By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times
The first thing you notice about Maggie Walsh is her halo of beautiful silver hair, the second is her delightful accent, reminiscent of movies you’ve seen set in Ireland. If you are lucky, the third thing you might notice is her laughter, like silver water tumbling down a mountain stream.
Her father was born in County Sligo, Ireland, and her “mum” in County Roscommon. “If they’d stayed there, they probably never would have met,” says Maggie.
She has heard this story many times from her mother, about how they met in London during the latter part of World War II.
“One Saturday evening in 1946, my 19-year-old mother, Elizabeth, and a friend decided to go to a local dance,” Maggie recalls this story fondly. “It was there my mother first saw my father, but he was with another woman. The following Saturday night, my mother and her friend decided to go to a different dance hall. As was the custom in those times, the men were lined up on the left and women on the right. Standing alone among the men was the handsome man my mother had seen the previous weekend — and this time he was alone. That evening they talked, danced, drank orange juice and arranged to meet the next day.”
“My parents were from large families; dad had seven siblings and mum 12. I have 66 first cousins and made a 2013 resolution to complete my family tree to the second cousin level which at last count was 75 and growing,” said Maggie with a smile.
“When I was 13, my parents took us to Ireland to see my paternal grandparents,” she recalls. “I remember my grandmother, Margaret, who is my namesake, as a woman who always dressed in black and wore her grey hair in a tight bun. She lived in a house with no indoor plumbing, no oven or stovetop and no heat other than what is offered by an open fire. There were plenty of chickens and geese running around outside the house, a horse named Captain, and cows in the field. On my last visit to see my grandmother, she decided she was going to cook a whole chicken for our Sunday dinner. She selected the chicken, wrapped it on her voluminous black skirt, and twisted its neck, again... and again. The chicken wouldn't die so she let it live,” Maggie said.
“Food wasn't plentiful, but almost everything we ate was home grown. I recall manually churning milk to make butter and cheese, which made my shoulders and arms ache for days, helping my uncle dig potatoes, and cutting peat from the bog for the fire.”
Maggie and her three siblings and were raised in North London in the Catholic religion, which included their education from primary school through the convent/parochial high school education. Her first job after leaving high school was as a filing clerk and then photo lithographer with NCR (formerly National Cash Register) located in London close to Baker Street.
In 1971, Maggie followed her heart to Dayton, Ohio — but that didn’t work out. “However, that is where I met my son’s father,” she said. “We decided to start our new life together by moving to Kingsport, Tenn.”
Maggie’s son, Karl Kofield, was born in 1976. During her years in Tennessee, she worked in the real estate business. “Four years later, my husband’s job moved us to Easley, S.C., where I was reunited with NCR, who was in the process of opening a manufacturing facility in Liberty, S.C. My NCR career started in a clerical position and over a period of 26 years matured to managing teams, working on a number of domestic and international marketing projects, defining the challenges involved in global process re-engineering, managing service contracts with a number of large U.S. banks, and overcoming the numerous challenges associated with project managing multiple assignments.”
As part of the global process re-engineering group, Maggie traveled to Bogota, Colombia, and Mexico City. “NCR created a team of 120 employees with representatives from all over the world who were assembled to create a global 'quote to cash' process,” explained Maggie.
In 1984, Maggie went through a divorce that forced her to re-evaluate her life and forge ahead in a new direction. “My focus became my son, advancing my career and pursuing my college degree,” she said, determinedly.
She considers her son to be her greatest achievement. “He is raising a family of three with his beautiful wife, Teresa, who owns a successful staffing agency in North Carolina,” said Maggie with pride.
“Thankfully, NCR continued to advance my career even though I lacked a degree. In 1988, I was promoted and my son and I relocated back to Dayton, Ohio. Eventually, I did earn a degree in management and international marketing,” she said.
After 11 years in Ohio, she began to look for career opportunities that would bring her back to the South. “In 2000, NCR offered me an opportunity to work with a number of local banks in the Birmingham and the Montgomery area. I accepted the position and have lived in Alabama ever since,” she said.
Maggie and her husband, John Teague, became acquainted through NCR friends in Dayton, Ohio, in 1996. They eventually married in 2006, and chose to live on Smith Lake in Cullman County, rather than other Alabama or Georgia lakes because of its rugged looks and beauty. “We now consider Cullman our home, and have seen many positive things happen in the community in the past six years with the interchange at Highways 69 and 222 being one we are happy to see finally happen,” she smiled. “Cullman exudes southern hospitality and friendliness, and I am looking forward to seeing further growth in the next couple of years in areas such as hospitality and retail. I want the traveling public to view Cullman as a welcoming and well-known stopping destination on I-65, rather than just another exit!” she said emphatically.
In 2007, Maggie decided to take the Master Gardener course offered by the Cullman County Office of Alabama Cooperative Extension System. “I enjoyed the experience so much I decided to attain my Master Gardener (MG) certification and join the organization as a volunteer,” she explained. “The MG training and volunteering has helped me to landscape our lake house, including the installation of two homemade rain barrels.”
Maggie pointed out that due to her MG training, she has learned valuable conservation lessons, such as the fact that rain barrels can be a water source year round to not only water plantings in spring, summer and fall but fill humidifiers in winter.
Maggie jumped right into the Cullman community, becoming active in many projects. She credits the Master Gardener Program with inspiring her to become involved in a number of beautification and educational projects, such as fundraising events, the demonstration garden, Bloomin’ Fest, Strawberry Days Festival, County Fair Crop Registration and Junior Master Gardeners.
She also volunteers her time to help at the Agriplex, enjoying most of all, the Farm Kids project.
She is chairperson of the nominating, grant and mentor committees, the co-chair of the Rain Garden Committee, and has held the post of treasurer. She is now in her second term as first vice-president of the Master Gardener’s Association.
She also fills her time with sewing. “I resurrected the seamstress skills that I started when I was 13 years old out of necessity so that I could have my own clothes rather than hand-me-downs,” she explained. “My parents didn’t have the money to buy my siblings and me new clothes back then, but now my sewing time is spent making doll dresses for 11 1/2”, 14” and 18” dolls as well as various homemade toys.”
Maggie also sews ABC blankets, pillows, girls bags, childrens capes and many more delicate and intricate items. She and her husband are continually thinking of unique gifts to make for their grandchildren for their birthdays and Christmas. Her work is immaculately detailed, and crafted with care.
For more information on the Master Gardener Association, visit Facebook: www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Cullman-County-Master-Gardeners/190326854386185?fref=ts; AMGA: http://www.alabamamg.org/; Extension Office 256-737-9386