KODIAK — “We all should be like Margaret Hall,” Pat Branson told the crowd attending Margaret’s 100th birthday party Saturday at the Afognak building. Branson, director of the Kodiak Senior Center, worked with Margaret, who was on the board of directors.
Fellow board member, Laurence Anderson, serenaded Margaret with the tune, “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?” A lot of people at the party, including Margaret’s children, expressed those same sentiments.
Singers of St. John the Wonderworker Academy even changed the traditional greeting, “God Grant you many years” to “God has granted you many years.”
Many of us in Kodiak met Margaret in her position as matriarch of St. James Episcopal Church. Her husband, the late Father Hugh Hall, was rector of St. James for many years.
At her party, Margaret was hailed as a woman who could keep clergy in line. She had first hand experience, being the wife of a vibrant person such as Hugh Hall.
Episcopal bishop Mark Lattime, a guest at Margaret’s party, said that she mildly upbraided him for not praying for favorable weather. The weather prevented some off-islanders from attending the party.
Years ago, when the Episcopal Diocese honored Fr. Hugh Hall for devoting much of his life to serving the faithful in Alaska, I interviewed the Halls.
Margaret recalled the night that Hugh, her fiance at the time, picked her up to take her to his ordination at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Margaret was teaching school in Bemidji, Minnesota.
“It was 20 to 30 degrees below zero,” Margaret recalls. “The heater wasn’t working in the car.
“It was not a pleasant trip. It was a cold, cold drive.”
But the unpleasantness was forgotten as Hugh officially became a priest within the Episcopal Church.
“It was an exciting time,” Margaret said.
In 1945 the couple married — it was their way of celebrating an end to World War II. Father Hugh served in Minnesota for several years and, in 1948, the Halls fulfilled their dream of moving to the Territory of Alaska, which was considered a missionary district by the Episcopal Church.
The Halls’ first parish was St. Phillip’s in Wrangell, where they lived for 10 years.
The church sat on land donated by the Tlingit people.
Wrangell was the location of the Wrangell Institute, an elementary school for Native children.
The Halls had oversight of the Episcopal children at the institute, and since there was no Orthodox priest in Wrangell at the time, they were also given charge of the Orthodox children, under the Orthodox bishop’s sanction.
During the week, Margaret taught the younger children, and Father Hugh took care of the older ones, teaching them the tenets of the Christian faith. Father Hugh noticed that the younger kids weren’t attending church on Sunday mornings; when he inquired about their absence, they responded, “We belong to Mother Hall’s church.”
No doubt, Margaret was dubbed “Mother Hall” by parishioners at St. James. But her service went far beyond the halls (no pun intended) of that congregation. This was borne out at the party when teachers Marty McKinney and Julie Hill thanked Margaret for her inspiration as educator.
Margaret devoted many years to teaching special education. In my interview with the Halls, Margaret explained what attracted her to special education.
Her concern for the mentally challenged began when she was a child.
Janice, a girl in her neighborhood was a special needs student. She went to kindergarten with Margaret’s oldest sister.
“When my second sister went to school, (Janice) was still in kindergarten. When I went to school, she was still in kindergarten. When I was in third grade, parents of other children objected to having this child in kindergarten,” Margaret said.
“I always felt very concerned for her. Her parents raised her with a real cultural education, and every time you’d go to an art institute or a concert or something like that, Janice would be there with her family. She’d be in her wheelchair. She was almost grotesque, but she was getting a cultural education. I thought, as I grew older, that she was probably educateble and could have been given much more training than she ever got.
“All through my childhood, I was drawn to trying to do something to help people with special needs.”
Margaret retired from teaching in 1984. During her tenure, she was named the Kodiak Island Teacher of the Year.
I’m not divulging any new information when I say that Margaret is an amazing woman. At 100 years old, she drives a car like nobody’s business. She has shown us that getting old isn’t always synonymous with slowing down. Pat Branson was right — we should all strive to be like her.