Gordy Hall Kept the Fire Alight

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Gordy Hall Kept the Fire Alight

By Peg Willauer-Tobey

For nearly 70 years, Chewonki has been fortunate to count Gordy Hall as a camp counselor, trip leader, trustee, and dear friend.

Gordy left us all the great gift of being memorable, and many of us have our own “Gordy stories” to share, and we hope to hear yours. He was a remarkable person, “one of a kind,” and left an indelible mark on Chewonki.  As Gordy frequently said, “Gratitude is a powerful motivator.” We are grateful for all Gordy did for Chewonki through more than seventy years of connection and caring.

Gordy paddling on the Allagash River

Gordy first came to Chewonki in the 1950s as a summer counselor and trip leader. An avid outdoorsman at age 17, he was recruited for his life-changing job by his Rivers School teacher and Chewonki’s founder, Clarence Allen, and returned to work each summer through college. Over the years, Gordy always found time to return to the Maine woods and Chewonki. In fact, he and Taffy celebrated his 90th birthday by organizing  an expedition on the Allagash River with Chewonki colleagues and close friends.

Gordy on his 90th birthday Allagash River trip with Peg Willauer-Tobey, Kate Wilkenson, Kate Ziminsky, Gordy Hall, Nancy Kennedy, Greg Shute, Bob Leeson, Taffy Knowlton, and Molly Williams.

Gordy planned the canoe trip to retrace a short section of the route he first paddled seventy-four years earlier when at age sixteen, he and a friend navigated the unpaved roads of Maine’s sparsely populated North Woods to canoe the Allagash River. The ensuing 180-mile expedition was a life-changing experience for Gordy, and he told many stories of that time when he returned to the river at age 90 years young.

Gordy leads the Stumblebums in a rousing song at the Chewonki Centennial Celebration in 2015.

As a trustee, Gordy was integral to creating, cultivating, and nurturing nearly every aspect of Chewonki’s programs, community, and tradition. For example, during our centennial year, he singlehandedly recruited former Camp “Stumblebum” singers and conducted a harmonizing concert for our enjoyment. 

Gordy was a lifelong learner, and I admired his dedication to understanding new ideas and different perspectives. We often talked after board meetings to discuss the changing frames of reference and mindsets the board was working through. As our longest-serving trustee, he could have held fast to the Chewonki of his youth, but this wasn’t Gordy’s style. Instead, he approached new opportunities and challenges with curiosity and openness and actively engaged in Chewonki’s ongoing evolution.

Gordy Hall (front, center) with our board of trustees in July, 2016.

Gordy visited Chewonki Neck frequently and easily stepped back into his camp leader role whenever he was here, establishing relationships, listening attentively, and subtly guiding his audience. His last visit to the Neck was during the spring of 2022.

While he and I sat and enjoyed a cup of tea in the dining hall, Gordy was swarmed by “Gordy Hall cabin” residents, who had heard he was nearby and wanted to know more about the man for whom their beloved home-away-from-home was named. Among the Semester 68 group (harkening back to Gordy’s earliest days at Chewonki) was Flynn Ellis, grandson of Tim and Margaret Ellis and great-grandson of Hardy Ellis, Assistant Camp Director to Clarence Allen when Gordy worked as a trip leader.

Gordy checks out construction progress on new staff house, West-Andrews.

The semester students were 17-year-old bundles of energy, and Gordy was in his element, absorbing and reflecting the enthusiasm of these young men. He asked loads of questions about their experience, where they were from, and how they’d heard about Chewonki. He engaged with each boy, and when he realized his connection with Flynn, Gordy told the boys a few stories about the positive impact Flynn’s great-grandfather had on Gordy as his first boss at age 20. He spoke highly about Flynn’s grandfather, Tim Ellis (one of Gordy’s first campers and Chewonki’s president from 1963-1991), and Flynn’s grandmother, Margaret Ellis (Chewonki’s nurse and head of its health center). I noted the PG Tips brand of black tea we were drinking was originally purchased at Chewonki for Margaret’s memorial service at the request of her British-born siblings and has been a dining hall staple ever since.

