VERNON - If you’re from Vernon, there’s a good chance Brenda Hala took your picture at one time or another.
The longtime Vernon resident and professional photographer captured special moments for many different people over the years, a legacy that will live on despite her passing Monday, Aug. 10, after a battle with ovarian cancer. She was 55.
From weddings, to family portraits to photos with Vernon’s mall Santa, Hala was always the upbeat jokester behind the camera. Her go-to line for making kids burst into smiles — ‘grandma has stinky socks’ — usually got the whole family laughing.
For David Robertson, who has been a mall Santa in Vernon for the past 17 years, working with Hala while she took photos was something he looked forward to every year.
“You could count on having really good belly laughs many times over during the shift,” Robertson says. “To me, she was the epitome of what a joyous person is.”
She stopped at nothing to get a real and genuine smile out of every child who sat on Santa’s lap, and Robertson recalls numerous occasions that had him laughing to the point of tears.
“She had an ability to catch the real person,” Robertson says. “That’s something that really struck me about her. She got people to ease up, relax and enjoy, thereby showing something of themselves. It wasn’t ever just a pic or a shot or a snap.”
Longtime friend Carole Fawcett remembers laughing so hard during photo shoots that staff at Hala’s downtown Vernon photography and framing shop would holler back and ask what they were doing.
“I think it was like that with everybody. The whole time was spent laughing; she got the best shots that way,” Fawcett says. “She took her job seriously, but her life very lightly.”
Hala picked up photography at a young age and after graduation worked at a studio in Regina. By 1987, she became a regional supervisor looking after 43 studios across B.C. She moved to Vernon in 1989, and opened Brenda Hala's Photography and Framing in 1991. Over the years, her work has been celebrated with numerous photography awards.
She took her camera pretty much everywhere, including worldly travels with her sister, Debby Mosby.
“She’d lie on the ground or hang off a bridge for the shot,” Mosby says. “Many times I’d say, you’ll have a white mark around your face because your camera hasn’t been put down.”
Unmarried and with no children of her own, Hala gave a lot of herself to the community. She generously offered her time and expertise with a number of a local programs and fundraisers, including Santa’s Anonymous Toy Run, Kiwanis Father-Daughter Ball, Queen Silver Star Excellence Program, and the Wine Women & Woods Tee Off for the Breast Cancer Golf Tournament, among others.
Even during her stay at the Vernon cancer clinic, Hala had a way of selflessly bringing joy to others.
“Everyone has said how courageous and positive she was,” Mosby says. “You would go and visit her and she would make you feel good.”
For Mosby, an Abraham Lincoln quote displayed in Hala’s studio comes to mind when reflecting on her sister’s life: ‘In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.’
"That's how she lived," Mosby says. "She had a wonderful life."
Hala’s studio will remain open with her assistant, Rhonda Becker, continuing her legacy of creating lasting memories for people.
“Rhonda Becker has been assisting Brenda during her illness and will continue to run the business with the utmost care as Brenda would have wanted and worked so hard to build,” Mosby says.
A celebration of life will be held for Hala on Saturday, Aug. 15 at the Schubert Centre at 3 p.m.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email email@example.com or call 250-718-2724.