Around the Island

Emily and Dana Hallman are the Reporter’s People of the Year

If Emily and Dana Hallman are reading this story this morning, they’re likely horrified at a spotlight being shone on them as the Shelter Island Reporter pays tribute to them as our People of the Year.

This unassuming mother and daughter have flown under the radar for years while serving the Island’s senior community, organizing the annual Community Thanksgiving Potluck Dinner and faithfully responding to anyone who needs assistance and caring.

But if they have been modest about their contribution to the community — refusing requests for profile stories — their generous spirit has not gone unnoticed by friends and neighbors who know what these women mean to the Island.

“They are remarkable,” said Karin Bennett, who has worked with Dana at the town’s Senior Services Office in the past. “They cover the whole rainbow of good things.”

Need a ride to a doctor’s office, an errand run, food to help sustain you while dealing with a family crisis? Emily and Dana Hallman are always there.

“They do so much for so many that I don’t think people even know about,” said Councilwoman Chris Lewis, who is the Town Board’s liaison to the senior community. “It’s a constant source of amazement” that the Hallman women find the time and ability to help so many Islanders, Ms. Lewis added.

Serving a forgotten community
Several years ago, they were thinking about Shelter Island neighbors, many of whom were aging and might not have family to share the holidays with, and how they could help them.

Thought was put into action, when they organized what has become a tradition on the Island — the Thanksgiving dinner at the Shelter Island Presbyterian Church. This year, there were more than 80 friends and neighbors — people of all ages — who gathered at the church for the holiday dinner along with a cadre of helpers who managed to make the day a special one.

The Presbyterian Church has been a central part of the women’s lives. They’ve participated in and helped organize many activities with their fellow parishioners. Dana and Emily operated the Food Pantry, a lifeline to the poor, at the church for several years before turning it over in 2007 to Al and Tippi Bevan, who continue to keep it going today.

They come from a long line of Islanders who have contributed so much to the community, said Gertrude Bourne, who has known Emily since the two were children and, of course, knows Dana since birth.

She described her friend Emily as “very considerate and very caring” and said Dana has been cut from the same cloth.

“They are remarkable,” said Henrietta Roberts, the coordinator of Senior Services. She worked with Dana at the Senior Center for more than five years and has known the family for much longer. Mother and daughter’s contributions to the community are many, varied and ongoing, Ms. Roberts said.

Despite holding down a demanding full time job at the Pridwin, Dana still manages to respond to everyone’s needs, Ms. Roberts said. “No matter how busy she is or how tired she is, she’s there.”

Extra Effort
“It’s not just a job to her,” Ms. Bennett said about Dana. Of both women, she added, “It doesn’t matter what the need is, they just step in.”

Both Dana and Emily are active with the United Presbyterian Women and bring their skills — from crafts and sewing to baking — to whatever is needed, Ms. Bennett said.

She describes them as “very spiritual people” who are both great to work with.

Solid Shelter Island roots
It was the women’s ancestors, the Myers family, who created the Emily French Memorial Cemetery on the Island and Francis Myers who built the Pridwin Hotel. The hotel, constructed between 1924 and 1926, was originally undertaken by Queens Company Ltd. of England.

But when the firm ran out of money and defaulted on payments, it was Francis Myers, then one of the building contractors, who acquired the property and finished construction. He ran the business until his death in 1947.

Dana’s current employer, Edie Petry of the Pridwin, said Dana puts in “125 percent” on the job. “She runs the whole show and is on top of everything. She’s one in a million.”

When Edie and Dick Petry were named  Lions Club Citizens of the Year, Ms. Petry told the Reporter that it should have been Dana that the organization chose.

“She’s very thoughtful, very considerate and the first one to step up when anyone needs anything,” Ms. Petry added.

Councilwoman Lewis remembers going to the church to make arrangements after the death of her husband for his funeral service and coming home to find a Hallman-baked cake on her table.

How did they even know so soon? she wondered, describing them as “a constant course of amazement. They just up and do it.”

And anyone who has ever tasted a Hallman-baked cake raves about what great bakers both mother and daughter are. Their cakes — along with large helpings of concern and cheerful caring — have comforted many an Island family at a time of difficulty.

PETER WALDNER ILLUSTRATION | 'The whole rainbow of good things,' is how mother and daughter Emily and Dana Hallman have been described.
PETER WALDNER ILLUSTRATION | ‘The whole rainbow of good things,’ is how mother and daughter Emily and Dana Hallman have been described.