Margaret Hull (September 13, 1950-May 16, 2022)

With broken hearts, we regret to inform our community of the passing of our beloved Margaret. The world was never the same when you arrived and will never recover from your leaving. We will strive every day to walk your path and continue your vision for a better earth filled with peace and love ….

Margaret Hull – farmer, sculptress, shepherd, and environmental activist – was born September 13, 1950, three minutes after her identical twin sister Lucy. She was the youngest of the four daughters of Robert and Louise Hull (nee Shepard). She was born and raised in the Spring House of Spring Hills Farm in Lackawanna County, the same house where she passed away on May 16, 2022.

Margaret studied at Keystone College for two years and then transferred to Hamilton College where she studied the history of physics from 1970 to 1973. While writing her thesis, she realized that she preferred trees to theses. Margaret eventually returned to her family’s Christmas tree farm and was responsible for making the farm fully organic in 1985, over the objections of all who told her that organic and sustainable tree farming was impossible. She presided over the expansion of the farm into Jacob Sheep wool, blueberries, and maple syrup, all produced with an eye to the sustainable protection of the land. She altered the haying schedule in order to accommodate the nesting needs of threatened birds, and in general, acted to increase the biodiversity of the land. She loved little more than moving around the farm, checking on the progress of beaver dams, the growth of the trees, and the ever-changing tapestry of the land. In the spring she could be found tapping maple trees and boiling the syrup, or in the sheep, pasture caring for each ewe who went into labor; in the summer she could be found in the fields shearing trees; after Christmas tree season was over she could take some time between caring for the animals to sit with her friends and work on her sculpture. Whenever possible, Margaret could be found caring for, driving, and riding her beloved team of horses.

Margaret began working with metal when she was 16 years old and developed her art over the decades. She started out making jewelry and later began to use welding techniques to create larger pieces that reflected the perception of negative space as well as the flow of air, water, and human bodies in the natural world. Her artwork can be found on Spring Hills Farm where it inspires artists attending workshops, as well as in the private collections of her family and friends across North America.

Margaret was that rare person who was comfortable in silence – silence, she knew, was the condition for truly listening to others. Margaret’s capacity for hearing others was unparalleled, and those she spoke with always came away knowing that they had been heard and included. As a result, Margaret was able to help form consensus’ between very different groups of people during her work for the Township and in the agricultural community.

In the 1980s and 90s, Margaret witnessed the increasing loss of agricultural and open land in Lackawanna County and in Pennsylvania – in 1998 she became aware of the Countryside Conservancy, a trust made up of area residents that buy the development rights to wild and farmlands in order to preserve them from future development. Margaret and her sisters donated and sold the development rights to a combined 237 acres to the Countryside Conservancy and Lackawanna Country Land Preservation Board – it was the very first conservation easement held by the Conservancy. Margaret chaired the Conservancy’s Land and Water Protection committee from 2003 to 2005, and as Board President from 2005 to 2008, she oversaw significant growth in the Conservancy’s public profile, conserved acreage, and financial resources. Most recently she chaired the Conservancy’s Stewardship Committee, and her practical personality and vision for the future were key to the permanent protection of nearly 600 acres buffering Lackawanna State Park.

Margaret believed deeply in taking responsibility for the land, and in the healing power of time spent on the land, and she wanted as many people as possible to have access to nature.

Margaret was motivated by a deep love of the Pennsylvania countryside – both the land and the people. That love was expressed in both her environmental activism and her commitment to civic service. Margaret joined the North Abington Township Planning Commission as Chair in 2012 and was invested in ensuring the orderly and reasonable development of the area. She is remembered by her colleagues for her humor, her incisive (if rare) commentary, and her commitment. When Margaret’s eyesight began to fail, she offered to resign as Chair, but her colleagues stepped up to help her review planning documents prior to meetings. They remember that when they met in recent years it was impossible to tell that she was functionally blind – she arrived at meetings having fully memorized all the planning documents.

Margaret demonstrated her sense of civic responsibility by volunteering for years as an election judge. She believed that even in the most contentious of political environments it was the right of every citizen to vote in an environment that made them comfortable. She sat as a judge twice a year in a voting hall without restrooms, running water, or windows that could be opened, in the name of ensuring that township residents would have a place to express their political choices.

Some 20 years ago, when the Township became concerned with land uses that were destructive to the natural environment, the township formed an Agricultural Security Committee to investigate how to preserve the rural character of the area. Margaret took an active role in establishing the program, which has now expanded to protect over 800 acres.

Margaret was married to Kurt Stoeckel and though they eventually divorced, they remained lifelong friends. She is survived by her twin sister Lucy Hull, her elder sisters Susan Constantine and Elizabeth Zeitlyn, 8 nieces and nephews, and 14 grandnephews and nieces. Beyond the family that holds her dear, she will be missed by the Girl Scout groups and school groups that she taught about sheep husbandry and maple sugaring, her Conservancy and Township colleagues, her friends and students, and the customers and neighbours that she took for long hayrides with her team of horses during tree season. Even as she is sorely missed, she will be seen in every hawk that soars and flower that blooms on the land that she tended so lovingly.

Donations in Margaret’s name can be made to the Spring Hills Foundation and Countryside Conservancy. A public memorial will be held at a future date – please contact springhillsfarm@live.org for further information.