Like the tiny firecracker, there’s more to Jane Hale than meets the eye. Whether the soft-spoken grandmother of nine is plunging into business or other projects, nothing stays small or quiet for long.
Take Hale’s Fireworks. Forty years ago, it was just one roadside stand outside Buffalo, Mo., (pop. 3,072) where Hale sold sparklers, curling snakes, and cherry bombs for spending money.
“The kids in town called me ‘The Firecracker Lady,’” Hale recalls. “They’d ride their bikes out to the stand, I’d tell them about each item, then they played trucks in the dirt with my boys. As adults, they bring their kids and grandkids to buy.”
As customers increased, Hale opened stands in nearby towns. When her car trunk no longer held the inventory, Hale’s husband, Bob, joined her in the enterprise. They began wholesaling and then added a New Year’s season in three Southern states. They designed family-labeled pyrotechnics, including “Hale’s a Crackin&Mac226;” and “Hale’s Mad Dog.”
Today, with 350 red and yellow tents across Nebraska, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama, and 200 wholesale customers, Hale has the country’s third largest fireworks company. It employs 14 family members and has 240 independent contractors in Dallas County alone.
“We work year-round,” says Hale, who celebrates the Fourth of July by organizing an all-company barbecue/fireworks extravaganza in September.
In her garage-turned-office, the 66-year-old matriarch handles the paperwork, including product price lists, lease agreements, safety ordinances, licenses, permits, and taxes. After business hours, Hale sparks the Dallas County Alumni Association.
“We’re a close-knit community. The school is its melting pot,” says the former Bison cheerleader. “The association is the connecting tie between the school, community, and alumni.”
Since its first meeting three decades ago, the alumni association committee, headed by Hale, has tracked down 10,000 Buffalo High School alumni. Single-class reunions have expanded to all classes ending in the current year’s last digit. Once struggling on dollar dues, the organization now hosts two communitywide fund-raising events—a spring Dallas County Homecoming and a fall carnival.
“It’s like watching one of your children grow up,” says Hale, who also writes The Alumni Grapevine, a quarterly newsletter.
Preparing for the homecoming’s 250 returning alumni involves the student council, scout troops, and church groups. Three Dallas County beauty pageants draw 60 competitors, ranging from toddlers to high school seniors. Hale works behind the scenes, soliciting candidate sponsors, publicity, and judges.
“If Jane thinks there’s a spot you can fill, she’s not afraid of asking you to volunteer,” says Rick Freeman, assistant principal of Buffalo Prairie Middle School. “She’s her own PAC (political action committee).”
The carnival’s booths, cakewalk, and king-queen contests draw 1,000 people into the high school corridors and gymnasium. Alumni proceeds fund five senior scholarships, buy school supplies for disadvantaged children, and replenish art and drama club inventories. They also financed the association’s headquarters, completed last year.
“Jane Hale and Dallas County Alumni Association,” are synonymous, says Jim Hamilton, editor of the Buffalo Reflex. “She’s been the heart of its activities and a prime mover of the building project.”
The alumni building houses school photographs, scrapbooks, plaques, and an 8-foot mural the Class of 1954 painted four decades ago. Open house there kicks off homecoming events.
Patsy Kjar, the association’s vice president, says people in other communities often inquire about how to start an alumni organization. “Jane’s been president since 1971,” she adds. “That’s been key to holding everything together.”
Relaxing for Hale means lighting another fuse on her journalistic interests. She writes for regional magazines and—with help from grandson Nick—she penned a Christmas novel, which then inspired Hale’s three other children’s mysteries. She created a local “Recycle Reading Program,” donating portions of book sales to school libraries for books and software. Her weekly newspaper column, Buffalo As I Remember It, describes the town’s past.
“She’s been a selfless worker for our school and the history of our town,” Freeman says.
This summer, Hale’s Fireworks will debut “The Firecracker Lady,” a 19-shell display that streaks, swirls, and sparkles every direction across the night.
Much like the woman it’s named for.