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Ted Hall

Any who knew Ober after the middle of his life probably also knew Edward (Ted) Hall. Ted was born in 1921 and died in September 2003. He first met Ernest Oberholtzer when Ober traveled to Frontenac, MN, to visit Ted’s father. Soon Ted (37 years Ober’s junior) was attracted to Ober’s ideas as well as to the rocky (grass-free) islands of Rainy Lake. By the late 1920s, he began spending the majority of many summers canoeing or working/living up on Rainy. By the end of Ted’s life, he was again a summer fixture on Rainy Lake, coming and going from his “Frigate Friday” houseboat moored on Gull Island.

Ted Hall was “an honest, tenacious and gifted reporter and writer,” declared Diane Rose, remembering him in the Wilderness News spring 2004 issue. She reported, and son, Thomas Hall later clarified that Ted worked on a series of New Jersey newspapers, covering stories such as the Newark race riots in 1967. Reporting on labor and politics in New Jersey meant covering the mob. The story that got Ted Hall fired from The Herald News implicated a Patterson, NJ politician and the police department in suppressing evidence in a murder trial. Ted then turned down job offers from many major newspapers before going to work at TIME magazine as the New York bureau chief.

By the time Ted Hall was 53, he’d grown weary of what he called corporate journalism. Taking stock of his life, Ted realized that the two things he’d always wanted were to have his own newspaper and to live on Rainy Lake. He bought a Maine lobster boat, “Claire,” in Cohasset, MA, and, with his son, Thomas, aboard part of the time as first mate, Ted piloted her down the east coast to New York, up the Hudson River to Albany, west on the Erie Canal, and across the Great Lakes— some 2,000 miles through rivers, channels, and the Great Lakes to the port of Duluth where he then trucked the boat over to Rainy Lake. [3]

To complete his vision, Ted Hall cashed in his pension from TIME magazine to create the Rainy Lake Chronicle, a weekly paper read by all from “Rainy Lakers to big-city people who longed for a taste of the simple life of a village.” [1] The Chronicle was published each week from 1973 to 1982.

After Ernest Oberholtzer’s death in June 1977, Ted Hall dedicated a fair percentage of the column space in the Rainy Lake Chronicle to stories about Ober’s life up on Rainy and Oberholtzer’s decades of work in the world of wilderness preservation. Ted moved Ober’s Frigate Friday back onto water and began to spend most of each summer in it, which put him in close proximity to then-empty Mallard Island and its several 1930s structures. By the time Ober’s named heirs were deciding what to do with the island and its archives, Ted Hall was forming the Board of Directors. The Oberholtzer Foundation existed only on paper at the time of Ober’s death. Ted and others (the Monahan family, etc.) were adamant that the islands be used in common, and in the years following Oberholtzer’s death, Ted Hall plus Gene and George Monahan became key figures in a legal battle to prevent the sale of Mallard Island and to activate the Oberholtzer Foundation. [2] It was Ted’s vision to preserve Ober’s islands intact and to design the foundation’s programs to incorporate them
as the locus of its work. One of Ober’s eighteen heirs, Ted donated his shares of the estate to the Foundation and persuaded enough others to do the same to convey the islands to the Foundation. It was through the generosity of these heirs, and through Charlie Kelly’s deft negotiations with the multitude of separate persons and interests involved that the Oberholtzer Foundation and Ober’s Islands came to be in the form and style we know them today. [3] Jean Sanford Replinger of Marshall, Minnesota, must also be mentioned here as one who designed the first Mallard Island summer programs.

Somewhere in the mid-1980s, Ted and his second wife, Rosalie (Rody), took a second outlandish boat trip in the Claire, this time from St. Paul all the way down the Mississippi River almost to New Orleans. The big river’s debris and sandbars took a toll on the lobster boat, however, and by the time they reached New Orleans it seemed better to donate it to the Sea Scouts than pay to have it trucked back North.

Another significant boat, a scaled-down Danish trawler called The Teahouse of The August Moon, was later Ted Hall’s flagship up on Rainy—you could hear its distinctive one-cylinder thump coming from a mile away. Ted was a good neighbor to those living nearby on the lake. Sometimes he would begin his day by baking a few loaves of bread, and in the afternoon he’d deliver warm bread to his friends on Mallard or Fawn or Jackfish Islands. “Ted bread,” baked in coffee cans, was distinctively round and decidedly delicious. (Recipe available.)

Ted and Rody (Heffelfinger) Hall bought Gull Island while they were married, and, when they divorced, Ted signed over his interest in it to Rody so that she could get the tax benefit from giving it to the Foundation. [3] This triple-win agreement gave Ted a life residency on Gull, and thus, in late 2003, the Foundation acquired Gull Island as one of four in its small archipelago.

Beyond his warm bread and the rhythmic thrum of his trawler, Ted is most often remembered for his uncommon skill with words. No one can write a sentence like Ted Hall, commonly a long thought but so carefully crafted that the sentence bends and flows and breaks into new light and deeper meaning. Here’s a sample selection, to end this piece with a small taste of Ted Hall’s thoughts about Ober. Taken from a collection of his columns in the Chronicle called “Drumbeat,” Ted wrote this thought near the week of Ernest Oberholtzer’s death:

We are asked does it make us sad to visit that little island of long-ago golden summers—summers of music and rain and sunshine and good conversation. The question is asked in a garden gone to tall grass in the shadow of fragile buildings that have grown old with the man who built them and shared them generously during the half century the island was his home and his touchstone… It was a glorious instant and it made a spark that glows into the instant that followed… This little island may be the pivot point where man turned to make peace with his planet. Our answer to the question is, we can’t be sad about that.

(1) Ted Hall Obituary, Minneapolis Star Tribune, written by Trudi Hahn.
Also details clarified through Thomas Hall, Ranier, MN.
(2) Taken from, University of Montana, piece
entitled “Ernest Oberholtzer: Advocate for the Border Lakes.”
(3) Thomas Hall, email correspondence in November 2012.
This sketch written by Beth Waterhouse, Foundation Director to date.

Wilderness News is a quarterly newsletter of the Quetico-Superior Foundation.

Three ways to find the writing of Ted Hall: Drumbeat (a collection of columns) can be purchased at the Koochiching County Museum in International Falls. There or elsewhere you might find Growing with the Grass, (1992) stories published by Ted Hall about his growing up years in Frontenac, Minnesota. Finally, A Rainy Lake Chronicle is available at the Voyager's National Park Rainy Lake visitor center near International Falls, Minnesota. All three are also available for reading on Mallard Island.



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