When she was recently named Wal-Mart Teacher of the Year for the Rim country, Lani Hall was carrying on a proud family tradition.
Her mother and inspiration is Nancy Parker who taught first grade at Julia Randall Elementary School for more than 30 years. Hall, who has been teaching first grade at Frontier Elementary School for two years, was pleasantly surprised by the Wal-Mart honor.
"It was really neat because I didn't apply for it," she said. "The students nominated me, so it was a total shock."
The honor came complete with a certificate, her very own Wal-Mart vest, and, best of all, $1,000 for FES.
"The kids are like, ‘Are you going to work there,'" Hall said, referring to the vest.
The money will be used for classroom supplies and "whatever else the school needs."
Hall believes that part of her success as a teacher is due to her versatility and flexibility.
"I like the quote, ‘Every child is gifted. They're just wrapped a little differently,'" she said. "I really do what I can to make sure each child learns, even if it takes a little extra teaching and some changes on my part."
In fact, Hall sees each and every student as a gift to her.
"The nine short months I have them is a valuable time, because I'm spending as much or more time with them as their parents who are entrusting them to me."
Hall's family, the Parkers, go way back in the Rim country. Her great aunt is writer Marguerite Noble, and her great grandmother is Mindy Parker, Noble's mother and the main character in her novel, "Filaree."
"For our family it was neat that she wrote that book," Hall said. "Even though it's a novel, it has a lot of history in it."
Hall never met Mindy Parker, but heard a lot about her.
"My dad spoke very highly of her," she said. "That was his grandmother. Just the fact that she raised seven children in Tonto Basin was a great accomplishment."
Growing up in Payson, Hall participated in rodeo, competing in barrel racing and goat tying. Eventually she won several rodeo queen titles.
She was named Payson Rodeo Queen and Turquoise Circuit Queen in 1991. Then in 1993, in her first year of teaching, she was named Miss Rodeo Arizona.
"That first year I was teaching and traveling and teaching and traveling," she said.
That first teaching job was in Palo Verde, and Hall also taught in Gilbert. But after teaching eight years in and around the Valley, she knew Payson was where she wanted to raise her family.
"I had a neat childhood," she said. "I think a lot of it was because I had such a neat family. I was involved in 4-H, which was a top priority at our house.
"My husband is from Snowflake, so we were both raised in smaller communities. Payson is a neat place for kids, so that's why we brought our girls back. We just decided once we had kids that we needed to be back here."
Hall was one of the teachers whose contract would not have been renewed had the recent budget override failed.
"Of course, it was a stressful thing, not only as a teacher, but as a parent, because the education I thought (my children) were going to get in Payson might not be," she said. "But I had faith."
Of course, Payson has undergone a lot of changes since Hall graduated from PHS in 1988.
"We used to ride our horses where the old Wal-Mart is," she said.
But her daughters Brylee (6) and Bryndee (4) are already accomplished riders, and Hall can see herself becoming a rodeo mom one day soon. And as much as the area has grown, Hall believes the town's fundamental small-town character remains intact.
"The staff at FES is a good example," she said. "We are truly a family; there's truly a community feeling."
And she sees another important difference between Payson and the other places she's taught. "For the most part parents are great here compared to the other two districts where I taught," she said. "They're very supportive."
Name: Lani Hall
Occupation: First grade teacher
Employer: Frontier Elementary School
Family: Husband Brian, daughters Brylee (6) and Bryndee (4)
Personal motto: Reach for the moon and you'll be a star.
Inspiration: My mother, who inspired so many children during her 30-plus years of teaching.
Greatest feat: Winning Miss Rodeo Arizona in 1993 during my first year of teaching.
Favorite hobby or leisure activity: Shopping, camping, quilting.
Three words that describe me best: Determined, caring, trustworthy.
I don't want to brag but: I've achieved most of the goals I've set for myself.
Person in history I'd most like to meet: My great-grandmother, Mindy Parker.
Luxury defined: Reading in the sun with a diet soda.
Dream vacation spot: Any beach or vacation with my family.
Why Payson? I'm a native of Payson. I had a great upbringing here and I wanted my family to have the same.