SECOND STREET — There are reminders every day that Maggie Hall will soon close out a 35-year career with Emeritus College, from the potted white orchid sitting on the conference table, to the bag of freshly-baked cookies on the desk, a gift from a student.
Then there’s the giant poster hanging in the elevator, showing a smiling Hall, below it an invitation to an upcoming send-off.
Her eyes well up with tears and voice wavers as she speaks of the support received from students over the past six months, hearing stories of how the college changed their lives, and in some cases, saved it.
It was a reaction that Hall was not expecting.
“You can’t put that much energy into something and not feel it made a difference,” she said. “The reaction of the students has been overwhelming.”
The 62-year-old will retire at the end of this month, finishing a chapter of her life that started with Emeritus College’s founding as a secretary, working her way up the ladder to the associate dean.
Born and raised in the Sunshine State, Hall, who always had dreams of being an educator, taught art at Pompano Beach High School in Florida for three years before relocating to California in 1971, working as a training assistant for Dean Witter for another three years.
Hoping to reenter education, Hall came to Santa Monica College where she was assigned to be a secretary for a new advisory group that would lay the groundwork for Emeritus College, a school that would be dedicated to the senior community. Emeritus means “retired with honor.”
The school opened its doors with about 20 instructors who taught roughly 10 classes for 75 people. Today the program has about 116 class offerings and an enrollment of about 3,100 students.
Many courses are unique to older citizens, such as a business class on estate planning.
About a year after joining SMC, Hall was promoted to adult education instructor, moving up to assistant dean in adult education for Emeritus after another year. She was named associate dean of the college 10 years later.
Her responsibilities involve overseeing student services, building operations and maintenance, doing everything from hiring faculty to helping develop programs.
A major role in her position as associate dean involves fundraising to keep the college running. Those donations also helped fund the development of Emeritus College’s current campus five years ago.
The college was previously operated out of 13 different locations throughout the city, most recently at the SMPD substation just a few blocks from the current campus.
Coupled with donations and money from a voter-approved bond, the college was able to purchase the property where the campus sits today for about $8 million. Tenant improvements for the building came out to about $2.5 million, Hall said.
“It was exhausting, trying and difficult but a fun thing to do,” she said.
Hall has also taught a few courses.
She remembers one day teaching a class on art appreciation, analyzing a piece that hangs in the Prado in Spain.
“I’m explaining it and one of my students begins explaining something he liked about the picture,” she said. “ I asked have you seen it and he said yes I’ve been to the Prado.”
Hall then turned to the rest of the students and asked how many have been to the Prado. More than a dozen hands shot up.
“Then you get to tell me your reaction to the painting and how you liked it,” Hall told the class.
She called the moment an eye opener as a younger person who didn’t have anything on the students in terms of life experience.
“They had been there and seen it and their goal was to analyze and think about the creative process,” she said. “I was stuck still looking at a book because at that time we didn’t have Internet and travel was not an option.”
Hall has since been to the museum and seen the painting in person.
“It’s gorgeous,” she said.
Retirement plans have yet to be determined for Hall, who will take about six months to a year off before deciding where to donate her time, perhaps to a nonprofit.
After she announced her retirement, Hall began hearing stories from students about how the college changed their lives, some establishing good friendships, others finding love.
If it’s one thing she learned while at Emeritus College, it’s that senior citizens are a very strong group of people.
“They’re very experienced and very successful individuals and they’re curious about modern society,” she said. “They are a tremendous resource in the community and I will miss them.”