VINTON–Maude Saunders Hale of Vinton passed away on November 4 at age 97. Bootie Chewning describes Hale as “a legend.”
Born on August 2, 1918, Hale lived most of her life in Vinton, except for a time during World War II when her husband, Howard, worked at the Navy Yards in Portsmouth.
Her father James Edward Saunders came to Vinton in 1891, and served as Vinton’s mayor for a time and also as postmaster. The family had a home in downtown Vinton on Maple Street.
On the occasion of her 96th birthday, Hale reminisced about performing at the dedication ceremony for the high school when she was a child. There was a contest to memorize a poem about the state of Virginia, and Hale was chosen by Roland E. Cook Principal Louella Scott for the program because she did the best recitation. She always loved to perform.
Hale was a member of one of the first bands at William Byrd High School, playing the trombone. Boots Powell was the band director and furnished musical instruments for many of the band students. He had a trombone available at the time, so that’s what she decided to play.
Hale met her husband at William Byrd. They were married two years after graduation and remained married for almost 53 years.
Hale was an integral part of the Vinton community for decades, helping people to commemorate both the happy and the sad times in their lives as she played the piano and organ at churches, weddings, parties, and civic clubs, and for funerals at Lotz Funeral Home.
Hale was the organist for Lotz for over forty years. She sometimes played at the Roanoke branch, also. For most of those years, she worked with Carl Mann who managed the Vinton Lotz.
Mann’s wife, Donie, said that Hale was “one of the most pleasant people you would ever hope to meet. She loved to kid and joke. She liked people. It was always a pleasure when she came in to play the piano or organ for a funeral service.”
Hale had no idea how many weddings and other special events she played for through the years because there were so many. She recalled one wedding when there was some type of snafu and she ended up playing the wedding march over and over and over again, waiting for the bride to appear and proceed down the aisle.
Hale started playing the piano when she was seven years old and was able to “play by ear,” although she did take music lessons. She played for the Sunday School at their church when she and her husband lived in Portsmouth and then learned the organ. Her favorite music was gospel, but she could play most anything in most any key.”
She served as choir director and organist at First Christian Church in Vinton for over 30 years, and played and sang on Hayden Huddleston’s day time show.
For several years Hale worked at what was then Obenchain’s Florist on Lee Avenue in downtown Vinton. She said flowers had always been a big hobby for her.
She is especially remembered in the community for her performances as part of the cast of the Lions Club Minstrel shows of days gone by and for a character she created named “Jenny-Maude,” modeled on country singer Minnie Pearl, complete with price tag dangling from her hat.
Frank Stone, who served as principal of Roland E. Cook, East Vinton and Hardy Road Elementary Schools, remembered fondly the times that they performed together in the annual Lions Club shows, which were a major fundraiser for the club. Both of them served as “end men,” playing off each other’s characters, telling jokes back and forth and with the interlocutor (master of ceremonies).
Stone said Hale was always “such a pleasant person, so talented, and so dedicated.”
“’Jenny Maude’ and I shared the stage many times over the years,” said Chewning. “Perhaps most memorable were the times for the Lion’s Club Minstrel shows. We were the first and only women ever to play endmen in the show. Last year I told Maude we needed to do at least one more show since we have lost so many of our endmen. She said they would have to roll her down the aisle; I said that’s okay as long as I can ride on your lap. She was a true talent and loved Vinton.”
Her best known skit involved the classic, “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight?”
A newspaper article from the 1980’s described Hale as, “a nutty country comedienne and highlight of the town’s annual minstrel show, a star of skits at Lions Club meetings, and entertainment programs at homes for the elderly.”
Hale said that part of the reason she was in demand at various events in her “Jenny-Maude” role was because she connected with audiences by substituting the names of those present in her script.
Hale was a member of Vinton Baptist Church. She said she made her profession of faith there when she was seven years old.
Until the last year of her life when her health deteriorated, Hale was still out and about to events, luncheons, and appointments, and living independently with the assistance of home health caregivers, one of whom described her as “still spunky and spirited, no shrinking violet,” when she was about to turn 96.
Hale and her late husband had two children, Carol Sue Hale Spraker and Eddie Hale, who also predeceased her.