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Landon's final bow

Theater community remembers its ‘bright star’

A crowd of several hundred people — many of them teenagers and young adults — gathered in the Cloquet High School auditorium Friday afternoon to pay tribute to Landon Hall, a 23-year-old CHS alumnus who died unexpectedly while gardening at his home on June 8.

The cause of death is still unknown. The initial autopsy came back with negative results, so Hall’s loved ones are awaiting further details, which will take another 6 weeks to 8 weeks, Hall’s close friend, mentor and father figure Kevin Hamre said.

Mourners — who laughed and cried — included Hall’s family (biological and theatrical), CHS classmates, co-workers and classmates from the College of St. Scholastica, and the many students he directed over the past several years, first as assistant director under Hamre and then as director in his own right: first for “Legally Blonde” in 2017 and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” in the fall of 2018.

It was not a terribly solemn affair, but rather a tribute to Hall, a fitting celebration of his life that reflected his love of theater. The two massive bells from “Hunchback” framed a portrait of Hall on one side of the stage. Instead of a traditional funeral program, guests received a showbill, with the order of the service inside written out in Acts and Scenes.

Front and center onstage, surrounded by flowers and a heart with a watch painted on it, were Hall’s ashes, encased in a large silver boot he wore as part of his Tin Man costume his senior year. The display was capped by the silver oil funnel hat from that costume.

“His mother wanted something unique from the theater department to make it more personal and reflective for Landon, and I looked and looked and I suddenly came upon his silver boots from ‘Dorothy in Wonderland’ that were in the males’ costume shop,” Hamre told the Pine Knot, adding that he instantly knew that would be the urn.

After Pastor Dennis Morreim opened the service with a prayer, asking God to bring comfort into broken hearts, Hamre addressed the crowd of nearly 400 people in the auditorium.

He talked about how Hall loved to help people, whether it was in the theater, or at the Plant Place where he worked in the summer, or helping a friend (Hamre) figure out his iPhone or what television to buy (an Apple, the most expensive one, he said with a chuckle, recalling Hall’s love of technology and all things Apple).

Hamre asked the audience members to raise their hands if they’d ever gotten help from Landon. Several hundred hands went up.

“That was Landon,” said the heartbroken Hamre, who explained the two of them had unofficially adopted each other as father and son, with Hall acting and being student director under Hamre.

“We had six years of that. It was wonderful, so this is for you, Landon,” he said, and called the 60-plus students up to the stage to sing the chorus to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” while his wife, Gail, sang the verse.

It was one of Hall’s favorite songs, and “Dorothy in Wonderland” was his favorite show during high school. The two female leads from that play, Clair Palmquist (Dorothy) and Hailey Ulvi (Alice) were among the chorus Friday.

The tributes came next.

Hall’s assistant director for “Hunchback,” Darrell Davey, spoke about how he met Hall only a year ago, yet how well they got to know each other in that time. He said Hall led by example, and made the impossible happen by encouraging people and making them believe, with him, that they could do whatever it was they envisioned.

“He was able to bring that out in all of us, he was able to build this community. You can see here how many lives he has touched,” Davey said.

Stephanie Sklors, who was Hall’s Upward Bound counselor at CSS, told the story of the first time she saw Hall. She was coaching his big sister in basketball, and the fourth-grade Landon was cheering the team on, waving pom poms in perhaps the most coordinated performance there.

Years later she met him again, when he came to the Upward Bound program as a high school freshman. Then she got to be his cheerleader for a while, she said.

“He had a lot of hopes and dreams — he had a life plan,” she said. “And he didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”

Of course, he wasn’t perfect, she admitted. His grades weren’t great in high school, and he had to work on his time management with his involvement in so many activities.

Sklors said Hall is already missed at CSS, where he worked full-time as a web designer and was still going to classes, working toward a double major in theater and computer science, with a minor in photography.

Ben Adams, chief information officer at CSS, shared several stories of ways Hall went beyond the call of duty to get something fixed or figured out.

Adams also said Hall personified the five Benedictine values so important to the college, including love of learning and community. He said the college is going to establish a Landon-James Hall Memorial Award that will be awarded to the most outstanding student employee in the Informational Technology department who lives the five Benedictine values and who has “enhanced the world through other means like arts or horticulture or community service,” Adams said.

Set designer Iris Keller, who prefers to work backstage, spoke eloquently of Hall.

“Once upon a time there was this scrawny, gawky kid with a mouth full of braces who showed up backstage,” she said. “He was like a gnat, always buzzing around. I was thinking, this kid is such a pain. But Landon being Landon, with his quirkiness and his infectious laugh, he grew on you.”

Their relationship grew too, although it was always loud, Keller said, explaining that it was much easier to holler for Hall from backstage than to try finding him because he was everywhere.

“He was taking care of sound and lights, and wigs, and costumes and the music and dancing and construction, and finding the perfect shade of pink. And he had his finger on the pulse of everything.”

She told how Hall told her his senior year that Dorothy needed “to go up in the tornado, and the hot air balloon needs to go up and the witch needs to fly and Glinda’s bubble needs to come down.”

“I thought my head was going to explode,” she said, before telling how Hall made all those things happen.

“That was when I learned to trust his instinct,” she said. “And I knew he had the vision. So when he came to me and asked what I thought about him taking over for Kevin directing the fall play, I didn’t hesitate. He knew more about theater than anyone I knew. He lived and breathed it … So this kid, this 21-year-old kid, pulled off this huge, complex and successful production of ‘Legally Blonde.’ And then the next year he did it again with ‘Hunchback,’ bigger and better.”

Keller was excited to see what kind of magic Hall would make with “The Little Mermaid” in the fall, especially since the theater has been renovated and the lights and sound and stage equipment now state-of-the-art.

“When I heard about him passing, like all of you I was shocked and so sad,” she said. “But I’m also angry, because it’s so unfair. He was just coming into his own, just hitting his stride and his future looked so bright, with so many possibilities. He talked about going to Broadway, and I thought ‘yes.’ I couldn’t wait for him to go out to New York and just tear it up. They wouldn’t have known what hit them.”

She continued.

“He was an extraordinary boy and on June 9, 2019, Broadway, and the rest of us, lost a very bright star,” she said, her voice choked with emotion.

After Keller spoke, she played a video that combined still photos, starting with Landon as a boy, with video clips from years of play practices. It ended with his distinctive laugh spilling out into the silent auditorium.

Pastor Morreim didn’t try to make sense of Hall’s death.

“We all have a limited time to make an impact, an impression, a difference,” Morriem said. “He used that time to its fullest.”

Morreim shared scripture and prayer, and Cloquet’s Tom Cawcutt sang The Lord’s Prayer.

Morriem invited the audience of several hundred people in the auditorium to think about what Hall had taught them.

For Morriem, three lessons stood out: love, to follow your passions, and “to see beyond what is, to that which can be.“

“Friendships, relationships are the greatest treasure we possess,” Morriem said. “Landon loved his friends, his partner Kevin, his family, his mother, grandparents, his sister, her dad and many more people. And we loved Landon. And God loved Landon, unconditionally, and he knew that.”

The service ended with a video of Hall singing “Caro Mio Ben” (“Thou All My Bliss”) at the Hamre School of Voice recital a month ago, on May 23.

“Landon was bound and determined to sing, and over the course of a few months of teaching, Landon accomplished his dream to sing,” Kevin Hamre told the Pine Knot.

When the video finished, Hall got one final standing ovation.

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