Greetings dear friends of Harmony Hill,

For some time, I have wanted to write at least part of The Rest of the Story of HH…. the many incredible people who have helped make this place happen.  As I look back on the tapestry of my life I am honored and filled with gratitude for those who’ve been weavers with me in creating HH…the Grace, Grit and Gratitude story will be unfolding via a Blog as we prepare to celebrate the 25th anniversary of our Cancer Retreats and the blessing of being on this sacred hill for 33 years.


GRACE: “I do not at all understand the mystery of grace–only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.” Anne Lamott

GRIT:  Perseverance & passion for long-term goals…. ability to maintain determination & motivation over long periods despite experiences with failure & adversity.

GRATITUDE: The quality of being thankful; offering appreciation.


As I embrace the 3rd act of my life I am grateful for all those who have contributed to or benefited from programs and activities on this hill.  Here is a little background on how and why I was called to “the hill. “I grew up on a large dairy farm near Buckley & Mt. Rainier with wonderful parents, a brother and sister. It was the place I learned to love nature, the cycles of seasons, importance of community and the grit essential to a 24/7 lifestyle—all keys to the work at Harmony Hill.

I had grandparents who lived nearby.  My Swiss grandfather was more like Santa than Santa himself. He told beautiful stories about his homeland of Switzerland. He died of pancreatic cancer while I was in Nursing school which was my first personal introduction to this disease followed about the same time by my Mom getting breast cancer.  I had the good fortune in 1970 to visit to my Grandpa’s original Swiss home high in the Alps overlooking Lake Lucerne.  I was a little apprehensive to go as I feared it wouldn’t be nearly as magical as I imagined yet it was even more so.  We traveled on an all-night train after this amazing visit and I was awake the whole night filled with gratitude, swayed by the train, in touch with my breath—perhaps my first ever deep meditation. When I got off that train the next morning, I had a felt sense/ a calling for what I was to do with my life. I was called to be part of the creation of an education, recreational, therapeutic community.

I was a young public health nurse at that time and believed this calling was to create a Wellness center.  I loved the farm I grew up on and spoke with my folks about making it into a wellness center. Although they listened carefully Dad said “…what about the cows?” we had hundreds of them! Clearly it was not right time or place, yet I felt determined to explore this idea further by going to graduate school. After one quarter, a colleague told me about a new exciting project for the creation of Family Nurse Practitioners  (FNP) in rural underserved areas. Another nurse and I were selected for training to work in Darrington with two wonderful physicians in Arlington to open the Clinic which became a model for other rural clinics.  When the Univ. of WA. (UW) School of Nursing (SON) started an FNP master’s program I was invited to return to graduate school, teaching some of the clinical classes and then became a member for the UW faculty for 7 years. My focus was on rural health clinics and was able to start FNP preceptor training sites in WA, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska.  While at the UW I created a game called “Winning at Wellness” which was a fun educational tool. However, with my lack of business savvy and demands of academia I felt hypocritical about my own personal wellness. I was not walking my own talk.  I had put the dream of a wellness center way in the back of my mind. I left the UW in 1971 feeling pretty burned out knowing I needed to find new authentic ways to follow my dreams.

I began teaching at Tacoma Community College and then thru much Grace came to Hood Canal for a woman’s retreat at St. Andrew’s House (SAH) in 1985. It was a bright Feb day with fresh snow on the mountains and crystal-clear blue waters on the canal.  I immediately felt like I had come home…that I was back in Switzerland and my calling was about to be born!  I came back to SAH two months later for another retreat and wrote to the managers ahead asking if I could volunteer in their kitchen for “chopping therapy” … they clearly loved what they did and welcomed me. After 3 wonderful days when it was time for me to leave, I thanked them deeply and said that I hated to leave…Carolyn the co-manager looked me straight in my eyes and heart and said” “Why don’t you stay?” …4 words that changed my life. I did not stay, but I did return 2 days later and began what I called my “monastic year”!

My main focus in these blogs will be on the core of our Mission which is to “transform the lives of those affected by cancer and inspire healthy living for all.”  While these first few blogs will tell a little of the early creation days, each blog will include some reflections or a poem and a few quotes from cancer retreat participants as they thank the donors who made it possible for them to attend with no costs.


Here is a poem that we have used in our Cancer Retreats:

I Will Not Die an Unlived Life by Dawna Markova 

“I will not die an unlived life. I will not live in fear of falling or catching fire. I choose to inhabit my days, to allow my living to open me, to make me less afraid, more accessible; to loosen my heart until it becomes a wing, a torch, a promise. I choose to risk my significance, to live so that which came to me as seed goes to the next as blossom, and that which came to me as blossom, goes on as fruit.”


Quotes from Cancer Retreat Participants:

  • “Thank you so much for your generosity. Our finances are destroyed and life turned upside down, so we are incredibly grateful for this time of nurturing and learning. So much love and sweet kindness.”
  • “Thank you, thank you, thank you. I can’t describe what it meant to come here, be here worry free. “
  • “It has been a life – changing event. Having the opportunity to learn to deal with the devastating consequences of cancer and to commune with other on this path is incredibly precious. “


I welcome your feedback and reflections. Thanks for your caring. Stay tuned: Next blog is on opportunities that came from the many blessings at SAH as Harmony Hill emerged as a wellness retreat center next door.

Written by: Gretchen Schodde, Founder and Executive Director Emerita of Harmony Hill Transforming the lives of those affected by cancer and inspiring healthy living for all