Jeff Green | Jan 21, 2015
Gary Hawley celebrated 65 years as the church organist at St. Andrew's Anglican Church in Sharbot Lake last summer. He didn't have far to go to get to church on that day or any other of the Sundays when he has provided music for the worshippers at the church.
Hawley lives with Helen, his wife of 57 years, in a house on Road 38 just south of the causeway in Sharbot Lake. The house where he was born in 1931 is just next door to where he lives now. He was in the 4th generation of Hawleys to live on or around Sharbot Lake. His great grandfather, William Hawley, was one of the early immigrant settlers on Sharbot Lake, coming from England, working his way through Quebec on farms until he came to Sharbot Lake in “the middle 1800s” and established a farm on Sharbot Lake, on what is now known as Hawley Bay.
His son, Gary's grandfather Robert, established a farm on the east side of Road 38, near the spot where both the K&P rail line headed south to Kingston and the Canadian Pacific line turned east towards Toronto.
Gary's father built a house on the other side of the road, where Gary was born and raised.
“Sharbot Lake was a lumber and railway town when I was young,” he recalls, “and our lives were made up of family and our neighbours.”
Road 38 was a dirt road in the 1930s but the floating bridge that had been built in the 1880s was replaced with a causeway and in the 1940s the road was paved.
Although there was little money available in the 1930s, everyone in the area still went out every Saturday night to the Oso Hall for dances.
“They did square and round dancing and the band came from Perth to play for us. My mother invited the piano player to have dinner with us before the dance and asked if he could give me some lessons to see if I liked it. I was about 6 or 7. I liked it well enough that she bought a piano, which I still have, and he taught me how to play,” Gary said.
When it came time to go to high school, it meant a 90-minute bus ride each way to Sydenham High School where he made some lifelong friends.
“Our grade 11 class has met for a reunion once every five years, because we got along so well,” he said.
He was still in high school when Sharbot Lake High opened and he attended there for grades 12 and 13.
In the 1930s and 40s, the Sharbot Lake kids played hockey all winter, at a rink that was maintained on the west basin of the lake just off the beach, the location of the Sharbot Lake Snow Drags these.
“Every day we shoveled off the snow and played hockey; that was the winter activity,” he said, “and in the summer there was baseball. Each village had a team or more and we played against the other villages. I was a pretty good pitcher; no one seemed to be able hit my slow pitch.” he said.
A few major events took place in Gary Hawley's life in the late 1940s that set the stage for the rest of his life, a life that still includes family, work and church responsibilities.
In 1947 or '48 he started playing the old pump organ at the church. For a year or two he learned the songs and how to squeeze the bellows with his thighs, work the pedals with his feet and press the keys with his hands - “It was a full body effort” and in 1949 he became the official organist at the church. Even though the pump organ is long gone, and 18 ministers have also come and gone, Gary Hawley is still playing the organ each and every Sunday.
“It is a fair bit of effort preparing the music each week and being ready to play, but it is something I really enjoy, and I've sort of gotten used to doing it,” he said.
Also in the late 1940s he started working for J.R. (Jack) Simonett, who eventually became the MPP for the local riding and became a long serving member of the provincial cabinet between 1964 and 1971. In the early 1950s, however, his attention was taken up running his car dealership and repair shop.
The business was based at a former creamery in Sharbot Lake, and it included a showroom and a repair shop as well as a body shop. Gary Hawley came on as an assistant in the parts department, and worked in various jobs at Simonett's for over 20 years.
Eventually Jack Simonett put up a new building on Hwy. 7 and 38 before closing the business in the 1970s. The original building is now the offices of The Robinson Group Financial Management Company.
Gary Hawley moved on from Simonett's to work for a car dealership in Napanee, and he still works there a couple of days a week. He is someone who likes to stay on the job for a long time, and is now in his 65th year working for GM.
The next milestone for Gary Hawley is another big one. In three years he will have been married for 60 years.
“We certainly want to hang in for that one,” he said.
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