Residents of University Acres know Julia Hawkins as the woman who rides her bike three miles through the neighborhood every morning.
She also tends her garden filled with native plants and trees and her collection of bonsai. She co-authored a book on the neighborhood and, at 80, wrote her life story.
Hawkins has nearly a century of lifetime adventures and what she calls “magic moments,” and at 95, her memory of them is clear.
Hawkins grew up in Ponchatoula and at a resort, Ponchatoula Beach, her parents owned seven miles away on the Tangipahoa River.
“We had cottages we rented, boats for fishing and bath houses,” she said. “It was a wonderful place to grow up.”
On her first day at LSU, Julia Hawkins met her future husband, Murray Hawkins. They were both freshmen.
“The churches always had a welcome after registration. We were both Episcopalians,” she said.
They dated through college, but they couldn’t get married because his first job had a “no marriage clause.”
“They could do that in those days because employers often sent men overseas, and it cost money to send wives,” she said.
Murray Hawkins was a physicist working as a civilian to demagnetize ships for the U.S. Navy in Hawaii when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He had planned to return to the United States for training to enter the Navy, but after the attack, he was immediately admitted and remained in Hawaii.
Julia Hawkins had not seen her future husband for a year.
They had planned on getting married while he was back on the mainland. Rather than wait an indefinite time, they got married by telephone.
“He was in Hawaii, and I was in Ponchatoula,” Julia Hawkins said.
To assure that the marriage was legal, Julia Hawkins and her father-in-law went to the LSU Law School to discuss the matter with Professor Harriet Daggett.
“Mrs. Daggett said the marriage was legal and to be sure to bring him to meet her when the war was over,” she said.
It was another year before Murray Hawkins returned to the United States.
In the meantime, Julia Hawkins’ family closed the resort, and she reopened it as a girls camp with assistance from her sister, Mickey McCall.
“We made as much money in the summer as we did running the resort,” she said. “It was wonderful, hard work. It was the most rewarding thing I had done up to then.”
When the war was over, Murray Hawkins got a job teaching at LSU. “He was in petroleum engineering. He didn’t get training in petroleum engineering because his degree was in physics and chemistry, but he had worked at oil companies,” she said.
The Hawkinses had one child by the time they moved into faculty housing in Baton Rouge. They purchased an acre lot in University Acres.
“While we were living in the faculty apartments, my husband, with a little help from me, built our house — plumbing, wiring, everything,” she said. “I remember building the wood ceiling and the cement floor all by ourselves. It was fun.”
Before her marriage, Julia Hawkins taught school, but after their four children were born, she became a stay-at-home mother.
“Four children is a big job,” she said.
When the children grew up and went on their own, Hawkins began growing bonsai.
“I read books and just played with it,” she said. “The idea appealed to me.”
She now has a collection of bonsai including a baobab, a giant tree native to Africa.
“It lives to be 2,000 years old,” she said.
She grew the baobab bonsai from a seed she planted in 1998.
“We took it on a trip because we were afraid to leave it,” she said.
The miniature trees are displayed on a long, thin table at the center of the Hawkinses’ garden. The garden also contains an abundance of native shrubs and plants and 50 different varieties of trees, all labeled.
Through the center is a stream Murray Hawkins dug with two bridges he built to cross the stream.
Part of the property is dedicated to Julia Hawkins’ large fruit orchard. She also has a pond filled with native water plants in an antique sugar kettle.
At 75, Julia Hawkins started biking competitively in the Louisiana Senior Olympic Games.
“I went every year for 10 years to the state championship, and for four years, I went to the nationals,” she said.
Her first year of participation in the National Senior Games was in San Antonio.
“We drove. When I got there, I realized I didn’t have the right kind of bike,” she said.
So she called her son-in-law who was coming to see her, and he brought her another bike.
She practiced one morning on the new bike before her first race.
“I came in third and got a bronze medal,” she said.
The next year, she participated in the National Senior Games in Tucson, Ariz.
“We shipped my bike on a plane in a box,” she said. “My husband had to take it apart to ship it, handlebars and pedals and all, and then put it back together when we got there,” she said. “And then he had to do the same thing after it was over. He was my mechanic and trainer.”
Julia Hawkins earned two gold medals that year and two the following year in Orlando, Fla.
At the National Senior Games in Baton Rouge, she earned another two gold medals.
Finally at 90, she quit competing.
“I didn’t have much competition,” she said.
After Murray Hawkins retired as head of LSU’s Department of Petroleum Engineering, the Hawkinses started traveling. (The department is now the Craft & Hawkins Department of Petroleum Engineering, named in honor of Benny Craft and Murray Hawkins).
They took more than 30 memorable trips around the United States with Australian botanical artist Margaret Stones, who produced a collection of drawings, “Native Flora of Louisiana,” for LSU.
“When she first came to town, we met her early on,” Julia Hawkins said. “We got to be friends. She was such good company, and she didn’t drive. We wanted to see the country. So we teamed up.”
The Hawkinses are close to their four children.
Their son, Lad Hawkins, a landscape architect, lives with his wife, Mindy, in Jacksonville, Fla. Daughter Julie Battle, a petroleum engineer, lives in Sunset. Her husband is deceased.
Margaret Matens, a retired teacher and public relations professional, lives with her husband, Jack, in Sewanee, Tenn. Warren Hawkins, a petroleum engineer, and his wife, Betty, live in Houston.
Julia Hawkins completed her life story at 80, but her life was far from over. So she started an update.
“I have filled two notebooks,” she said.
She still bikes every day for exercise and fun. “I’m about to get 10,000 miles on my speedometer,” she said. “When I do, I’m going to celebrate.”