The Keeper of Memories
When Sandpoint resident Hazel Hall died in August of 2009, friends and family mourned the woman who gave so much to the community she called home from 1932 until her death at the age of 96. In fact, on Hazel’s 95th birthday, the mayor of Sandpoint declared it “Hazel Hall Day” in recognition of all she had done to benefit Sandpoint over the years.
During her final days, Hazel’s friend Susie Bowman spent countless hours with her, holding her hand and comforting her. And when Hazel passed away, Susie felt a huge void in her life.
“Every Sunday we would go to church. But it was never the same church; we would church hop,” said Susie of their weekly ritual. “Then we would go to breakfast and out for a drive.”
Susie shared that Hazel’s death was a loss to not only her but to so many in this tight-knit community. “Everywhere we went we had to go in slow motion because everyone knew Hazel and would want to stop and visit with her.”
After Hazel’s passing, her family invited Susie to go through some of Hazel’s belongings and take things that she or some of Hazel’s other close friends may want. Susie did so and then gave away some of Hazel’s belongings to those who she knew would want a remembrance of their dear friend. But that was not the end of the gift giving.
As Susie continued to sort through Hazel’s belongings, she kept hearing bells. “I thought, ‘a lot of angels are getting their wings,’” recalled Susie of the strange experience. She then was emptying out a paper bag of Hazel’s, and as she tipped it over, a Christmas gift tag fell out. “And then the number 12 kept popping into my mind, like the 12 days of Christmas,” said Susie. After so many signs, Susie knew what she had to do.
She assembled what she refers to as her “angel team” and began the process of choosing and sending gifts of some of Hazel’s keepsakes to her friends. But Susie wanted it to be anonymous.
The team of angels included Susie, Janelle Shields, Bobbie Huguenin, Suzanne (Huguenin) Haynes and Elizabeth Omeara. The group went through Hazel’s phone list and chose the recipients—30 in all—based on who was listed.
To maintain anonymity, they opened up a P.O. Box in Dover. They wrapped the specially chosen gifts for Hazel’s friends in brown paper and attached a bell to each gift. Bobbie said a blessing over the gifts prior to taking them to the post office to mail. The name on the return address was simply, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
A day or two after the gifts were mailed, the phones began to ring. Susie’s sister, Marsha Ogilvie, called Bobbie to see if she knew who was behind the gifts. Bobbie did not return Marsha’s call because she knew Marsha would be able to get the truth out of her.
“I was at a gathering of friends shortly after the gifts were mailed and the topic of the anonymous gifts came up among the beneficiaries,” recalled Bobbie, who played along and said that she too received a gift. “I had the hardest time keeping a straight face!”
Bobbie shared that Hazel had been close friends with her parents and had been a part of her life from the day she was born. “Hazel maintained cheerfulness,” said Bobbie, a trait she admired in her dear friend. “She had a beautiful, open welcome smile with a lilting melodious voice.”
When Susie asked Bobbie to participate in her “angel team,” Bobbie was touched. “I was pleased and honored to be entrusted with this special secret project translating Hazel’s love for many of her friends,” said Bobbie.
She shared that she believes Hazel knew about Susie’s idea and was involved all along. “Hazel had her mischievous side, and the angel project was great fun,” said Bobbie. “Susie had the privilege of being the conduit for Hazel’s gifts for family and friends, and her intuitions were surprisingly on target in that her selections for each person were something they either had given to Hazel or that the person wanted or felt was a fit. Susie was still seriously grieving but was determined to accomplish her vision. She totally poured her heart into this very special sharing.”
Barb Perusse was one of the recipients of the gifts, a gesture that touched her deeply. “Hazel died is August, and so when we received the gift, it was pretty sweet. A gift from Heaven,” said Barb, who received a green wreath pin that her friend Hazel wore quite often.
Two people, Verna Mae Davis and Pamela Bird, even sent thank-you notes back to the P.O. box. Pamela’s read, “Thank you whoever you are … an angel.” The gifts of Christmas ornaments, candles and more were truly an unexpected reminder of their friend Hazel.
Initially some of the recipients of the gifts believed that it was Hazel who planned this prior to her death. But over time people began to figure out the mystery and were grateful to the team of angels for their thoughtfulness and the opportunity to have another keepsake by which they could remember their dear friend.
It was a generous act about which Susie remains humble today. She recalls her friend Hazel with a smile as tears fill her eyes. “We had so much fun together,” said Susie. “To make Hazel laugh was so fulfilling.”
As far as the angel gifts are concerned, Susie believes she was led by Hazel to carry out a final gift to her friends. “Everybody thoroughly enjoyed their gifts,” said Susie. “I accomplished my mission.”
How can you be someone’s Christmas angel? The possibilities are endless.