BELLEVIEW, FLORIDA – I’m not sure what prompted me to pull off US 27 into a rather uninspiring small strip mall in Belleview, Florida. Or to walk into what purported to be a greeting card shop in search of a story. It might have been the price of the cards – two for $1. You see my two little granddaughters in New Hampshire like to get mail.
I glanced at the shelves filled with cards and found them neatly organized into expected categories. But I am not a fan of the piles and containers of silk flowers that more-or-less overpowered the store. Normally I would turn around and leave when confronted with such exotic clutter.
Instead I went to the counter and asked the teenage lad who seemed to be in charge if the owner of the store was around. I’m certainly glad I did.
As I wandered around the store trying to understand what had drawn me there, a woman, sucking on a straw that was poked into a large soft drink cup arrived. At first I wasn’t sure she was the proprietor or just another two-for-$1 card-seeking customer who had wandered in. She was neatly dressed like most of the stay-at-home moms in my neighborhood when they go to the supermarket. But nothing like what my lovely daughter, a marketing manager for a Boston area software company, wears to work.
Then I remembered this is Florida, not the Boston suburbs. It was a greeting card and silk flower shop, not a high powered software company.
Now must confess, after six decades in the news business, few people have impressed me the way Jeanne Hall did.
Why? What makes her so special?
First, she tends to be extremely quiet about her accomplishments. When I suggested if she talked to me she would get her store, her name and picture on the internet. That had no impact.
“No pictures,” she said. “Nobody takes my picture.”
After that I had to work very hard to get her to tell me about what she has accomplished in the past 30 years. Had her eight-year-old son, Alec, not been there to encourage her I might have given up. But to utilize a well worn phrase, when Alec smiles he “lights up the room.” And Alec encouraged his Mom to let me write her story.
Here’s what makes Jeanne Hall so special.
It is hard to believe, but Alec is her 58th foster child that she has cared for since he was infant. Of her 58 foster children, many had relatives or family friends to later take them in. But ten of the children had no one. Not a single person. So Jeanne and her husband adopted all ten.
She has strong views about the importance of education, so she has homeschooled the youngsters until they reached the upper grades. Even then she has been reluctant to hand them over to the schools, considering how so many across the nation are maligned or deemed poor, and I suppose there is the fact her children will be associating with at least a few rude, sassy students who sometimes bully those who are clean cut and well behaved. (She wasn’t quite that specific when I suggested most teen like to socialize with other young people).
So there I was, chatting with young Alec, a bright, open, happy child, clearly and at ease carrying on a conversation with an adult. As noted, he is number 58 in her long career of helping orphaned and abandoned children thrive.
But there is more. Her husband’s career involved installing flooring, including carpets. She was concerned his knees would give out as he grew older. So she decided to open a flooring store to “get him off his knees.” All she had was $500 to launch the business. She also had all those adopted children to feed. So she started the company in their home, and as business picked up she moved it into a tiny store she called “Floors ‘R’ Us”.
Her husband knew the installation trade. He also knew quality products as well. So she got on the phone and contacted the rug and flooring vendors on his list so he would have the supplies he needed. Next they made the rounds of area contractors who were building or renovating houses.
In time they needed more space, including a warehouse. That’s when they moved into the small, nondescript strip mall on Florida’s US Highway 27.
At about the same time Jeanne gave a gift to her sister – a beautifully designed silk flower arrangement. Her sister raved about what Jeanne did and urged her to go into the business. As could be expected, Jeanne argued that “You’re just saying that because you’re my sister.” Eventually she was convinced – that even without training – she could make a go of it. So she opened her silk flower business in the front of her husband’s flooring store.
Eventually a woman with the card shop decided to do something else and Jeanne wanted the space for her silk flower shop. So she bought the card shop and moved in next door to her husbands flooring business. Her 19-year-old son agreed to run the greeting card store when she had to go next door to assist her husband.
So she has not only been foster mother to 58 infants, adopting 10, she also has launched two successful businesses, one to “get my husband off his knees,” the second to do something she enjoyed while being near her husband’s business when he needed her assistance. She is able to homeschool Alec in her store when business is slow. Alec puts in a longer school day than children in the public schools do, but he also learns to assist people. And he doesn’t seem to mind the long hours.
Perhaps now you can understand why “someone up there” appears to have lead me to the greeting card shop. I now believe Jeanne Hall’s story had to be told. I hope it will inspire other women who need to be encouraged to take decisive action.