Ever since she was a little girl, growing up on a dairy farm in Buckley, Gretchen Schodde knew that she wanted to go into health and medical care. She received her bachelor’s degree in nursing in 1968 and master’s in nursing in 1975, both from the University of Washington.
Soon after leaving school, she became a leader in the nurse practitioner movement in Washington State. The movement began in Colorado and the Washington-Alaska regional Medical Program began looking into training nurses in this region with additional skills. In the 1960s, many rural communities did not have adequate access to medical care because they were too far away from bigger cities and there was a doctor shortage. Gretchen remembers the town of Darrington in the North Cascades that put up a sign reading, ‘This town needs a doctor.” In 1973, Gretchen became one of the first two nurse practitioners in Washington State and was sent to that very town for on-the-ground work.
Gretchen went on to help pioneer the University of Washington’s first nurse practitioner program, earning her Master’s degree along the way by leading courses and embarking on nearly a decade of teaching.
Gretchen harbored a dream, however, to help build an educational, recreational health community. She left UW in the early 1980s, but was unsure what to do next. While spending time teaching part time and working in clinics, she continued to feel there was important work still ahead for her.
In 1985, Gretchen went to St. Andrew’s House in Union for a retreat, and she describes it as feeling like she had come home. Upon returning a second time, she simply didn’t leave, and began living and volunteering at St. Andrew’s, sometimes sleeping in the pantry. When the adjacent property, now the site of Harmony Hill, went up for sale, Gretchen began renting from the family that owned it and remembered her dream of building a wellness center.
In 1986, Harmony Hill was formed, and in 1988, the Nordstroms purchased the property and allowed Gretchen to remain, rent free. They offered advice on how to grow the project, and asked in return that Harmony Hill act as steward of the land.
In 1994, after her mother was diagnoses with a serious jaw cancer, Gretchen started the center’s now-famous Cancer Program, modeled after a smaller cancer retreat program in California called Common Wealth.
Gretchen has spent the better part of the last 25 years promoting healthy lifestyles and providing a haven for those seeking renewal. The Association of Advanced Practice Psychiatric Nurses (AAPPN) recently recognized Gretchen with its first lifetime achievement award—henceforth known as the Gretchen A. Schodde Lifetime Achievement Award.
Harmony Hill's best known program, the no-cost cancer retreat and workshops, have given thousands of people tools to get through their cancer journeys, whether as a survivor, caregiver or loved one. Gretchen has been part of almost every Cancer Program workshop and retreat at Harmony Hill, assisting thousands of individuals along their cancer journey.
In addition, Harmony Hll offers other healthy living and nutrition programs and workshops, yoga and Zumba classes, and a nurse renewal program. It has become a community space for weddings, birthday parties, non-profit events, poetry workshops and more.
Gretchen Schodde has touched and improved the lives of thousands.