Honoring dad


Vernon Spiller in 1930. Photo provided Joanna Spiller

Margaret Truman, daughter of President Harry Truman, once said regarding her father: “It’s only when you grow up and step back from him — or leave him for your own home — it’s only then that you can measure his greatness and fully appreciate it.”

Canyon Laker Joanna Spiller can voice the same words concerning her father, Vernon W. Hall. Hall worked hard, made numerous sacrifices for his family and always saw the fun things in life.

This Father’s Day, Joanna shares with her community the love and admiration that she and her sister have for this man whom they called “Dad.”

Life was not easy for Vernon. When he was only five years old, his father died and he was placed in various relatives’ homes until he was 14 years old. Vernon was the youngest of eight siblings and after his father’s death, he lived with his twice-widowed mother, grandparents, and finally with an aunt and uncle in Oregon. During that time, he was taught the value of hard work and educated himself by reading everything he could.

Vernon in 1970. Photo provided Joanna Spiller

In 1929 and the beginning of The Great Depression, Vernon, then 19 years old, supported himself by taking on a variety of jobs: house painter, surveyor, service station attendant and deliveryman. After his marriage to Eleanor Finneran in 1931 and the birth of his first daughter, Joanna, in 1935, Vernon was able to land a job at Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E).

The position with PG&E proved to be very providential and Vernon soon found himself “climbing the PG&E ladder” very quickly. He began digging holes for towers in the San Francisco Bay, which led to an apprentice lineman position. As a lineman, he found himself building tall steel towers, stringing wires and handling hot sticks complete with live currents.

In the 1960s, Vernon was chosen to head up the Blach Powerhouse project in the King Canyon area of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Despite not having earned a college degree, Vernon was promoted to superintendent of all tower and line construction for PG&E. Never before and never again has this position been given to a person without a college degree.

Vernon did not neglect his duties to his family at this time. The Great Depression had made finding a home for his young family very difficult. At each job site for the first several years of their marriage, Vernon and Eleanor had to locate a basement or attic apartment. This continued until one day in 1938 when Vernon came home and gave Eleanor the news that he had purchased a 1928 Dodge school bus for $100. The young couple fashioned this vehicle into a “mobile home” and for the next several years it was their home. A home that allowed the family of now four to travel from job site to job site.  Eleanor fondly called it “The Ark.”  Later in the 60s, Vernon loved to point out that his family was the “original hippies.”

But even with all of the job responsibilities, the Hall family had numerous opportunities to spend time camping, fishing and hunting. Most importantly, Vernon taught his daughters, Joanna and Christine, to mow lawns, dance and laugh. Mowing lawns could help financially, but dancing and laughing provided special memories.

The most important things that Vernon passed onto his daughters was a love of education, the desire to work hard and succeed, the need to respect others – especially their mother, and to become self-reliant women.

When asked what she would say to her father if he was with her today, Joanna replied, “Thank you for insisting that we receive an education, always looking after Christine and me, for being honest and to have a good sense of humor. But most of all, thank you for teaching us the value of integrity.”

“Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring and integrity, they think of you.” H. Jackson Brown, Jr.


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Pat Van Dyke