Garry Schaedel ‘77
Back to All Finding Purpose Spotlights
I graduated in 1977 with a Degree in English.
Going to St. Mike’s saved my life. At the time, I lived in a very troubled home. The first time I saw the Green Mountains across from campus, it was instant. I felt like this was the place I was meant to be my entire life. When I arrived my freshman year, I felt I arrived to a family of friends, teachers, and a community. I was home.
I am very lucky. Like many, most of my closest friends are the ones I met at St. Mikes. St. Mikes is a place where students can have fun, learn, grow, and thrive. It prepared me for my future.
St. Mike’s provided many assets. At the time, our country was in the throes of social change. Our country was in a war in Vietnam; there was racial tension and rampant racism throughout; assassinations of many of our country’s leaders; an awakening about woman’s rights; the environment and much more. My prior religious background echoed much of the discussion in the country. That was to find peace, to work towards the improvement of our country, and to work towards improving the lives of others. St. Mike’s and the Society of Saint Edmund continued to build upon those same goals. Those goals, those values, resonated within me. They shaped me and the career path I undertook. Though there were various employment experiences, most focused in some way on my goals, to help improve the lives of others, expand opportunities, and to make a positive difference.
Key elements of the liberal arts education at St. Mike’s are learning, experiencing, and using critical thinking and communication skills. As an English major, we would not just read books. We would explore the meaning, the context, the complexity and compare and contrast it to other authors. We would have discussions, disagreements, and a better understanding about what was before us. In my career, critical thinking was vital in my work and the accomplishments I achieved. Critical thinking is essential for daily living as well. Dr. Carey Kaplan and Dr. John Reiss taught me so many of these skills; they were truly amazing teachers and mentors, much more than educators. Dr. Kaplan provided me with confidence in who I was. Dr. Reiss became my English major advisor. When family struggles continued for me, Dr. Reiss offered compassion, advice, and outreach to me.
Throughout my career, being able to communicate with others was essential. Taking Mrs. Rathgeb’s “Speech Class” was foundational. Throughout my career, I used what I learned from that class. In different roles I was on television and radio interviews. I wrote public service announcements that were aired on local stations. Later in my career I would present complex federal law into an understandable composition for any adult to understand. All of my roles required effective communication to achieve the goals I was trying to accomplish.
In my last semester senior year, Dr. Dennis Delaney asked me what my plan was after graduation. He mentioned he had been in the Peace Corps in Africa and suggested I look into it. I did, but instead of the Peace Corps, I joined VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America), now called AmeriCorps.
I was hired by the Montana Human Rights Division for the one-year stint to do Marketing, Outreach, and Education about Montana’s new Human Rights Law. Having never been west of Scranton, Pennsylvania, I drove myself to Helena, Montana. During my time with the Human Rights Division, I even got to meet John Lewis at a national VISTA volunteer meeting. Eventually I became a Peace Corps/Vista Recruiter stationed first in Atlanta, Georgia, and then in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As a recruiter, I got to travel all over the country.
Several years later, while finishing up a master’s degree in Human Services from New Hampshire College, I moved to Brattleboro, Vermont. A year later, I was hired to be the campaign field organizer for the gubernatorial campaign of Madeleine Kunin. She won and became the first and only woman elected governor in Vermont. Governor Kunin was also only the fourth woman elected governor in her own right (not succeeding her husband, or to fill a gubernatorial vacancy) in U.S. history. I had a firsthand role in making Vermont history.
Later in my career, I worked 16 years for the Vermont Health Department. Initially I focused on a public health approach to School Aged Health, and ultimately, I became the Division Director of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.
In these roles, critical thinking and communication was essential. I worked at increasing access to primary care (including medical, dental, mental health) for children and families in Vermont. I Initiated a Dental Access Program in Vermont that linked school aged children to local dentists for routine screenings and services. I also help to break down administrative barriers for low-income Vermonters to access free tobacco succession and prevention services.
My highest accomplishment in my career occurred in 2014. I was the sole recipient of the prestigious national award by the American Academy of Pediatrics. I received “The Child Health Advocate Award” in recognition for my “outstanding contributions to the health and well-being of children in Vermont.”
My personal highest achievements are related to running, which I did not start until I was in my mid 40s.
At age 65 I ran my first half marathon, which I completed at a pretty good pace.
Running has also given me a cause. Prior to Covid-19, I would on occasion dedicate a run to a friend or family member who passed away during one of my many road races. I would write their first name on an index card and pin the card to the back of my shirt. It was one way I dealt with my own grief and mourned their passing. After Covid-19 struck, there were no “races”. So, I joined two outdoor running groups. During this time, there were limited ways to reach out to friends or family members who lost relatives and were grieving. The one thing we want to do when someone passes it is to hug the grieving person or to be hugged by others. It was the only thing we could not do.
As a result, I began to tell friends I was planning on running and dedicating one of my runs to their loved ones. The response was overwhelming. I never imagined how it would move my friends, some to tears. Their kind words often left me in tears.
A year into my running dedications, I was urged to write about them. I submitted an article I wrote to Vermont Sports Magazine. The same day I submitted it, the editor called me. She said she was moved by what I wrote and wanted to publish it. It was published in May 2021.
I continue to do dedicated runs. I am working with my daughter on the development of a running dedication website with the goal that no matter where one lives, they too could dedicate a run and let it be known.
Finally, I have been working with a local writing consultant and have nearly completed my own memoir. It is a story that details the troubling aspects of my youth and the impact of that trauma on development, self-esteem, and growth as a person. Going to St. Michael’s College was the first positive step in what would be a long journey. I owe so much to St. Mike’s.