The Inspiring Journey of Saline’s Trudi Hagen in Overcoming Life’s Storms


The Adventure’s of Little Gnome 1 & 2 by Trudi Hagen. Photo by Carleen Nelson-Nesvig.

By Carleen Nelson-Nesvig, STN Writer

As senior citizens strive to make the most of their later years, many encounter challenging health issues. Such was the case in 2021 for Trudi Hagen, a long-time Saline resident.

Turning seventy and with the world facing the ongoing COVID virus, Trudi had some life-changing decisions to make. She had worked in the field of Early Childhood Education for 35 years - 15 years as the director of a private Day Care Center and 18 years as the director of the daycare center at Washtenaw Community College. In her spare time and during the span of 25 years, Trudi also taught child development courses in the Early Childhood Education program at Washtenaw Community College (WCC). There she taught teachers how to teach preschool children ages 18 months to five years old. When Covid forced the preschool to close, Trudi also chose to retire. It was finally time to do something fun.

Trudi Hagen. Courtesy of Trudi Hagen.

As many senior retirees know, health is a top priority. That can mean wellness/medication interventions, changes in diet, stress reduction, healthy habits, new living arrangements, and lifestyle changes. Whatever those changes are, some require making choices we want to make, others, maybe not so much. And health issues can storm in without warning, such as Trudi experienced.

It wasn’t soon after retirement that Trudi was diagnosed with third-stage uterine cancer and underwent both chemo and radiation treatments. It was a terrible blow just at the time of life she was free to do pretty much as she wished. Unfortunately, the worst was still rolling in from the horizon.

Following an annual mammogram, doctors informed Trudi they had found a mass in one of her breasts, and she needed a biopsy. Due to the nature of the uterine cancer, it was essential to know whether or not it had metastasized. It had not and was, in fact, a completely different cancer in stage one. If there was any silver lining at all to be found in this, it was that treatment for the stage one cancer could wait until doctors had an “all clear” on the uterine cancer.

Trudi underwent six chemos and forty radiation treatments, followed by an eight-month recovery. “My daily routine was getting up, having breakfast, taking a shower, and then going back to bed for a nap. I had no energy to do more,” she recalls.

But Trudi did regain her energy, and she wanted to move on with her retirement plans to have fun after working two jobs most of her adult life. Following the cancer recovery, she felt she had two choices. She could stop trying to live the life she wanted, build on her years of experience in children’s social and emotional development, and work hard to create positive world views for them. Trudi chose to continue to make a difference in the world. But what, how, and when would she do this?

Trudi knew about Saline Area Senior Center (SASC) and decided it would be a great place to start. Katherine Downie, an instructor at SASC for nearly ten years, offered Working in Watercolors classes In October of 2022. The theme was “dusk/evenings.” The engagement with other people would show her the social experiences she had been lacking while recovering, and it was only five minutes from her house. Trudi had never painted before and had never received lessons, but it might still get her started on a new journey with children.

Trudi says, “Katherine Downie was amazing. She made you feel like you could do anything. She used two levels of training. Each class was three hours. We began with the basic structures and moved in to finish work for the final three hours. I was surprised to see how well all of us had done. I fell in love with it all.”

Her first watercolor attempt produced a church that Katherine had instructed everyone to paint, inspiring her to paint more. Next, she painted gnomes. Trudi had never done anything with gnomes before but had perused Pinterest recently and liked what other artists had done with their gnomes. It would allow her to place them in multiple settings and situations, making them easy to paint. All she had to do was practice.

Trudi’s first watercolor (L) that inspired her to do more and her first gnome. Photo by Carleen Nelson-Nesvig.

One evening in January 2022, her son complimented her on her work and said that her paintings looked like characters from children’s storybooks. Trudi took his observation to heart and began looking for a way to present her gnomes to children in a garden setting. Books for children that would offer small meaningful lessons. She could place messages about family, friends, kindness, accepting others, their differences, and loving oneself in her books.

Trudi knew she could do this for kids, and she did. Today she has published 2 of 5 books in her series titled The Adventures of Little Gnome. Books One and Two. Each is available at Amazon. Future books include Caterpillar is Missing, Little Gnome Wants a New Hat, and Intruder in The Garden.

Trudi Hagen’s journey to her new beginning had taken a detour through a scary storm, but with the support of SASC, she held on, hoped, worked hard, and built herself a beautiful and rewarding new future - one that is fun!

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