The Azle News: Water Quality Group Honors Azle Resident

Mar 24, 2011

By Bob Buckel

When people take a drink of fresh-tasting, cool, clean water, the name Bill Hall seldom, if ever, pops into their minds.
Perhaps it should.

William E. Hall, Sr., water specialist emeritus with Haltec Services Company, was honored March 9 with the 2011 Water Quality Association Hall of Fame award at the group’s annual convention in San Antonio.

The Hall of Fame is the highest honor WQA bestows. Hall was recognized for his lifetime of dedication and service to the water quality improvement industry and to the association.

A successful executive, industry leader, recipient of two medals for military valor, a dedicated husband and father – who once shot below his age at golf with a 79 – Hall’s life provides enough material for a book.

He was born in Mexico to American parents. He did not come to the U.S. until he was five years old, and when his family crossed
the border, he spoke no English.

“My dad was invited to homestead in Mexico by Porfirio Diaz, south of Piedras Negras, in the state of Coahuila,” he said. “Then the revolution came about the time I was born and we ended up leaving. The government seized all the land and was going to give it to the peasants.

“I don’t think it ever got to them,” he chuckled.

His parents spoke Spanish in the home, and that native-speaker ability has been a huge factor in his life and work.

One of the accomplishments Hall was cited for in his Hall of Fame induction was his translation of several publications into Spanish for the Water Quality Association, including the book Residential Water Treatment and the WQA Glossary of Terms.

“Most of the people in our industry are not graduate chemists, so we translated all the technical terms for them,” he said. “It was quite a challenge, because you translate the word, then you define it, in Spanish. That was a big job.”

Bill grew up in San Antonio. In 1951, while serving his country in Korea, he was wounded in combat and awarded the Purple Heart – which he finally received in June of 2004, thanks to the intervention of Congresswoman Kay Granger. He also earned the Bronze Star for valor in Korea – a military honor his son, Master Sergeant Roland Hall, later earned in Iraq.

Bill graduated from Texas Christian University in 1955 with a bachelor’s degree in commerce, with a minor in chemistry – “the best thing I ever did,” he notes.

Hall’s career has been dedicated to the technology of water treatment. He played a role in the development of reverse osmosis, a key part of the process by which virtually all bottled water is purified today.

“In osmosis, there’s a membrane, and salty water on one side tends to balance with fresh water on the other side,” he explains. “In reverse osmosis, you apply pressure on the salty side to force water molecules through the membrane to the pure side. We can reject 99 percent of everything that’s in there except the water molecule – but you better know what you’re doing.

“It’s a very simple process, but the membranes are very expensive and easily ruined. When that solution gets saturated, the precipitate will block up the membrane and damage it.”

As sales manager and international manager for Alamo Water Refiners in San Antonio, Hall traveled throughout Latin America working with water systems.

“We developed the little kiosks where you come and put your money in and fill up jugs of water,” he said. “It takes tap water, filters it, softens it and uses reverse osmosis – and they stay busy all day long.”

The biggest challenges, however, came from building industrial plants that relied on clean water.

“We built a plant in Tampico for Pepsi that needed 100 gallons a minute,” he said. “We drew water out of a green lagoon that had scum all over it, and we had to do a lot to the water before we even took it into filtration and reverse osmosis. It was a big, big job.”

In 1968, Hall’s company sent him and Patsy to Guadalajara to start up a plant they had built.

“We lived there for three years,” he said. “It was such a beautiful city. While we were there Mexico had the Olympics, the World Cup – it was a wonderful time. About the time we came home, the drug lords moved in and it started to go bad.”

Hall has a unique perspective on Mexico and its unfolding crime and drug problem.

“Mexico is a first-world country,” he said. “Then you go to the other side of town and you’re in the third world. But it’s a beautiful country with beautiful people.”

One reason WQA honored him, he said, is that he served as a liaison for their staff while he was there.

“I went to a lot of trade shows, helped escort people, protect them, take care of them,” he said. “I got to be good friends with the staff. We had some good times in Mexico.”

