, a portable chapel, dorm rooms that could accommodate 60 students and mobile homes for married students, he said.
Hawkins, who was born into a long line of educators and shares a special history with GCU.
“My father helped build the school in Phoenix after it moved from Prescott, my sister went to GCU for four years and graduated in 1954 and both my wife and I went there,” he said. “I’ve been proud of Grand Canyon from its very beginning and it is amazing to see what it is today.”
Hawkins expressed pride in his alma mater and its past, present and future growth plans.
“I’m sure it’s all going to be great,” he said. “I’ve always been very supportive of Grand Canyon and I am so thankful that I was able to get my education there. The students there are really lucky to have all of it.”
Contact Jeannette Cruz at (602) 639-6631 or firstname.lastname@example.org.