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New Kensington man credits God, family for helping him reach 100 years old

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review - 1/13/2024

Jan. 13—Dan Hawkins credited God and his family for helping him live to 100.

After turning 100 on Thursday, Hawkins, who lives in New Kensington, celebrated the milestone birthday with friends and family on Saturday.

He said it felt like "magic" to celebrate the occasion with loved ones.

"I just can't get over it, all these people," he said, adding that the people he's known have been the most important part of his life.

A World War II Army veteran, Hawkins was the first Black teacher at Valley High School. He also coached football and baseball and was inducted into the Alle-Kiski Valley Sports Hall of Fame.

His daughter, Lisa Hawkins-Autman, described her dad as a "distinguished pillar of the community."

She remembered him as a "strict" father and teacher in his younger years.

"Being in the same high school as your dad was always tricky," she recalled. "It was a lot of pressure to get over being the first minority teacher in the district. It was a big thing then."

He taught for about three decades, Hawkins-Autman said.

"He loved his job," she said.

Hawkins was always athletic, family and friends said. He earned a scholarship to Morris Brown College in Atlanta., enjoyed coaching and continued exercising even into his 90s.

"He stopped going to the YMCA and working out at 96," Hawkins-Autman said.

At 100, Hawkins still doesn't have any major health problems, she said, though he does move around "just a little slower" than he used to.

Gary Astor, who has been friends with Hawkins since the 1970s, said he felt the active lifestyle Hawkins lived led to his longevity. Or maybe it was in his genes.

"His mother lived to be over 100, and I always knew he was capable of doing it," Astor said. "He always exercised. He was at the YMCA every day."

Mariam Merriweather-Hayes, said Hawkins was an "awesome" dad and a happy person.

"He's very positive," she said. "Even in the darkest situations, he'll say, 'Just pray, because God's in control.'"

Rhiana Allen said he was also a "perfect" teacher. Hawkins taught her health and gym classes at Valley High School, and the pair stayed in touch after Allen graduated in 1998.

Hawkins would help keep kids out of trouble, she said, and he built relationships with students based on mutual respect.

"He's one of those teachers who made an impact," she said, recalling spending her study hall periods hanging out in his classroom playing checkers, Othello and crazy eights. "He was just the greatest. He helped a lot of people through some teenage years."

Hawkins was in his 70s when he taught Allen's gym classes, but he was an active participant in the gym, she said.

"He was still playing," she said. "He'd throw the ball in dodgeball. He was very active."

John and Sally Seymour, who were his next door neighbors in New Kensington for about 35 years, described Hawkins as "the best neighbor."

"He was always there if you needed something," John Seymour said. "You could always count on him to keep an eye on things. He knew what was going on. He was a fixture on the street."

People would drive by and stop to say to visit Hawkins, who often sat on his front porch, Seymour said.

"He's a very popular guy," he said.

Seymour said Hawkins taught him to have a positive outlook on life.

"He was always happy," Sally Seymour said. "He just always made you feel good."

Julia Felton is a TribLive reporter covering Pittsburgh City Hall and other news in and around Pittsburgh. A La Roche University graduate, she joined the Trib in 2020. She can be reached at


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