Gordy (middle) with members of Maine Coast Semester 68, including Flynn Ellis (left), grandson of Tim and Margaret Ellis.

It was a full circle moment: Gordy, in his 90s, talking with energy and enthusiasm with 17-year-old Flynn and his cabin mates, all sharing their connections and powerful experiences. Things that had happened in the fifties were relevant to and still resonated with the participants in 2022, and their questions, thoughts, and reactions informed and delighted Gordy.

Flynn recalls that while Gordy had always been an essential part of his family history, he’d only met him once before, and this was the first time they’d had a substantial conversation. “We talked about my grandfather, Tim, and great-grandfather, Hardy Ellis, and Gordy shared an inside joke he had with them,” Mostly, he reflected that, Gordy wanted to know about their classwork and their favorite spots on Chewonki Neck. “I’ll always remember that day; meeting Gordy was such a special bonding experience for my cabin,” says Flynn.

Gordy with residents of Gordy Hall cabin

Through his decades of service, philanthropy, and friendship, Gordy touched countless lives. He worked diligently to ensure kids and teens might have access to the same life-changing experiences in the outdoors that brought him so much meaning, joy, and direction as a young man and embodied Chewonki’s mission in all of his work.

We will all miss Gordy’s cheerful face, and signature purple sweater on campus and at trustee gatherings, but we take comfort in knowing that his lifetime of stewardship lives on in many thousands of campers and students who shared in the Chewonki experience he loved.

In Memorium

Gordon Hall, III

Long-time Chewonki staff member, trustee, and supporter, Gordy Hall passed away peacefully in his home last month at the age of 92. Gordy was a vibrant and engaged part of the Chewonki community for nearly 70 years, and we are deeply saddened by his passing. 

A memorial service will be held for Gordy on Saturday, November 12, 2022, at 10:30 at Old North Church in Marblehead, MA, followed by a reception at Eastern Yacht Club. Those who cannot attend in person may join virtually using this link.  

Donations will be gratefully received by the organizations to which Gordon gave so much of himself: Appalachian Mountain Club, Chewonki, Conservation Law Foundation, and Forest Society of Maine.

More Memories

Gordy's Allagash Sass

by Nancy Kennedy

I had the privilege of being invited by Gordy to join him, his wife, Taffy, and several of their friends, along with my Chewonki colleagues Peg Willauer-Tobey, Greg Shute, and Kate Ziminski, for a late summer trip on the Allagash River. Although I responded with an immediate and enthusiastic “yes!” I was, admittedly, a bit nervous about going. Before this trip, I had never traveled the Allagash and, frankly, had very limited paddling experience. Although I heard stories of the beauty of the landscape, I kept thinking about other comments about the hardships of encountering a strong headwind. But Gordy, with his years and years of familiarity with the trip, and his characteristic enthusiasm, assured me that all would be well.  

With Every Dip of my Paddle

by Greg Shute

Fly fishing for landlocked salmon at Chewonki’s Big Eddy Campground on the West Branch of the Penobscot River. Fly fishing for brook trout on a remote pond near Big Pleasant Lake in the Allagash Region. Paddling the St. John River when a late spring storm dropped a foot of snow on our group. Canoeing the St. Croix and the Allagash. These are just a few memories I’ve made with Gordon “Gordy” Hall, III, an avid outdoorsman, Chewonki’s longest-serving trustee, and my dear friend. I will deeply miss Gordy, who died on October 9, 2022, at age 92.

Gordy Hall, Jim Crowell and his nephew, Paul Crowell with a rare topographical map of Katahdin they donated to Chewonki.

Gordon “Gordy” Hall, III, joined our board of trustees in the early 1970s and served until his death in October at 92 years old. Before his board service, Gordy worked as a Chewonki summer counselor and trip leader in the early 1950s. 

Gordy and his beloved wife, Carolyn “Taffy” Knowlton, at Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.

Gordy Hall helped Chewonki purchase several properties, including Big Eddy Campground.

Do you have a Gordy Hall story to share? Please email Alexis Grillo at agrillo@chewonki.org
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