Yvonne Palka died in Minneapolis, MN, on Saturday, November 30, 2019, at the age of 81. At the time of her passing she was surrounded by her loving family—her husband Johnny; their daughters Rachel Lochtefeld and Tanya Thomas and their husbands; and the grandchildren she loved so much. The family’s voices rose in song throughout.
Yvonne was born on March 13, 1938, in Pittsburgh, PA, to Swiss immigrant parents. She attended Swarthmore College, graduating in 1960 with Highest Honors in Biology. There she met her future husband Johnny, an immigrant from Slovakia. Swarthmore is a Quaker institution which not only holds to extremely high academic standards but also cultivates in its students a sense of social responsibility and a vision for a better future. It was this vision that took Yvonne and Johnny to India for a year immediately after graduation. They were married at the Quaker International Centre in Delhi on October 29, 1960. The year in India was life-transforming.
Upon returning to the United States, Yvonne and Johnny obtained doctorates in neuroendocrinology and neurophysiology at UCLA and then returned to India for another year, 1965-1966. Johnny served as a university lecturer while Yvonne brought into the world their first daughter, Rachel Sushila.
Yvonne’s and Johnny’s first regular academic positions were in Houston, TX, Yvonne conducting research at Baylor Medical School and Johnny teaching at Rice University. Their second daughter, Tanya Elizabeth, was born in Houston. After three years the family moved to Seattle, WA, and positions at the University of Washington. Yvonne conducted research in animal behavior and helped launch courses in the freshly-developing area of women’s studies. Later she moved to the Seattle branch of Antioch University where she taught for 23 years. Among her many creative contributions at Antioch was the development of a pioneering program in ecopsychology.
Both Yvonne and Johnny were lovers of the outdoors, taking their daughters on many adventures in the mountains and on the wilderness beaches of Washington. Their single most favorite family destination was Shi-Shi Beach. There Yvonne told many stories about the dragons who could be seen if you only sat on the right magic log. Later, when Rachel and Tanya added their own families to these trips, the stories grew more elaborate and culminated in a wonderful book, Dragon Fire, Ocean Mist.
Over the years Yvonne had also returned to her childhood love of art and become skilled in Asian brush painting, sumi-e. Over 100 of her paintings lent their charm to the book, which became a favorite in the many schools to which she brought it. Later Yvonne produced Super-Simple Sumi-e, a wonderfully illustrated instruction book aimed at school children. At the time of her passing she was working on a book about dragons in Minnesota, Sami the Snow Dragon, a project she launched at the request of local school children. She was also a regular exhibitor of her paintings in galleries and in shows such as those of the National Sumi Society.
Yvonne led a very rich spiritual life, for the last 40 years focused on an Indian-based meditation path called Siddha Yoga. In many ways it was the center of her life. Her devotion led her to multiple additional visits to India as well as to formal roles within Siddha Yoga, such as teaching and coaching. When they moved to Minnesota, both Yvonne and Johnny were embraced by their daughter’s congregation, Maple Grove Lutheran Church.
On December 28th there will be a celebration of Yvonne’s life and the joy that she spread to so many people. It will be held at 10:00 AM at the Maple Grove Lutheran Church, 9251 Elm Creek Blvd N, Maple Grove, MN 55369. The family requests donations in her honor be made to your favorite charity, or flowers may be sent to Maple Grove Lutheran Church.
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