Yvonne Schaelchlin Palka died on November 30, 2019, in Minneapolis, MN, 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. All of them were singing at her bedside.
Yvonne was born on March 13, 1938, in Pittsburgh, PA. She was the second child of Swiss immigrant parents; her older brother Juerg (Bob) Schaelchlin died earlier this year. Yvonne graduated from Swarthmore College with Highest Honors in Biology in 1960 and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. Following graduation, she embarked on a year’s grand adventure in India during which, among many other things, she worked in a mobile health clinic for village women. On October 29, 1960, Yvonne and her classmate Johnny Palka, a Slovak immigrant, were married at the Quaker International Centre in Delhi
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. There Yvonne brought into the world their first daughter, Rachel Sushila.
When the family returned to the United States, Yvonne conducted research at Baylor Medical School Houston, TX. Their second daughter, Tanya Elizabeth, was born in Houston. Later the family moved to Seattle, WA, where both Yvonne and Johnny gained positions at the University of Washington. During the 1970s Yvonne helped to pioneer the UW’s Women’s Studies Program, which later evolved into the Department of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies. She contributed her biological expertise to this program, and also later at Antioch University Seattle where she taught in the Psychology Program. In addition, at Antioch she developed a new program in Ecopsychology that explored the role of the love of nature in personal development.
This full and fruitful career in higher education is a testament to Yvonne’s insight and verve as a teacher. After her retirement, when she and Johnny moved to Whidbey Island, WA, Yvonne continued her engagement with the natural world in many ways. Among them was training with the WSU Beach Watchers to make natural history information available to the public and to help safeguard coastal habitats and writing the nature guide that is still used at Whidbey Island’s Earth Sanctuary.
Expanding on a love of art from her childhood, Yvonne took up a serious study of Asian sumi-e brush painting, delighting in the challenge of conveying the essence of both landscapes and living creatures. She exhibited her work at the Whidbey Art Gallery. Later, she joined the Sumi-e Society of America and was an active member of its Ming Chiao Chapter in Minnesota. A number of her paintings were shown in the society’s annual national shows.
Yvonne extended her love of storytelling into writing and illustrating two award-winning children’s books, Dragon Fire, Ocean Mist and Super Simple Sumi-e. She was working on a third book, Sami the Snow Dragon, that was inspired by Minnesota school children. Yvonne enjoyed visiting classrooms and teaching workshops in local elementary schools and art studios, making lighthearted and beautiful art accessible to all.
Yvonne also had a supremely fulfilling spiritual life. In 1979 she was introduced to Siddha Yoga meditation, a path with roots in Indian spiritual traditions. For the rest of her life, the Siddha Yoga path—on which Johnny joined her—remained Yvonne’s spiritual focus.
When they moved to Minnesota, Johnny and Yvonne were embraced by their daughter Tanya’s congregation, Maple Grove Lutheran Church, as well as by the local Siddha Yoga chanting and meditation group.
Yvonne and Johnny joyfully gave their family the gifts of a living connection to the natural world, a deep spiritual life, and boundless love. In the words of their daughter Rachel, “Yvonne’s soul delighted in the wild mountains and the ocean coasts and so we hiked and camped. She loved to create rich and vivacious garden landscapes, and so we rooted ourselves in our place. Her loved ones treasure memories of backpacking, grazing on huckleberries, singing, meditating, reading and telling stories, and always sharing the love of friends and family.”
Yvonne had many diverse passions in her life, and wherever her gentle attention rested, she would offer nourishment and support. Thus, the family requests that any donations in Yvonne’s honor be made to your own favorite charity.
On December 28th at 10:30 a.m., there will be a celebration of Yvonne’s life and the joy that she spread to so many people. It will be held at Maple Grove Lutheran Church, 9251 Elm Creek Blvd. N., Maple Grove, MN 55369, Tel. 763-420-7930. Flowers may be sent directly to the church.
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