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Published: Saturday, 2/13/2010

There are many ways to say 'be my valentine'

Valentine's Day is a happy day when expressions of love and friendship take many paths.

Retailers profit from the celebrants who adhere to tradition with flowers, candy, and other gifts. Other messages in the forms of good deeds may not be wrapped, or smell as sweet, or taste as good, but they can be just as heartfelt, cost little, and may be more appreciated. Household tasks, from cooking to cleaning, qualify as good deeds in family circles, but there is a catch. Doing them with a smile, a hug, and a kiss gives them valentine status.

I'm glad to learn the struggling economy hasn't slowed down the greeting card business. This year the U.S. Greeting Card Association predicted 1 billion valentine cards would be purchased, making it second only to Christmas in sales.

People who are serious about observing tradition today will have to exercise their vocal cords. The earliest record of greetings is in the Middle Ages when lovers sang to their valentines. Written messages began in 1400 and paper valentines as we know them today were made in factories starting in the early 1800s.

One of the earliest printed cards shows that valentine messages can reveal secrets that a person might not have the courage to express. The verse on an Esther Howland 1850 valentine is "Weddings now are all the go. Will you marry me or no." Ms. Howland, an artist and printer, was among the first to sell valentines in the United States.

Joyce Hall, who played a major role in the greeting card industry, has been one of my favorite Americans since I visited Kansas City, the headquarters of Hallmark Cards, Inc., which he founded. Mr. Hall lived the American dream despite growing up in poverty and lacking a formal education. His determination to succeed began when he was 8 years old and sold perfume door-to-door in his neighborhood in Nebraska. When he was 18, he dropped out of high school and took a train to Kansas City carrying two shoeboxes filled with postcards. The postcards were from the unsuccessful bookstore he and his brothers opened. The shoebox is recognized in the line of Hallmark Shoebox cards.

The postcard business in Kansas City went well until a fire destroyed the inventory in 1915. But Mr. Hall once more faced disappointment with determination. He and his brothers bought an engraving company and began Hallmark designs.

He continued to work until his death in 1982 at age 91. He said, "I just don't like to sit around and wait for something to happen. It's more fun to make it happen. "

The unlikely name of Joyce for a boy is also explained. The Halls were a religious family and on the day he was born, Isaac Joyce, a Methodist bishop, just happened to be in town.

The Joyce Hall success story goes far beyond greeting card racks. He was Honorary Commander of the Order of the British Empire, holder of the French Legion of Honor, a recipient of the Eisenhower Medallion, and the winner of the first Emmy ever awarded to a television sponsor. His grandson, Donald Hall, is president and CEO of the company.

Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor.

Contact her at: mpowell@theblade.com.



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