Local woman with Down syndrome defies odds, celebrates 72nd birthday

March 4, 2019 | 3:12 am

Updated March 3, 2019 | 8:24 pm

Photo by AP Imagery

Gerry Hall recently celebrated her 72nd birthday, a milestone by any measure. What makes Hall’s birthday unique is that when she was born with Down syndrome, doctors told her parents she would never walk or talk and should just be put in a group home, according to Hall’s niece Tracy Cecil.

Hall’s mother would not accept the recommendation and, although the family lived in Stanley, Cecil said her grandmother (Hall’s mother) would do anything she could to get therapy, education, opportunities and treatment for Hall.

“My grandmother did not get a driver’s license until she was in her 60s, but she said she didn’t need to have it, she was only driving up Fourth [Street] and down Second [Street to home],” Cecil said.

When Hall began walking at four years old, thanks to Hall’s mother who had been exercising Hall’s legs under the advice of a chiropractor, it was a celebration, according to stories Cecil has heard.

At this time, there was no formal public education offered to persons with special needs, but there was an organization, Opportunity Center Workshop, Inc. where persons with special needs went, and parents of these individuals began a school at the Opportunity Center.

Keith Wheatley has been the special services coordinator for 40 years at the Center and said that parents began taking classes at local colleges and universities to receive their training so they could teach others.

Wheatley said that most of the parents had no credentials but they wanted so badly to teach at the school.

“Kudos to the parents who say ‘no’ and do whatever it takes,” said The Arc and Opportunity Center Workshop, Inc. Executive Director Sally Phillips.

Hall received her education through these services and in 1979, she began working at Pinocchio’s, a downtown restaurant the Opportunity Center purchased as a training facility and then a full-service restaurant.

Hall worked at the restaurant five days a week, riding to work with her mom or dad. She helped prepare breakfast and made sandwiches.

During the other days that Hall went to the Opportunity Center, she made corsages for Sears at Christmas time and packaged parts for Peerless, among other things with other Opportunity Center participants, Wheatley said.

“I also did dishes [and] worked the sprayer [at the restaurant],” said Hall.

Hall’s parents died in the early years of 2000, and although her niece considered moving Hall in with her, the family ultimately decided a staffed residence was what Hall preferred.

Hall’s team works on her plan of care and Hall is always included in the discussions, Cecil and Phillips said.

She has been living there for over 15 years and she, along with her three housemates and their direct support professional, participate in cooking, cleaning and responsibilities within the home.

Photo by AP Imagery

The Opportunity Center Workshop and ARC purchased the Bingo Hall located at 3560 New Hartford Rd. and moved Pinocchio’s to the hall, since the restaurant building was sold to purchase the hall.

Wheatley said it now provides more of a concession-style food and other opportunities for participants working in the building.

Hall worked at Pinocchio’s until her retirement in January 2018. This was not a true retirement as she is still at the hall every day in the day training program. Hall enjoys participating in making seasonal crafts, including wreaths and also likes to write. She works on her lettering as a hobby at the center.

On Saturdays, Hall and a group of other participants bowl and even competed on several Special Olympics teams in the past.

Hall also enjoys doing latch hook and making pot holders.

Hall makes her own transportation plans to the center, usually relying on The Green River Intra-county Transit System (GRITS) and she knows the time she needs to be ready for her pick up.

“She loves to take care of things,” said Cecil. “She likes to get out. My sister and I take her to shop because she loves to shop.”

And this year, Hall’s family and friends finally convinced Hall to attend Tim Tebow’s Night to Shine, hosted by Life Community Church at the Owensboro Convention Center. Hall got her hair styled especially for the event (though she does go every Thursday), and put on her new dress, which Cecil said may be worn again at Easter, according to Hall.

Hall, along with her buddy walked the red carpet “a couple of times,” and danced.

“It was packed,” Hall said.

Hall is known to be a planner, especially of parties, and enjoys a good celebration. For her birthday, the family all went to Cheddar’s restaurant to celebrate Hall.

“It was my birthday,” Hall said. “I had soup.”

March 4, 2019 | 3:12 am

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