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Fashion era ends at Bremerton High School | Retiring teacher prepares for final show

On May 22, the lights will go up at 7 p.m. for Madonna Hanna's last fashion show with Bremerton High School.

The fashion marketing teacher is retiring in June after a 30-year career of coaching students to be their personal and professional best.

On a recent Tuesday morning, Hanna was running her Advanced Fashion Marketing students through runway drills in preparation for the show.Strutting down the tiled floor of the high-school hallway, wearing black pumps, a blue suit, ropy pearl necklace and hair in sleek bun, she showed them the steps.

"Okay, now this is Routine 2," Hanna said. "Turn, pivot, and walk off looking over your shoulder."

Allysiah Kenney, a junior, is a backstage hand for the show. Wearing a slim black hoodie and jeans, she built the mock ice cream truck stage prop from construction paper.

"She's my favorite teacher," Kenney said.

Another junior, Justin Bass, was designing dresses for the show. He was working on a short, strapless candy-themed dress which will be festooned with polka dots of bubble gum.

Hanna is also his advisor, and she's coached him to join the Distributive Education Clubs of America program. He recently became Associated Student Body president.

"This class gave me the communication skills and leadership skills," Bass said.

He's planning to attend the Art Institute of Seattle after high school. His dream is to work in clothing design.

"I don't know what I'd call my fashion label," he said, and laughed. "I think I'd call it 'Bossy and Flossy.'"

Once the bell rang and the classroom emptied, Hanna brought out a blue binder thick with laminated letters and signed photos from, among others, Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, Condoleeza Rice, Vanna White, Sargent Shriver and Donald Trump. For years, Hanna has solicited celebrities to send letters of encouragement to her classes.

"It never hurts to ask," Hanna said.

Trump's was sent on the official gold-embossed Trump letterhead paper, and his photo is signed in thick gold ink.

"So we're not allowed to make fun of his hair anymore," Hanna said.

Hanna grew up in the Boston area in the 1950s, a time when some men still wore suits and fedoras and women wore gloves and hats.

"I knew fashion was in my blood at the age of five," Hanna said.

She remembers organizing her parents' closets, and sniffing at her mother's big glass bottle of Chanel No. 5 perfume.

On special trips, the family went shopping at downtown department stores, and she remembers coming out of the dingy subway tunnels and walking into fragrant, orderly shops.

After high school, Hanna attended the Chamberlain School of Retailing and went on to spend several years in fashion retailing, marketing and modeling.

Along the way, she met and married Steven Hanna, an elementary-school teacher. They decided to move out to the Bremerton area in the late 1970s, tired of Boston's snowy winters and attracted to the Pacific Northwest's mild climate.

"My friends back east were, 'Oh, poor Madonna, she's going to be out there with farmers'," Hanna said.

She noticed job openings for fashion marketing teachers, and landed her first education job in 1980 with the Kitsap Peninsula Vocational Skills Center, now the West Sound Technical Skills Center.

Hanna keeps in touch with many of her students, including Debbie Robinson, who fondly remembers taking that first fashion merchandising class.Hanna's lessons in interviewing and being respectful have stuck with Robinson. In one class exercise, Hanna asked students to interview their peers and find something positive to say, even if they didn't get along.

Robinson now works for Ben Bridge Jewelers in Seattle.

"She just had such a level of caring and the desire to impart all this knowledge," Robinson said.

Hanna left the Kitsap Vocational Center in 1987 after a serious car accident.

On Jan. 14, 1987, Hanna was riding to work, carpooling with a coworker, a culinary arts teacher who drove an El Camino.

Roads were icy that day, and Hanna remembers seeing a semi truck stopped in front of them. "I realized we were going to hit the truck, and I knew we were going to die," she said.

The scene went dark for her. Witnesses saw the El Camino slide under the rear axle of the truck and spin out the right side. When Hanna gained consciousness, she remembers seeing her coworker sitting in a convertible.

"I thought, but we didn't start in a convertible."

The car was a pancake. Hanna's coworker didn't survive, and she was left with whiplash-related muscle injuries and a torn scalp.

She never went back to work at the Kitsap Vocational Center. While recovering from her injuries, she put together a fashion marketing program for Bates Technical College in Tacoma in the fall of 1987.

Even today, a cane leans in the corner of her classroom in case her back hurts.

"It's really weird what the accident did to my hair, too," Hanna said. "I know have cowlicks, and my hair will stick up funny sometimes."

At Bates, Hanna organized her first Flights of Fancy fashion show for students with disabilities.

Over the years, the different projects she's started, like the Bates Buddy Program that paired her technical college students with underprivileged elementary students for mentoring and to put on fashion shows, have earned her a raft of recognition like President George H.W. Bush's 1992 Daily Point of Light award.

When Hanna was still at Bates, she remembers getting a call one day from a strange person who started asking her several questions about her Flights of Fancy program and her job.

"I said, excuse me, but who are you? And they paused, and said, 'I'm calling on behalf of the White House,' and my knees went weak."

She would have been visited by President Bush, too, but for the outcome of the 1992 election.

"We got a call that because the president was not serving a second term, he would not be visiting."

She still laughs about it.

"So many Democrats who were excited I was going to meet the president. I said, 'we didn't vote for him, so he's not coming.'"

Regardless of whether her students are going into fashion or just taking the class for fun, Hanna wants to instill good work ethic and interpersonal skills.

"I tell them I don't care who you don't like, you say please, thank you and good morning," she said.

Hanna doesn’t act like someone about to retire, but when asked if she is ready to leave teaching, she paused for a moment.“You know when it’s time to go,” she said.

Hanna is still formulating what the next chapter of her life will be. She'd love to get into voice acting, and is thinking about motivational speaking or helping private businesses with coaching staff.

"I'm sure I'm going to be very busy," she said.

Hanna most likely won't be replaced, since Bremerton High School doesn't plan to offer the fashion marketing class again, said district spokeswoman Patty Glaser. Classes with fewer than 20 students signed up aren't cost effective, she said.

"Madonna has been with us a long time," Glaser said. "If it can be done, Madonna can do it."

 

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