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Midvale Journal

Unsung heroes: Remembering creators of Hillcrest High’s 60-year-old school song

Sep 08, 2023 12:07PM ● By Julie Slama

Hillcrest High’s first student body vice president Mick Dowd found the lyrics to the Hillcrest High School Song his sister handwrote after her death in 1992 and gave them to the school’s alumni association. (Photo courtesy of Mick Dowd)

At the Sept. 8 homecoming game, when students and alumni link arms to sing the Hillcrest High School Song, few will realize the words of that song were written by a 1949 Jordan High graduate.

Donna Dowd Mickelsen wrote the words for the Huskies the first year Hillcrest High opened in 1962-63 when her brother, Mick, was a senior and the student body vice president.

“Donna was 15 years older and had gone to Jordan,” Dowd said shortly before his 60th class reunion. “She was a singer and got an offer to go to Hollywood to sing with the big band, but she decided to marry her high school sweetheart, Don, and had three boys. She always wrote poetry so when the high school music teacher, Leo Dean, needed lyrics, I told him my sister was good at writing poetry. He had her write the lyrics and he wrote the music. It turned out to be a beautiful song. The way he wrote the melody was really lovely; it’s not your typical rah rah school song. With her words, it’s just very sentimental and beautiful. I’m proud it has continued as the school song. It keeps her memory alive.”

His only sibling died in 1992 from a brain aneurysm.

Dowd has the original sheet music and recently shared the lyrics she wrote in “beautiful cursive writing” with the Hillcrest High Alumni Association.

“We basically had the same singing voice, only hers was an octave higher than mine. We had the same personality, the same sense of humor,” he remembered. “When she as with her third child, which she lost, she got polio. She was only 23. She was in an iron lung, paralyzed up to her neck for a while. Over the next couple years, it went away except for her right leg which had atrophied. Eventually they fused her hip so she could walk, but she’d have to swing her leg around so she wouldn’t have to have crutches or a cane. She was an amazing woman who never let anything get her down. She was shy, but always had a great spirit and was always happy.”

His sister also kept writing poetry.

“After Donna passed away, we found she had written a couple of loose-leaf notebooks of poetry that were just outstanding. One of my best friends who was into poetry said her writing was magnificent and we should definitely have this published, but then months went by and we didn’t do it,” he said. “Now her grandson is going to try because he thought it was good…so she lives on.”

Dowd said many students, himself included, came from Jordan when Hillcrest opened so there wasn’t an established rivalry or a surprise when someone who didn’t attend the school wrote the lyrics. 

“We sang the song all year, maybe more in those days than they do now. We sang it at all the games and assemblies, everyone knew it, but I don’t think that a lot of people outside the student body officers and my close friends knew that my sister had written the lyrics,” he said.

Dean taught music at Midvale Elementary and Midvale Junior High before becoming “an outstanding bandleader at Jordan High. I wasn’t playing saxophone in the band after sophomore year, but I was friends with him, and he came to Hillcrest too. He was the nicest guy in the world; we all adored him. He was the most patient teacher and so kind and obviously cared about his students. It didn’t take long for him to write the music to my sister’s lyrics. It was amazing that it took as little time to get it all together and to teach the song to the students. It was the beginning of the school year, the same time as when we were deciding the school colors and mascot and all those things,” said Dowd, who was Dean’s junior high drum major.

That first graduating class, who attended Jordan until their senior year when Hillcrest opened, remains bonded to both schools to this day. The 1963 Hillcrest and Jordan classes are planning to celebrate their reunion together homecoming weekend.

“I really had wonderful pals back then who are friends to this day, and I’m going to be thrilled that I can see some of those people who I haven’t seen for a good 40 years,” Dowd said. “We all kind of moved away, but there’s a fair chunk that are coming back and we’ll be at the game and at the reunion, remembering all these memories from Jordan, and of that first year at Hillcrest, and hopefully, singing the school song.” λ