Hazel and Rod Nowakowski started the first Cotillion Club in Coral Gables in 1948. Its success was evident with the addition of the Coco Plum and Poinciana Cotillions by 1950. Grande Cotillion, which started in 1954, was a combined class for 9th graders who had completed "undergraduate" classes during the 7th and 8th grades. My Mother had a unique facility for remembering names and soon after each new class was formed she would be able to greet every student by name. It didn't stop with graduation either. She would meet former students years later and, always it seemed, could remember their names.
Cotillion classes covered ballroom dancing and etiquette. Once again she had a unique facility for bringing out the best in adolescents who were at the age that usually provoked their worst behavior. Cotillion parties were special events and somehow she always had new ideas for decorating the same hall where lessons were held, so it seemed dazzlingly new and refreshing. Our home was like a mini Santa's workshop as all the family helped to make the hand-made favors and dance cards. Do you remember the Holly Ball bow ties? Yep, we made 'em all. (I've still got 3!) My sister Vasha (Gables '58) and I both worked in the evenings during high school assisting with the Cotillions. It seemed like a lot after a day in school but my parents both had day jobs as well. As if that were not enough, many nights when they were not teaching Cotillion, they performed and taught, folk and square dancing, at the lavish hotels on Miami Beach. By day, Mother was the Assistant Supervisor for Physical Education in Dade County and Father was a District Director for the Dade County Public Schools. Both had started as physical education teachers. Janet Reno, former Attorney General of the United States, experienced both educational aspects from my Mother who taught her how to shoot baskets as well as to ballroom dance. The following is excerpted from an interview with Janet by Jeffrey Goldberg that appeared in the New York Times Magazine, July 6, 1997. "I can remember walking into Cotillion and young men coming to my waist, and I guess I felt a little bit like an odd duck. And Ms. Nowakowski was 5-8 and a very striking woman, and as I would slump, she would make me stand up straight. She made you feel like you were special."
My parents moved to Birmingham, Alabama in 1994 and, after many years, we finally had the four of us together again, but it was short lived. My Father now lives in Palm City, Florida (adjacent to Stuart). Mother passed away in 1995 and her ashes were spread in the garden of the Coral Gables Congregational Church, where some of the later Cotillion classes took place. It's not far from the Biltmore Hotel and if you have the chance to visit, you just might still hear faint echoes of a waltz, rumba or fox trot. But if you miss that, I suspect that there is now the Grandest Cotillion of all, in the greatest place of all, and when you get there, rest assured that she will remember you .and will greet you by name.