The next time Paul Wharton receives a bill in the mail for the $1,800 in student-loan debt his wife, Ethel Hale, accrued four decades ago while attending the University of Utah, he plans to respond by sending Hale's death certificate to the bankers.
Odds are good that this method would have been approved by Hale, who for the better part of a century, protested, spoke up, argued, insisted, educated and simply refused to back down from any cause that caught her fancy. In between, she was a cabbie, bus driver and forklift operator. And in between these professions, she raised a son.
"She still owes all of her student loans," says Wharton, who explains that Hale's frustration with the lenders came shortly after their marriage in 1968, when a loan officer asked Hale for a revised application that included her husband's information.
Hale's refusal to pay earned her $3,000 in fines, penalties and interest—a paltry sum for a woman who reveled in making a point. By not paying for the past 48 years, Wharton says Hale's message was "to say to hell with you bastards. I'm an independent woman. I ought to be able to get a loan on my own merits. My husband has nothing to do with it."
Ethel Corinne Hale, 94, died April 3, 2016. The death certificate did not specify a cause, though Hale had been in declining health since suffering a stroke in 2011. At her death, Wharton says Hale was mostly blind and largely deaf, though he still read to her aloud when his voice would hold up.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Hale was one of Utah's most outspoken critics of war, racism and the injustices of the day.
Her activities sparked the interest of the FBI, which compiled 700 pages about the single mother with brown eyes, who weighed 135 pounds. At least that's what the FBI thought of Hale, who had blue eyes and, she joked, didn't tip 135 pounds even when she was pregnant.
"She was very resentful that the FBI had so mischaracterized her," Wharton says.
Wharton moved to Salt Lake City in 1964, and met Hale on Thanksgiving of that year. While Wharton says he was opposed to the war in Vietnam, he was reluctant to protest publicly. Hale, he says, changed that.
"She somehow encouraged me to go to my first anti-war demonstration, and I never missed one after that," Wharton says. "She gave me the courage to get out there and do what needed to be done."
Over the next few years, Wharton and Hale hit it off. And they also grew frustrated with how those opposed to the Vietnam War were, or, rather, weren't, being portrayed in the media. This frustration led to a lawsuit, Ethel C. Hale and W. Paul Wharton v. Federal Communications Commission and KSL Channel 5.
The complaint alleged that KSL had violated the FCC's "fairness doctrine" by failing to provide a variety of points of view in its news coverage. Hale and Wharton also raised concerns with the FCC over the ownership of KSL by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which, in addition to owning KSL's radio and television broadcasting stations, owns the Deseret News. This concentration of ownership by a single entity, they argued, constituted a monopoly of the media market in Salt Lake City.
While the FCC ruled against Hale and Wharton, and renewed KSL's broadcasting license, and a panel of judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld the FCC's ruling, District Court Judge Edward A. Tamm spelled out in his ruling the need for officials to take seriously the complaints waged by regular citizens against powerful media conglomerates.
Tamm also apparently caught wind of just who he was dealing with in the case, noting that while the appellants "were private citizens of modest financial means," they also exhibited "formidable zeal for advancing their concept of the public interest. ..."
In the late 1960s, around the time Hale and Wharton took on KSL, the seemingly bottomless ambitions of the local civil-rights activist Stephen Holbrook, who was also frustrated by the lack of media attention on diverse points of view, spawned the idea that would become KRCL 90.9 FM, Utah's independent public-radio station.
What Holbrook needed to solidify KRCL was a top-end Washington, D.C., law firm to navigate the suffocating legalese required to obtain a public-broadcasting license. What he got was Hale and Wharton, who tapped out the founding legal documents for what became KRCL.
"They did it basically as regular people who were smart and figured out what you needed to put on paper for the FCC," Holbrook says.
Holbrook's relationship with Hale dated back to 1963, when he was summoned to Hale's kitchen for an after-party of sorts following a meeting of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
"She always held court in her kitchen," Holbrook recalls. "She had a tremendous library of articles and documents and so forth. She definitely was a leftist progressive, I would say."
It was Hale who first told Holbrook the story of Joe Hill, the songwriter and martyr for the Industrial Workers of the World Union who was convicted of murder and executed by firing squad in Utah. Hale's kitchen is also where Holbrook met Ammon Hennacy, a member of the Catholic Worker Movement who established the Joe Hill House of Hospitality, a homeless shelter that once operated in Salt Lake City.
It was this meeting with Hennacy, Holbrook speculates, that prompted Holbrook to help raise money and establish what became The Road Home homeless shelter.
Around Hale's kitchen table, sitting in the uncomfortable chairs that are still there, Holbrook says he met the labor organizer, folk singer and activist Bruce "Utah" Phillips and local activist Robert "Archie" Archuleta.
Holbrook hasn't bothered obtaining his FBI file, but it's likely that his name and those of many others appear in Hale's file. Wharton says good portions of Hale's FBI file focus on a single topic: "Evaluation of discussion group at the residence of Ethel Hale."
"It talks about meetings held at her house and who was there, but it never talks about what was discussed," Wharton says.
Hale's son, Steve Bogden, remembers his mother as more of a friend than a matriarch. When Bogden's father returned home from World War II, he was not the same man, and he and Hale divorced. As Hale struggled to make the rent, Bogden says he lived with his grandparents, until junior high, when he returned to live with Hale.
"It was a very exciting time because, the McCarthy era, if you even looked wrong at anybody at any time, the FBI is going to be on you," Bogden says. "They were always watching our house and trying to intimidate her. You might as well try to intimidate the Rock of Gibraltar."
Local activist Archuleta says Hale was Utah's and Salt Lake City's "conscience" whenever and wherever injustice sprouted.
"She supported peace so powerfully that, in a way, she was seen as a person who was all of the time fighting for peace and justice all the way around," Archuleta says. "She made a difference. Like the union song says, 'She always stood her ground.'"
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to the Industrial Workers of the World Union as the International Workers of the World Union.