Mary Green did not know a single person at Groveton Elementary when she arrived there 23 years ago. But that changed quickly. Bianca Hall "was the first person I met, and she just took me under her wing," Green explained. "She taught kindergarten and I taught music right next door for seven years, and we’ve been friends ever since."
Bianca Hall, Bi to everyone, died from pneumonia on March 20. "She was very ill," said Albert Hall, her husband of 52 years, "but we thought she’d pull through it."
It quickly becomes difficult to quantify the people affected by Bi Hall’s passing: five children - all daughters, six grandchildren, over 1,000 pupils. "She always had a love for children," said Albert Hall. "Children and grandchildren always came first."
Bi Hall was a kindergarten teacher at Groveton for 22 years, from 1968 to 1990. She retired only so that she could take care of her grandchildren full time.
Hall’s son-in-law Richard Maple described "the number of times we were at places in this community and someone would come up to us and say, ‘Aren’t you Mrs. Hall? You were my kindergarten teacher.’ That memory is a real testimony to a teacher." Lisa Maple, Hall’s daughter, concurred. "We were all known as Bi Hall’s children."
Maple described how local people’s identification with their kindergarten class could become deeply ingrained. Groveton’s two kindergarten rooms did not have numbers. "Mom worked in a room called ‘Cherry Blossom’… [she] was in Cherry Blossom, always. It was how people would identify each other, ‘Were you in Cherry Blossom or Apple Blossom?’"
Now, 4 of Hall’s 5 daughters work for the school system.
Hall was born in Forest Hills, NY on April 6, 1933. She moved to Florida while in high school. She met Albert in a psychology class at the University of Miami. They discovered they were from the same town and had attended rival schools. "I betrayed the Edison code by marrying a Stingray," said Albert Hall. The two were married in 1954, after Bi Hall finished her junior year. Albert had been drafted into the army and had to leave for Europe almost immediately after the wedding, which took place at an army barracks in New Jersey. "The fellow who married us was an army chaplain who had been a prison chaplain, and he was so happy to be doing something different," said Albert.
The couple spent a year and a half in Europe while Albert finished his service. Lisa Maple was born in France during that time. The Halls went on to have four more children. "We wanted to have five or six children by the time we were 30," Albert Hall explained, "so that by the time we were 50 we could kick them out, of course [the latter] never happened."
Bi returned to school to finish her bachelor’s degree while she was still pregnant with her fifth child and "taking care of four little ones," said Albert.
The couple moved to Mount Vernon in 1968 after a teacher’s strike in Florida. Albert, a music teacher, was offered a job at Stephen Foster Middle School and decided to take it. "I didn’t know anything about this area," he said. They have been living in the same house since 1969.
Mary Green was impressed with Bi Halls’ work during her 22 years as a teacher in Mount Vernon. "She was such a consummate teacher. I would love just watching her. She just loved the children and they knew it. She taught them to be independent right away… Her expectations were high and they liked that. They knew where they stood with her and that’s really something for five year olds," Green said. "She really knew the key to each child. She knew how to open up each one of them."
Green also described how Bi Hall got along with adults. "She was just so funny." For example, there is "the white gorilla story." "Bi knew my routine. I had a mirror in a cabinet in my classroom, and I’d look in that mirror every morning before I’d start my day." One morning, before Green arrived, "Bi put a picture of a white gorilla on my mirror. When I opened my cabinet, I just screamed… it was exactly the size of my head."
"Everybody loved Bi," Green said.
Hall "retired in 1990 because she could provide daycare for our first child," said Lisa. "Ever since she retired she has always had a grandchild here before or after school, sometimes four or five at a time."
"She didn’t want her grandbabies going to strangers," added Hall’s daughter Kathleen Hall. Every day "they would go to a lot of things in the community," said Lisa, "Huntley Meadows, the library, the playground." But "everything stopped at 11 for the price is right," said Kathleen. "They loved Plinko," added Robert.
"This is their home," said Lisa, speaking of her children, nephews and nieces. "That’s how they see it. Even though one is in college and two are in high school, this is home."
All five of the Halls’ children still live within ten miles of their parents’ house. "We grew up here," said Lisa, "stayed here." "Worked here," added her husband. "Taught here," said her father. "We’re rooted here," Lisa said.