When he left Alamo, he formed Amigo Enterprises – now called Haltec Services – to consult with companies on a variety of water-related issues. A water heater manufacturer even hired him as a legal consultant after they started being sued for their water heaters rusting out.

“They wanted to know how much of it they could blame on the water,” he said.

More recently, he was hired by a businessman in Palm Springs, California.

“He said he had a business plan and he wanted to pick my brain,” Hall said. “He paid me $600 a day, put me in the big Marriott Resort, took me to dinner in a Rolls Royce and we played golf at Bighorn.”

The man had recently built a chain of small labs and sold them, and Hall said he wanted to do the same with water stores.

“I recommended he not do it,” Hall said. “I told him you’re getting into a technical problem you’re not ready for – cookie-cutter won’t work in the water business because water is different everywhere.”

Hall laughed. “I told him that $600 a day was the best money he ever spent.”

They ended up taking Hall’s advice and putting their money elsewhere. But there is a “cookie-cutter” quality to the water industry now that did not exist earlier in Hall’s career.

“Our industry went through a reorganization 10, 15 years ago,” he said. “It used to be mostly small, independent companies. Then a Wall Street type decided it had a good future, so he bought United Filter and they started buying up the large independents and consolidating them.”

But Hall and his son, Bill Jr., who lives next door and works for Charger Water Treatment Products, LLC, prove that there is still a place for the independent consultants. Both have served as presidents of the Texas Water Quality Association.

“I retired in 1995 and moved back here to Azle,” he said. “We opened up a consulting company and called it Amigo Enterprises – because if you have a water problem, who are you going to call? Your amigo!

“I put the word out with some of my friends, and the phone started ringing. I never had to solicit a customer.”

Hall has served as technical advisor to Water Conditioning & Purification (WC&P Intl.), a well-known trade magazine, and has been published in various other technical journals, including Water Technology, Water Quality Products, and H2O Magazine. He has authored numerous technical articles on various aspects of water treatment technologies and holds the WQA Water Specialist Emeritus. He served for many years on various technical committees and authored several technical manuals for the association.

He continues to teach water treatment specialist courses, helping dealers obtain their licenses, and recently translated this curriculum into Spanish to provide bilingual training for industry members.

He and Patsy have been married for 56 years. In addition to their two sons, their daughter Lisa Parks is a professor of Accounting at Westwood University. They have eight grandchildren and they don’t travel as much as they used to – but they still don’t let their passports expire.

Hall’s pride as a graduate of TCU came through during the awards ceremony in San Antonio. For his acceptance speech, he wore a t-shirt commemorating TCU’s Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin under his jacket.

“There’s a lot of people in this industry from Wisconsin,” he said. “When I got up to speak, I mostly thanked people – friends of mine and people I’d worked together with over the years. Then I said I wanted to thank my alma mater as well, Texas Christian University, whose football team won the Rose Bowl championship back in January.

“As I said it I unbuttoned that jacket to show my t-shirt, and you should have seen the reaction. It was the highlight of the convention!” he laughed.

As a parting line, he asked that the “Little Sisters of the Poor” pray for us all, referencing the president of Ohio State University who had suggested an independent like TCU didn’t play a tough enough schedule to merit being in a BCS bowl.

“That brought the house down,” Hall said. “I couldn’t go 10 feet without someone grabbing me.”

When he had previewed that line for Patsy, she said she advised him against it.

“I said not everybody knows what that means,” she said. “He said ‘What do I care? I’m in the Hall of Fame!’ But he did such a good job. I think they chose the right person for this year, I really do.”

Hall had to agree with his wife’s assessment.

“I’m a very modest person – not necessarily my personality, but in the way I live – and the big-money, big-time guys are usually the ones who get this award.

“I think by me getting it, it inspires my friends – the other guys – that they have a chance. You don’t have to be a high-roller to get this award.”

Bill Hall may not be a “high-roller” – but he has rolled in some pretty high company over the years.

And he’s still rolling.