A Fond Farewell to Danae Yurgel


Danae (pictured at top left) along with current and former GHCC staffers in 2015.

Danae Yurgel first came to the Greater Hells Canyon Region in 1975 during a checking-out-colleges road trip with her dad. After visiting Whitman College they headed south to the next school on the list, Eastern Oregon College. As they came over Tollgate, there were three distinct rainbows to greet them. And, that did it. Danae chose this "Valley of Rainbows" as her home.


Danae had various adventures away from La Grande: She worked for the Forest Service in Lake County, and at alternative farms all around the Pacific Northwest. During a stint in Ashland Oregon, Danae became a student of tai chi and aikido where she led the children’s program with senior student David Tift. Seven years later, with a husband (yes, David) and three cats onboard, Danae returned to the Grande Ronde Valley. They’d been looking all over the nation for their next home and as they reached the top of the Blues, she burst into tears. David’s response: “We’re moving here, aren’t we?” She’s been home since.


Martial arts, permaculture & agriculture, service through the nonprofit sector…

In 1992, Danae and David opened Take Musu Kai Dojo in La Grande and began teaching aikido to countless children (many of whom are now all grown up) and adults in the community. After three decades, they are still teaching!


They made their home on Cricket Flats on the breaks of the Grande Ronde River—until the well went dry. Then they found their forever home, a 2.5 acre orchard within the city limits of La Grande, planted in the last century by nurseryman Mr. Ryan, with multiple varieties of fruits and nuts. They converted the outbuilding into a dojo and set to tending and planting trees. Danae’s dream of having her dojo, orchard and home all in one place was realized. She says, “the orchard picked us.” Perhaps you’ve been there for tai chi or yoga class, to wander, wonder, and learn in the orchard, or to mingle with other GHCC members while enjoying Irish Session music under the trees during a summer potluck?


Danae’s work world has always had deep community service roots. She was part of NEOWOC (North East Oregon Worker Owned Cooperative), spent 13 years at Shelter From the Storm where she was an advocate for victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, and worked for the Library District Project before settling in with (then) Hells Canyon Preservation Council in 2008.


At GHCC Danae has, literally, kept the organization running. What’s her favorite part of the job? Spreadsheets! (Danae loves puzzles). Thankfully, this love lends itself perfectly to solving problems and improving the efficiency and functionality of our organization. What she really loves about her job, though, is the people, “the amazing, awe-inspiring jaw-dropping people. Each one could have stories written about them. Our members are so incredible. This organization is like a beating heart, with corpuscles that come and go—being part of that beating heart has been so special.” Danae has made choices to work for the “good done in the world” and she is humbled by all of the others who’ve made that choice, too.


One of the major accomplishments Danae feels good about is having piloted GHCC through the office move—during a pandemic! From a sprawling suite of offices in the old Sac Annex to a small space in the Reynold Building next to La Grande’s smallest city park, Danae organized the major downsizing of 20+ years worth of files, furnishings, and memories. She incorporated a revisioning of how we do our work by developing systems that are more detailed, trackable, and transparent. In short, Danae has made our organization more flexible, adaptable, and lean. She feels good about handing over something functional, something that works!


What are Danae’s hopes for GHCC? “That the beating heart keeps beating with new blood coming in—members, board, staff—we need this heart to keep beating. That we move forward with the values we are identifying: love, courage, integrity, and a sense of humor—that we laugh! GHCC will always be relevant, the issues aren’t going away. There will be changes in the specifics, but the natural world will always need its defenders, teachers, actors.” For our region, Danae hopes that we do not turn on each other, that we learn to share more, that the wild still graces our hearts and minds.



Home, in Danae's words

This place has been home since I first saw it. I’ve been graced by knowing where I’m supposed to be, which is here, this region, since I first breathed the air here.


For everyone who’s ever called this place home, whether of the heart or where they live, this is from a poem I wrote while exiled from my home:

These mountains hang in me like thorns

Give me pain when I move too fast away.

Far away, I know when the camas blooms

And when the moon rises over the knife edge.


What we love about working with Danae…

I love how Danae actualizes her values at home and at work: always showing up with integrity and compassion; passing along resources and perspectives from years of work with nonprofits and in close partnership with land; keeping us honest; and sharing gratitudes and observations from daily encounters with the wild worlds of Avella Orchard and the Grande Ronde Valley.


I love Danae’s keen knack for providing just the right quote that illustrates the concepts we are working through together. And, I love Danae’s fierce care for her fellow workers--as if she’s mother-bear, and we, her cubs.


Danae’s practical wisdom about almost every subject is breathtaking. She knows everything, from how to void a check to how to diagnose a computer problem. Her patience is outstanding. Her organizational skills are the best. She takes her time with every task to make sure it is completed to the best of her ability. She works with such a high degree of care and responsibility that I am inspired to work with more care. I couldn't have dreamed of a better teacher.


It's hard to imagine GHCC without Danae taking care of business. I always know she's got things under control. She's taken care of the many, many details it takes for an organization to function. Great integrity, great compassion, great commitment to GHCC and our mission. Danae is a great presence and a person I feel honored to have shared time with in our workplace. I miss Danae already! I'm glad we'll be in the same community together!


I love Danae’s positivity and her ability to find delight and joy in everyday things.


Danae is so invested in young people. She’s always reminding us that kids are the future and encouraging us to better engage with our young community members, because they are inspiring and because ultimately our work is for them.


If you would like to share your thoughts and appreciation with Danae as she prepares to retire, you can email her at danae@hellscanyon.org or send them to us at ghcc@hellscanyon.org and we'll pass it along!

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