SPRING HILL — Margie Halloran once learned of a 4-year-old living in Forest Oaks who didn't believe in the Easter bunny.
At the request of the little girl's perplexed mother, Halloran agreed to do what she could to change the child's mind.
She waited until the girl was tucked in bed and asleep. Carrying a basket of eggs and goodies the mother had prepared, the 8-foot fleecy figure tiptoed to the child's bedroom, then gently awakened her.
"Her eyes got like this," Halloran gestured, using her thumbs and forefingers to form wide circles and stretching her own eyes.
The girl became a believer.
"I love the kids," said the 84-year-old Halloran, who has five children, nine grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren of her own.
After 27 years of performances, Halloran made her final appearance as the costumed character Saturday morning at Grace Presbyterian Church.
As her career drew to a close last week, she recalled a number of other notable encounters she's had over the years.
She had met a youth at church whose mother confided that her son was afraid of the Easter bunny. Halloran approached the youngster before the church's annual egg hunt.
"When the Easter bunny comes up and speaks to you," she told him, "it will be me. Me."
The boy met the bunny with a grin, then and thereafter.
Several years ago, Halloran was invited to expand her appearances beyond Grace Presbyterian to local nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Last year, she greeted a woman at the Crown Pointe Senior Living Community on County Line Road who turned 100 years old on Easter Sunday.
"That was kind of special," Halloran said.
But making additional visits after spending the morning at the church's egg hunt has become exhausting.
"I had to walk up and down, up and down all those halls, going into rooms," she said. "I tried to hop, but I'm not always good at it."
Another burden: The costume — fur-like fabric, feet to ears to paws, with pink-centered ears and a blue neck bow — is hot. Fortunately, the octogenarian can breathe through the bunny's parted lips.
"It's light(weight), but it's hot," Halloran said, noting that Easter is usually a lot warmer in Florida than it was in her native New Jersey.
Halloran is the only person who has filled the costume, with its 2-foot-tall head, since her church purchased it in 2005. She had been planning to retire next year at age 85, but thought about mortality and figured no successor would want to fill a costume worn by a dead person. So she moved up her retirement a year.
On Saturday, she oversaw kids scurrying to collect some 1,500 big plastic eggs filled with candy.
"They refrain from chocolate, because it melts and ants get into it," she explained of the goodies, donated by church members.
The bunny sits under a roof and greets children with her own basket of sweet treats. On Saturday, she gave out white chocolate, frosting-decorated lollipops, purchased by Halloran and her husband of five years, Don.
"I'm fortunate Don supports me," she said.
Her annual Easter gig began in the mid 1980s in Pasco County, and at the start she wore only bunny ears. No one had a full bunny costume in Pasco, she said.
Then her daughter, Tammy Marshall, an employee at Forest Oaks Care Center in Spring Hill at the time, stitched a full costume.
"It was pretty good, too," said Halloran, an accomplished seamstress herself.
Still wearing that outfit, Halloran took on the role of the Easter bunny at Grace Presbyterian in 2000. The church eventually bought the professional costume at a cost of $300 to $400.
"They're not cheap," Halloran said of the costumes.
But the children love it. In no more than 20 minutes, the kids scrounge up every egg each year, Don Halloran said. "They run."
Also, with a free breakfast attached to the hunt, participants "come out of the woodwork," he said.
Among the crowd on Saturday, and particularly exciting to the Hallorans, was her great-granddaughter, 5-year-old Piper McDowell.
While she plans to vacate her rabbit role, Halloran won't remain idle as she continues at Grace Presbyterian as an elder, usher, office volunteer, a member of two church women's groups and a worker with the Yasmin Guild, the women's unit of Shriners. She also sews hats for cancer patients and bibs for residents of nursing homes.
Will she miss the children?
Halloran replied with the sageness of her age:
"I like to see them come," she said, "and I like to see them go."
Beth Gray can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.