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End of an Era at Galt
After spending thirty-eight years coordinating and organizing student activities in the same office at Alexander Galt Regional High School, it’s not surprising that Robert Halsall, or “Bob” as he was affectionately known for so many years
by staff and students alike, was finding historic treasure after treasure as he cleaned out his office, getting ready for retirement.
“That was me playing Mr. Bumble in Oliver, the school play,” said Mr. Halsall, who then rattled off one of Mr. Bumble’s famous lines, word for word, like it was yesterday, as he showed me the play’s program from the 1970’s. Another school pamphlet, also from the seventies, encouraged the boys to dress in a shirt and tie or turtleneck, whereas the girls could be “creative”, dressing in a tunic or pleated skirt.
Other treasures, these ones sports memorabilia related, covered the walls; hockey greats like Wayne Gretzky and Maurice Richard who looked down on the hundreds and hundreds of students who entered ‘Bob’s realm’ for some kind of official school or personal business; his door was always open.
Born and raised just ten kilometres from the high school, in Birchton, Bob was working in the Munkittrick bike shop when he was told about a job opening for the new position of Student Activity Coordinator at his old high school, a position he was interested in after taking Recreational Techniques at Champlain College. “They had received forty-nine applications and I went through three interviews, then waited three months before hearing that I had the job,” he explained.
“For my first thirteen years, there were no sports involved in my job, except for the transport. I was involved with the yearbook, the prom, fundraisers, Student Council, grad pics, trips abroad, class rings, the carnival… if it didn’t take place in the classroom, then I was involved in it.” And who hasn’t bought fresh oranges or grapefruits at least once over the years from a Galt student, a fundraiser that Bob began organizing soon after he arrived at Galt that helped students pay for extra-curricular activities. “Although I had a full time job as Student Activities Coordinator, in 1989 they added sports to my job. The job of Athletic Coordinator was enormous – so I made Galt my life. I didn’t work for the ETSB or for the principal but for the students; I always did it for the kids,” commented Mr. Halsall. “But other activities did suffer, like the Film Society and a few other clubs.”
It’s not clear how the position of Student Activities Coordinator will evolve or even if it will survive at all come September. The position of Athletic Director was taken over two years ago by Robert Fisk. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, if they will hire someone part time, or what. I’m concerned about it, but I have to move on. Hopefully the kids won’t lose too much,” said Bob. “When I came here I was a young and vibrant person; I hope they find a young and vibrant person to replace me.” “In 1976, we had 2,400 students; now we have just over 900,” commented Mr. Halsall when talking about some of the changes he’d seen over the years. “The amazing part about that is that the crowd will be almost as big this Friday night, at the prom of about 150 grads, as it was back in 1976 when we had 440 graduates. More of the students and their parents take pride in their graduation than before.”
He continued: “Social media certainly changes the attitudes of the students but, in the end, kids will be kids. They walk into my office to talk, and I listen; I don’t ask a lot of questions. Often they just need that extra ear.”
Earlier in June, Mr. Halsall was honoured by teachers, coaches and friends at
a retirement party held at the ANAF Hut, in Lennoxville. During the party he was given a handmade memory quilt to remind him of the eighty-one sports teams that he coached while working at Galt. During the Galt Awards evening Bob got an even bigger surprise when he was told that the school was naming the football field after him: Halsall Field. “That was a really good surprise. That floored me to have that honour,” he said.
Besides being dedicated to his job and to the students of the school, Mr. Halsall was also famous for knowing how to belt out a tune, well, one tune any- way. And if you’ve ever been to a Galt Graduation, you’ve heard it: Born to be
Wild. “I was asked to sing it at the Band Concert in May. Mr. Obermeir said it was the best one ever!”
“What I’ll miss most is everything and everybody. One day a former grad came in for a visit with his nine year old son. During the recess kids kept coming into my office over about ten or twelve different subjects, prom, hockey, carnival… Having this as an open office was always special to me. That’s what I’ll miss.”
Bob Halsall sits at the desk in the Student Activities office that he occupied for thirty-eight years at Alexander Galt High School.
A very young Bob soon after he began working at Galt.
Bob Halsall poses with some students at a recent Graduation.