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Wendy Hall remembered as ‘special person,’ dedicated wildlife rehabilitator

Wendy Hall of the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge lets Jonas, a red-tailed hawk, perch on her arm in May 2018 at the Big Green Shin-Dig event in front of Lake Placid High School. (Enterprise photo — Griffin Kelly)

Wendy Hall, a co-founder of the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge who spent around two decades rehabilitating wild animals, died on Sunday after battling terminal cancer.

Wendy, 70, was a “beautiful girl” who was “so talented in so many ways,” her husband, Steve Hall, said Wednesday. She was a nurse, a volunteer, a brilliant mind, an expert at Scrabble despite her lack of a traditional high school diploma and an artist.

“People look at her pastels, at first they think it’s a photograph, and then they get up close and say, ‘Oh my god, it’s a work of art,'” he said.

But most of all, Steve said Wendy was the best wildlife rehabilitator he ever knew.

“It’s a special tragedy because of what a special person Wendy was,” Steve said.

Wendy and Steve co-founded the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge in Wilmington around 20 years ago, after Wendy retired from her work as a nurse downstate, where she led an ambulance crew. The couple shared a passion for animals, and Steve said Wendy naturally fell into rehab work after retirement. She was also a member of North Country Wild Care. Wendy shared her love of animals with the entire region, bringing animals to schools around the Tri-Lakes and educating kids about them.

Steve said he met Wendy at a party at his parents’ house several years after he returned from his time with the Marine Corps in Vietnam. A friend of his from high school brought Wendy to the party, and, after meeting her, Steve said he promptly told his friend he should marry her right away. Later, Steve said Wendy yelled at him for the interaction, saying, “Thanks, Steve, he proceeded to come onto me.”

After that, Steve said, “one thing led to another” and they ended up getting married in 1976 and moving to Kent Lakes, where they stayed for more than 20 years before settling down on a 50-acre spread of land on the Ausable River that would become the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge.

“Moving to the Adirondacks was the best move we ever made,” he said.

Wendy is survived by the couple’s four children, Dan, Emily, Jessica and Alex.

Steve said he and Wendy learned she was terminally ill last August. She’d been complaining of pain, he said, but she was hesitant to seek medical attention. But after Wendy developed a rash, the couple saw a doctor in Wilmington who ordered them to get tests run at Fletcher Allen Hospital in Vermont. When doctors told her to “start making life decisions,” Steve said he and Wendy were stunned.

Wendy went through one round of chemotherapy and said “never, never again,” according to Steve. They opted for home hospice, where Wendy could be with the people she loved and take medication to lessen her pain. Friends Diane Buckley and Sytske Martin helped Steve care for Wendy through the fall and winter.

Steve said he plans to pass on the refuge’s 50 acres to the four kids he and Wendy had together. He said he hopes there could be a future for wildlife rehabilitation at the refuge again. But for now, the refuge is under new management that hopes to usher in a new era of education there.

New horizons

The refuge has made headlines over the last few years as the state Department of Conservation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service raised issues of non-compliance with state and federal regulations, endangering Wendy’s special licenses to keep and rehabilitate various wild animals. Wendy was denied renewal for many of those licenses, and she surrendered the last of her licenses with the DEC last summer, when the refuge closed to the public.

Steve has said in the past that Wendy surrendered her licenses with the understanding that she could make an appeal.

The Halls were cited for various violations by the DEC, including the two-time escape of black bears from enclosures at the refuge. The DEC ordered the Halls to rehome the last of all their DEC-regulated animals last fall.

Steve said he sees himself and Wendy as victims of a bureaucratic process, and contends with several of the DEC’s claims.

“I’m really trying to put this behind me,” Steve said of his and Wendy’s issues with the DEC. He said he told his kids the refuge should broaden its horizons.

While the refuge used to mainly feature predators and birds of prey like bears, wolves and eagles, Steve said there are other important things in nature that the refuge could educate people about. He noted the recent collapse in insect populations and talking to people about how crucial they are to life on Earth, and he’s interested in sharing the history of livestock like cows and chickens.

Steve said the refuge probably won’t see the level of crowds that came in to learn about bears and wolves, but he said there’s a lot to learn about this world. While Steve plans to take a backseat to future educational efforts at the refuge, he said Jackie and Kevin Woodcock of SkyLyfeAdk will take over.

“They’re going to run the show here,” he said.

The Woodcocks met Wendy and Steve more than three years ago as fellow nature educators. The couple advocates for pollinator conservation, and they’ve done programs on bees and butterflies at the refuge in the past. Kevin said they also helped Wendy and Steve reconstruct around 90% of the refuge’s animal enclosures to try bringing them into compliance with various DEC, Zoological Association of American and USFW standards before the DEC asked Wendy to revoke her licenses.

The couple tried applying for a collect and possess license with the DEC so they could revive the refuge, but the DEC denied their application.

The Woodcocks were apprentices in wildlife rehabilitation under Wendy’s guidance. They said they met people from all over the world at the refuge who said they came to Wilmington specifically because of Wendy and Steve and their work at the refuge. Kevin said he and Jackie view Wendy and Steve as family.

“Oh, don’t make me cry now,” Kevin said Wednesday when asked about Wendy. “Those are some wonderful, beautiful people with really amazing hearts, and they’re our friends and our family. When peoples’ hearts are moved in the same way, it makes those connections so much easier to have and it is our humbled, humbled honor to be able to carry out any form of their dream and to keep that legacy alive.”

Kevin and Jackie said they have a license to show USDA-licensed exotic and farm animals, and that they’ll open up the refuge this spring with those animals “to teach the public about mankind and nature.”

They have plans to build some new structures at the refuge. They want to build a 50 by 50 foot maze to teach people about the lives of honeybees, and they plan to take down the former bear enclosure and retrofit the deck there to become a native bird watching tower. They said there will also be a butterfly house and an area where people can see insects and reptiles.

The Woodcocks want to teach visitors about a variety of things outside animals, too, like identifying trees, edibles found in nature, survival skills and other nature-based tools.

“That is where we’re going to focus on now until hopefully sometime in the future we’re able to do something with the DEC again, if that is something that we even try to pursue,” Kevin said.

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