Friday, July 7, 2023
4:00 - 6:00pm (Central time)
Friday, July 7, 2023
Starts at 7:00pm (Central time)
Saturday, July 8, 2023
Starts at 10:00am (Central time)
Gretchen Andeel, whose life’s work toward equality in education changed the trajectory of the lives of thousands of students, teachers, and families, passed away on July 4, 2023 after a long illness. She was 82.
Gretchen was born and raised in Hays, Kansas, the daughter of a flour miller and a schoolteacher, and the middle of three children. She graduated from Hays High School in 1959.
She met her husband on the campus of the University of Kansas, where she majored in education and developed a fond nickname back at home in the local paper, where they called her “The Hays Flash” because she involved herself and excelled in numerous extracurricular activities. She pledged Kappa Kappa Gamma and held leadership positions as an active member and later as an alumna.
After graduating college, she married Stanley Andeel, and she moved with him to Michigan to support him by teaching while he studied law. They moved to New York for one year, where her highlight one evening was seeing Paul Newman across the building’s balcony, smoking a cigarette. They then moved to Wichita to continue their careers, where Gretchen made deep friendships that have lasted more than 50 years.
Once children came along, all of whom she and her husband Stan adopted sight-unseen and condition unknown, Gretchen took a hiatus from education and became a mother as well as a devoted volunteer, grant writer, and fundraiser for the Junior League of Wichita and many other local organizations.
Many will remember Gretchen’s moment in the Hollywood spotlight in 1989, when she spent a day of her trip to California standing in line to see “The Price is Right.” She was the fourth contestant called to “come on down,” and just as Bob Barker asked where she was from, the national news interrupted the program with an address from President George H.W. Bush. When the interruption ended, the game show final credits were already rolling. We had missed her entire appearance. The community raised such a fuss with the local CBS affiliate that they replayed the episode a few weeks later, where we saw her win not only her game, but the entire “Showcase Showdown.”
Gretchen was certainly most widely known for fighting for educational equality starting in the 1980s, when it became clear that her youngest daughter could not yet read. Not much was known or understood about dyslexia at the time in Kansas, but Gretchen used her resources, her tenacity, and her Hays pragmatism to become an expert. Later, in 2001, she co-founded the Fundamental Learning Center, where she became responsible for influencing the education of thousands of children who had previously been failed by all other systems. She also brought relief to thousands of parents by helping assess their children for learning differences regardless of a family’s ability to pay. She equipped countless teachers with the curriculum and confidence to teach dyslexic children to read, and she addressed and educated state legislators over the years about ways to appropriately tackle the ongoing gaps in the system, an effort still in progress today.
In 2014, Fundamental Learning Center expanded to launch a school, Rolph Literacy Academy, within the center, with a starting class of 9 students. In 2017, Gretchen and her partner and co-founder, Jeanine Phillips, were invited to Washington, DC and presented with the Small Business Council of America’s National Humanitarian of the Year Award to acknowledge their achievement.
More important than any award is the next step of Gretchen’s legacy: Later in 2023, after a successful four-year capital campaign, the entire Phillips Fundamental Learning Center will move to its new campus, inspired by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, where Gretchen’s ripple effect will continue to impact the lives of families for generations to come. They anticipate expanding to serve up to 120 lucky students and 35 staff.
Gretchen never liked or wanted the spotlight shined in her direction, but she was willing to put herself in it if it meant one more child could learn how to read and be successful in school. Outside of that sphere, however, she would not have dreamed of imposing her beliefs or point of view on anyone. To those who knew her, she will also be remembered as the consummate hostess and entertainer, lover of travel and recipe collecting, a cultivator of other’s talents, a loyal friend, a practical problem solver, and a selfless giver of time, effort, and unconditional love.
She was preceded in death by her parents, Floyd McDowell Lee and Freda Denman Lee and her brother, Floyd Denman “Denny” Lee.
She is survived by her husband of 59 years, Stan Andeel, her four children: Missy Andeel (Mark Orr), Megan Murphy (Andrew), John Andeel (Tami), and Katie Schild; five grandchildren: Hadley Murphy, Owen Murphy, Emmett Murphy, Olivia Schild, and Anson Schild; sister, Christie Triplett (Tom); sister-in-law, Ilse-Mari Lee; and numerous beloved nieces, nephews, and godchildren.
The family wishes to thank Dr. Chris Dakhil and the entire team at the Kansas Cancer Center for their years of loving care. And an extra special thanks to Dr. Justin Fernandez and Dr. Casandra Butler and the critical care team at Kansas Medical Center for their help at the very end.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a contribution in Gretchen’s name to:
Phillips Fundamental Learning Center
2220 E. 21st St. N.
Wichita, KS 67214