A Life: Kenneth Hall; ‘He did so much for so many people’

Ken Hall speaks during a joint rally with then Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in Unity, N.H., on Friday, June 27, 2008. The town evenly split the democratic vote between the two candidates in the primary. Clinton spoke of her support for Obama and urged her supporters to give him their votes. The rally was attended by thousands bussed in from nearby Claremont and Sunapee for the event.
(Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Ken Hall speaks during a joint rally with then Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in Unity, N.H., on Friday, June 27, 2008. The town evenly split the democratic vote between the two candidates in the primary. Clinton spoke of her support for Obama and urged her supporters to give him their votes. The rally was attended by thousands bussed in from nearby Claremont and Sunapee for the event. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News file — James M. Patterson

Ken and Mary Hall established Santa's Workshop in Unity, N.H., in 1997 on the property they had owned since 1970. Photographed on Dec. 6, 2012, Mary sold wooden pieces made by Ken. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Ken and Mary Hall established Santa's Workshop in Unity, N.H., in 1997 on the property they had owned since 1970. Photographed on Dec. 6, 2012, Mary sold wooden pieces made by Ken. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News file photograph — Jennifer Hauck

Ken and Mary Hall celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in 2005. (Family photograph)

Ken and Mary Hall celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in 2005. (Family photograph) Family photograph

By PATRICK O’GRADY

Valley News Correspondent

Published: 07-09-2023 7:26 PM

UNITY — Early summer 2008 was a tense time for Democrats.

When the year began, then-U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton was the clear favorite to capture the Democratic nomination for president. Six months later, after a bruising primary campaign, Barack Obama, a freshman senator from Illinois, had claimed the prize.

By late June, it was time to heal the wounds and unite for the Democratic convention in August and the fall campaign.

What better place to do it than in a town called Unity, where the two candidates received the same number of votes, and who better to warm up the crowd and introduce Obama and Clinton than the affable Ken Hall, Unity’s unofficial mayor.

Hall stepped to the microphone in front of a few thousand people and spoke as if he had prepared all his life for the moment.

“He was eloquent and comfortable on stage,” Unity resident Joe Warner said.

Unity was honored to have the candidates in a town of just 1,500, Hall said, noting that townspeople wanted their community to look its best.

“Look around town and you can see folks have been sprucing things up,” Hall said to cheers. “I even bought a new pair of sneaks.”

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The flavor of our national politics does not often lend itself to comic relief, but Hall hit the right note with the Democratic crowd, playing off Obama’s campaign theme of change.

“I have a little confession to make. I am a lifelong Republican who voted for Sen. (John) McCain in the (N.H.) primary,” he said to applause that grew louder when he added, “But I may be part of this change.”

It was classic Ken Hall: humorous and lighthearted, setting the right mood for the afternoon.

Hall, who died on April 27 at age 90 from cancer, left behind a decades-long legacy of generosity and kindness with his time and money, particularly for children both in New Hampshire and his former home in Connecticut, where he was born. A talented carpenter and craftsman, Hall donated many items he made for his businesses and he loved passing his skills on to others.

“The kids in Unity always had a place to go after school with Ken,” said Bill Schroeter, a former Selectboard member who — with his wife, Sue — became friends with Hall when they visited his Santa’s Workshop, a now-closed Christmas store in Unity. “He enjoyed teaching the kids, and the kids loved him. He was such a good man.”

Warner said Hall’s willingness to pitch in and help on so many occasions was legendary in town.

“He did innumerable things for the town,” Warner said. “Some visible, some not so visible. He did a lot at the school, mowing the lawn or making some repairs, and he never made a big deal out of it.”

He also mentored youth in Big Brothers and was part of the Chore Corps, a group of volunteers who made home repairs for the elderly.

“He did so much for so many people,” said Mary, his wife of 68 years

In search of more opportunities to snowmobile, the Halls moved to Unity in the late 1970s, buying 55 acres on 2nd N.H. Turnpike. Hall built the house — the third one he built for the family — and he and Mary soon found a community they loved and that would grow to love them in return.

Hall grew up in Cheshire, Conn., the fourth of seven children. His father abandoned the family when Hall was young, Mary said, and that experience made him sensitive to kids who may be having a tough time.

Hall established the Eleven Together Boys Club in Connecticut in the late 1950s after he stopped some teens going through cars outside a bowling alley while he was waiting there for his wife.

“He was sitting in the parking lot, and he noticed these boys going through cars,” Mary, who lives in Newport, remembered. “He got out and grabbed one of them. He got them all together and said, ‘Be at my house tomorrow night at 7, or I’m going to report every one of you to the police.’ ”

What shocked her husband, Mary said, was that he recognized the teens because they lived in the neighborhood: “He said to me, ‘We have to do something.’ ”

Mary said the boys, some of whom had troubled home lives, all showed up as instructed and thus began the club, complete with a clubhouse in the Halls’ basement.

Hall was their adviser, and he focused on having the boys do things for others, not themselves. They raised money through car washes and other fundraisers and used the money at Christmas to help needy families.

“We got the names of 12 families, and the boys shopped for Christmas gifts and delivered them to the families,” Mary said.

Hall’s efforts, like a lot of what he did, left a lifelong impression.

“They never forgot his kindness, and three of them attended his funeral,” Mary said.

Hall had married Mary right after she graduated high school, four years after he did. He had learned carpentry at trade school and was working as a carpenter when a signmaker at a show he was attending caught his eye.

“He told me, ‘I think I could do that,’ ” Mary said.

Hall began experimenting with a router, found he had the talent for it and soon he opened his business, The Sign Doctor.

The couple traveled the region, making signs at craft fairs, festivals and, for nearly 30 years, at The Big E, the annual Eastern States Exposition.

Ken and Mary ran the sign business out of their home, where the couple raised their two adopted children, Thomas and Linda. Both have now died of cancer; Thomas at age 60 and Linda last November at age 55.

In 1997, the Halls opened Santa’s Workshop in a barn Hall built on the property and sold items he made along with crafts made by others.

Ken was generous with his time and talents for Unity and surrounding towns. He joined the Claremont Kiwanis Club and, between Connecticut and New Hampshire, served as a Kiwanian for more than 50 years.

Dave Lantz, owner of M.J. Harrington Jewelers in Newport, was a fellow Kiwanian.

“We were all busy, and some days I could not get away from the store, but Ken was just as busy, and somehow he was there for anything,” Lantz said.

Lantz remembered when Hall made a two-seat swing and donated it to the senior center in Newport for a raffle. When Lantz’s father, who loved the swing, did not win the raffle, Hall was happy to make one for him and another for Lantz.

“It is one of my treasures and, every time I sit in it, I think of Ken and all the work he did with wood and for the kids and everyone else in the community,” Lantz said. “Just a very, good down-to-earth guy.”

He was a big part of the club’s Christmas charity program, said Bob Landry, of Claremont, who served with Hall in Kiwanis.

“He was a very dedicated member of the club,” Landry said. “He put in a lot of work and effort.”

Another of his charitable projects was making wooden “wishing stars” for children with cancer being treated at centers in Massachusetts to paint.

Sue Schroeter said Hall’s constant presence around town is what earned him the title of “mayor.”

“He was Unity. He was always involved in the community, and he was always helping people,” she said. “He went to just about every function and got others to go. We joined Kiwanis because of Ken, and I got on the Planning Board because of him.”

Hall loved to help friends, kids, his community and even complete strangers.

Mary recalls a show in Connecticut where they encountered a frantic exhibitor who was promoting his campground in New Jersey. He told the Halls he could not find a place to stay for the weekend with all the lodging booked. Without hesitation, Ken invited him to the house, and the Halls put him up and cooked his meals.

Mary said they became friends, and while visiting the campground, they got to know the owners’ children and grandchildren.

After Ken died, Mary received a sympathy card from one of the grandchildren, Aaron, which read in part, “I want to share with you how much joy and special memories both you and Kenny have given me while I was growing up. Anytime I think of New Hampshire, The Big E or see beautiful wood craftsmanship, I cannot help but fondly recall Santa’s Workshop and the warmth and hospitality you have both shown us.”

For his countless hours of volunteering and raising money for Kiwanis, Hall was awarded a Hixson Fellowship, which goes to those who give more than $1,000 to the Kiwanis Children’s Fund.

Ken Hall was also a longtime member of the Lebanon Arts and Craft Association, serving for a time as president and treasurer, and earning honorary lifetime member status in 2014.

He is “an example of what active, constructive membership looks like,” said Don Carpia, a former LACA president, in a LACA website article. “He stepped in when the club needed leadership and shared his business expertise.”

About three years ago, the Halls had to close the business and sell the property as Ken’s physical health began to fail, though not his enthusiasm for life. When he and Mary moved to an apartment in Newport, Hall would ride a three-wheeled electric scooter into town and stop to see Lantz. They would enjoy some ice cream together and chat.

“He was just an amazing guy,” Lantz said. “Everybody thought the world of him.”

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.